A Brief Look at the Statistics on Violence Against Young People

Written by Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director

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Even though research about exact numbers varies, we know that too many children and teens are harmed every day by bullying, abuse, harassment, abduction, and other violence. Although these statistics are from the United States, we hear similar stories and statistics all over the world. The good news is that some basic knowledge and a few simple skills of the kind taught by Kidpower can make a big difference in keeping kids safe

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice released a study about violence against children entitled “Children’s Violence: A Comprehensive National Study” According to the study director and director of the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center, David Finkelhor, Pd.D., “Children experience far more violence, abuse and crime than do adults. If life were this dangerous for ordinary grown-ups, we’d never tolerate it.” The study found that over 60% of the children surveyed were exposed either directly or indirectly to some form of violence in the last year.1

A Bureau of Justice statistics report predicts that, if current crime rates remain unchanged, about five out of six American twelve-year-olds will become victims of an attempted or completed violent crime in their lifetimes.2

In a study conducted by the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Throwaway Children, there were an estimated 58,000 child victims of non-family abductions in 1999, and approximately 100,000 attempted non-family abductions occur each year. Nearly half of those successful non-family abductions involved sexual assault. The average incident lasts from 3 to 24 hours and can cause psychological damage that persists throughout a victim’s lifetime.3

Ellen Bass, co-author of The Courage to Heal, — an internationally renowned book for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse — has worked with thousands of people who were abused as children. One significant finding of her work is that even what seems to be a “minor” molestation can have a lasting, harmful impact on someone’s life.4

According to the Department of Justice in a 2008 study, 75% of sexual assaults against children happen with people they know. Of these, over 85% are acquaintances – neighbors, friends, teachers, religious leaders, youth group elders, health care professionals, babysitters, and other children. The rest are family members – parents, siblings, or other relatives. Contrary to popular belief, child molesters do not obviously stand out in society, and most child molesters are equivalent to average residents of US households in terms of education, marital status, religious affiliation, and distribution of ethnic group.5

Bullying harms millions of young people throughout the world. According to a 2009 study of 15,000 schools in the United States published by the Centers for Disease Control, 29.9 percent of students are involved in bullying either as a bully (13.0 percent), a victim (10.6 percent), or as both a bully and a victim (6.3 percent). On any given school day, at least one child will be bullied in each classroom, and one in twenty students are afraid of being attacked or harmed at school.6

According to the Hostile Hallways study sponsored by the American Association of University Women study, 83% of girls and 60% of boys in grades 8-11 reported experiencing sexual harassment at their school. A majority of reported cases happened in the hallway of their school. Nearly half of those students felt very or somewhat upset right afterward.7

Cyber bullying has increased substantially in recent years and has been identified as an emerging public health problem by the Center for Disease Control. In 2005 roughly one of out ten Internet users ages 10-17 had been a victim of “on-line harassment”. This adds a new dimension of powerlessness among victims since they can be targeted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even if they are in a safe place such as their home. Fifty percent of victims who were bullied off-line and on-line by the same people reported being distressed by the incidents.8

 References: 

1. Finkelhor, D., Hamby, S., Omrod, R., Kracke, K., & Turner, H. (2009). Children’s Exposure to Violence: A

Comprehensive National Survey. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice

and Delinquency Prevention.

 2. U.S. Department of Justice. (2008). Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2008 Statistical Tables. U.S.

Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

 3. Finkelhor, D., Hammer, Heather, & Sedlak, Andrea J. (2002). Nonfamily Abducted Children: National

Estimates and Characteristics. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and

Delinquency Prevention, NISMART.

 4. Bass, E., & Davis, L. (1994). The Courage to Heal – Third Edition – Revised and Expanded: A Guide for

Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

5. Finkelhor, D., Hammer, Heather, & Sedlak, Andrea J. (2008). Sexually Assaulted Children. U.S. Department

of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

6. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States,

2009. Surveillance Summaries, 2010. MMWR 2010;59

7. Bryant, A. L. (1993). Hostile Hallways: The AAUW Survey on Sexual Harassment in America’s Schools.

Journal of School Health, Vol. 63 Is. 8

8. David-Ferdon C., PhD.; Hertz M. F., M.S. (2009). Electronic Media and Youth Violence: A CDC Issue Brief

for Researchers. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Centers for Disease Control.


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About the Author

Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director
Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, the Kidpower Safety Comics series, the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults, and The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People.
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