Detecting, Measuring, and Preventing Child Abuse

views updated May 29 2018

Chapter 2
Detecting, Measuring, and Preventing Child Abuse

Incidence and Prevalence of Child Maltreatment
Collecting Child Maltreatment Data
Victims of Maltreatment
Perpetrators of Child Maltreatment
Reporting Child Abuse
Controversies Surrounding the CPS System

Incidence and Prevalence of Child Maltreatment

Statistics on child abuse are difficult to interpret and compare because there is little consistency in how information is collected. The definitions of abuse vary from study to study, as do the methods of counting incidents of abuse. Some methods count only reported cases of abuse. Some statistics are based on estimates projected from a small study, whereas others are based on interviews.

Researchers use two terms incidence and prevalence to describe the estimates of the number of victims of child abuse and neglect. Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, in the Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3 ; 1993,, define incidence as the number of new cases occurring in the population during a given period. The incidence of child maltreatment is measured in terms of incidence rate: the number of children per one thousand children in the U.S. population who are maltreated annually. Surveys based on official reports by child protective services (CPS) agencies and community professionals are a major source of incidence data. (The term child protective services refers to the services provided by an agency authorized to act on behalf of a child when his or her parents are unable or unwilling to do so. This term is also often used to refer to the agency itself.)

Prevalence, as defined by Sedlak and Broadhurst, refers to the total number of child maltreatment cases in the population at a given time. Some researchers use lifetime prevalence to denote the number of people who have experienced child maltreatment at least once in their life. To measure the prevalence of child maltreatment, researchers use self-reported surveys of parents and child victims. Examples of self-reported surveys are the landmark 1975 National Family Violence Survey and the 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey conducted by Murray A. Straus and Richard J. Gelles.

Studies based on official reports depend on a number of things happening before an incident of abuse is recorded. The victim must be seen by people outside the home, and these people must recognize that the child has been abused. Once they have recognized this fact, they must then decide to report the abuse and find out where to report it. Once CPS receives and screens the report for appropriateness, it can then take action.

For the data to become publicly available, CPS must keep records of its cases and then pass them on to a national group that collects these statistics. Consequently, final reported statistics are understated estimatesthey are valuable as indicators but not definitive findings. Because of the hidden nature of child abuse, it is unlikely that statistics that accurately reflect the true scope of maltreatment will ever be available.

Collecting Child Maltreatment Data

The 1974 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) to coordinate nationwide efforts to protect children from maltreatment. As part of the former U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, NCCAN commissioned the American Humane Association to collect data from the states.

In 1985 the federal government stopped funding data collection on child maltreatment. In 1986 the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse (NCPCA; now called Prevent Child Abuse America) picked up where the government left off. The NCPCA started collecting detailed information from the states on the number of children abused, the characteristics of child abuse, the number of child abuse deaths, and the changes in the funding and extent of child welfare services.

In 1988 the Child Abuse Prevention, Adoption, and Family Services Act replaced the 1974 CAPTA. The new law mandated that NCCAN, as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), establish a national data collection program on child maltreatment. In 1990 the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), which was designed to fulfill this mandate, began collecting and analyzing child maltreatment data from CPS agencies in the fifty states and the District of Columbia. NCANDS has since conducted the Child Maltreatment survey annually. The most recent survey as of August 2008 was Child Maltreatment 2006 (2008,, which was published by the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF).

The data collected from states are not completely reliable because each state has its own method of gathering and classifying the information. Most states collect data on an incident basis; that is, they count each time a child is reported for abuse or neglect. If the same child is reported several times in one year, each incident is counted. Consequently, the reported number of incidents of child maltreatment may be greater than the reported number of maltreated children that CPS is aware of.

As part of the 1974 CAPTA, Congress also mandated NCCAN to conduct a periodic National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS). Data on maltreated children are collected not only from CPS agencies but also from professionals in community agencies, such as law enforcement, public health, juvenile probation, mental health, and voluntary social services, as well as from hospitals, schools, and day care centers. The NIS is the single most comprehensive source of information about the incidence of child maltreatment in the United States, because it analyzes the characteristics of child abuse and neglect that are known to community-based professionals, including those characteristics not reported to CPS. The most recent study is NIS-3. This report is based on a nationally representative sample of more than 5,600 professionals in 842 agencies serving 42 counties. NIS-3 includes not only child victims investigated by CPS agencies but also children seen by community institutions (such as day care centers, schools, and hospitals) and other investigating agencies (such as public health departments, police, and courts). In addition, victim counts were unduplicated, which means that each child was counted only once. Data collection for NIS-4 began in 2004; reports were scheduled to be published beginning in late 2008.

Definition Standards

NIS-3 uses two standardized definitions of abuse and neglect:

  • Harm Standardrequires that an act or omission must have resulted in demonstrable harm to be considered as abuse or neglect
  • Endangerment Standardallows children who had not yet been harmed by maltreatment to be counted in the estimates of maltreated children if a non-CPS professional considered them to be at risk of harm or if their maltreatment was substantiated or indicated in a CPS investigation

Victims of Maltreatment

Rates of Victimization

CPS DATA. According to the ACYF, in Child Maltreatment 2006, in 2006 CPS agencies received an estimated 3.3 million referrals, or reports, alleging the maltreatment of about 6 million children, which may include some children who were reported and counted more than once. States may differ in the rates of child maltreatment reported. States differ not only in definitions of maltreatment but also in the methods of counting reports of abuse. Some states count reports based on the number of incidents or the number of families involved, rather than on the number of children allegedly abused. Other states count all reports to CPS, whereas others count only investigated reports.

NCANDS explains that in 2006 forty states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia submitted child-level data for each report of alleged maltreatment. Child-level data include, among other things, the demographics about the children and the perpetrators, types of maltreatment, and dispositions (findings after investigation or assessment of the case). Another nine states reported more general maltreatment data. CPS agencies screened in (accepted for further assessment or investigation) 2 million (61.7%) referrals out of a total of 3.3 million referrals. Overall, the rate of maltreatment referrals (whether accepted for further investigation or not) ranged from 20.9 per 1,000 children in Arizona to 128 per 1,000 children in West Virginia. (See Table 2.1.)

In 2006 an estimated 885,245 children were victims of maltreatment in the United States. (See Table 2.2.) Even though the rate of investigations (dispositions) per 1,000 children rose from 43.8 in 2002 to 47.8 in 2006, the rate of victimization actually fell from 12.3 per 1,000 children in 2002 to 12.1 in 2006. (See Figure 2.1.)

Table 2.2 shows the types of maltreatment children suffered in 2006. In that year, 567,787 of the 885,245 children found maltreated by CPS agencies had suffered neglect. Another 19,180 suffered medical neglect. In other words, 66.3% of all children found to be maltreated by CPS agencies in 2006 were victims of neglect or medical neglect. Another 142,041 (16%) children were victims of physical abuse, 78,120 (8.8%) children were victims of sexual abuse, 58,577 (6.6%) children were victims of emotional, or psychological, maltreatment, and another 133,978 (15.1%) children experienced other types of maltreatment,

TABLE 2.1 Screened-in and screened-out referrals, by state, 2006
SOURCE: Table 21. Screened-in and Screened-out Referrals, 2006, in Child Maltreatment 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
StateChild populationScreened-in referralsScreened-out referralsTotal referrals
District of Columbia114,8815,07790.056710.05,64449.1
New Hampshire297,6256,64041.59,35958.515,99953.8
New Jersey       
New Mexico508,93016,56552.714,88847.331,45361.8
New York       
North Carolina       
North Dakota144,9343,79150.23,76349.87,55452.1
Puerto Rico1,018,65113,79748.014,96452.028,76128.2
Rhode Island237,4518,44166.34,29833.712,73953.6
South Carolina1,039,65316,71267.28,14332.824,85523.9
South Dakota194,6813,90827.410,35272.614,26073.2
West Virginia389,07123,21046.626,57553.449,785128.0
Total51,978,0251,400,231 870,929 2,271,160 
Percent  61.7 38.3  
Weighted rate      43.7
Number reporting42424242424242

including abandonment, congenital drug addiction, and threats to harm them. Some children were victims of more than one type of maltreatment.

CPS statistics indicate that child physical and sexual abuse declined in the 1990s. In Child Maltreatment Trends in the 1990s: Why Does Neglect Differ from Sexual and Physical Abuse? (Child Maltreatment, vol. 11, no. 2, 2006), Lisa M. Jones, David Finkelhor, and Stephanie Halter of the University of New Hampshire use corroborating evidence to argue that there is evidence for a real decline in child abuse, not only a decline in reported cases. For example, the National Crime Victimization Survey shows a large decline in sexual assaults against teenagers; the Minnesota Student Survey of Children shows a 22% decline in sexual abuse between 1992 and

TABLE 2.2 Types of maltreatment sustained by victims, by state, 2006
StateVictimsNeglectPhysical abuseMedical neglectSexual abuse
District of Columbia2,7591,59557.840514.71656.01525.5
Kentucky19,83317,29987.22,18611.0  8014.0
Louisiana12,4729,84578.93,17925.5  9037.2
Maine3,5482,42868.463117.8  37610.6
New Hampshire82256568.713816.8232.816119.6
New Jersey11,6806,75957.93,39229.07176.11,0268.8
New Mexico5,9264,40474.379113.31442.42694.5
New York80,07773,26991.58,48410.63,5194.42,7103.4
North Carolina28,42214,81452.11,8176.43731.31,3784.8
North Dakota1,43891363.515811.0241.7775.4
Puerto Rico15,0668,53956.73,52923.41,55310.35843.9
Rhode Island4,4003,77185.755212.5641.52495.7
South Carolina10,7957,79072.23,27030.34203.97727.2
South Dakota1,5291,34988.218712.2654.3  
West Virginia8,3454,63555.52,04724.51241.53824.6
Total885,245567,787 142,041 19,180 78,120 
Percent  64.1 16.0 2.2 8.8
Number reporting515151515140405151

2001 and a 12% decline in physical abuse during the same period; and many social problems with recognized connections to child maltreatment have declined, including runaways, teen pregnancy, and adolescent suicide. Jones, Finkelhor, and Halter state that all these declines indicate a general improvement in the well-being of children across the United States. Rates of child neglect, however, did not decline over the period. Figure 2.1 shows that rates of child maltreatment fluctuated somewhat from year to year in the early 2000s, but remained fairly steady between 2002 and 2006.

NIS DATA. The NIS, while providing older data, gives a clearer picture of the incidence of child maltreatment because it collects data not just from CPS agencies but also from other community professionals. In 1996, under the Harm Standard, nearly 1.6 million children were victims of maltreatment, a 67% increase from the Second National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-2 ; 1986) estimate (931,000 children) and a 149% increase from the First National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (1980) estimate (625,100 children). (See Table 2.3.) Significant increases occurred for all types

TABLE 2.2 Types of maltreatment sustained by victims, by state, 2006 [CONTINUED]
SOURCE: Table 36. Maltreatment Types of Victims, 2006, in Child Maltreatment 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on
Children, Youth, and Families, 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
StatePsychological maltreatmentOtherUnknown or missingTotal maltreatments
Alabama800.9    10,105107.8
Alaska1,15733.2    3,970114.0
Arizona340.8    4,572102.3
Arkansas1091.260.1  9,964108.5
California15,77417.61500.2  97,790109.3
Colorado4874.5  44.34.111,422105.2
Connecticut3093.0    11,068108.8
Delaware52927.41608.3  2,117109.5
District of Columbia521.989832.5  3,267118.4
Florida2,4161.891,88468.3  159,840118.8
Georgia8,72721.91830.5  45,039113.2
Hawaii261.31,86091.0  2,562125.3
Idaho20.11207.3  1,724104.4
Illinois560.2    31,509113.5
Indiana      22,721108.6
Iowa970.71,52410.4  16,025109.8
Kentucky1150.6    20,401102.9
Louisiana3202.6290.2  14,276114.5
Maine1,37938.9    4,814135.7
Massachusetts700.260.0  38,830107.4
Michigan5612.17072.6  28,323104.3
Minnesota550.7    8,060105.7
Mississippi5829.3220.4  6,708107.0
Missouri4786.7    8,411118.3
Montana35219.840.2  1,997112.5
Nebraska3876.3    7,037114.2
Nevada4518.4    6,251117.0
New Hampshire151.8    902109.7
New Jersey960.8  140.112,004102.8
New Mexico1,10018.6    6,708113.2
New York5760.720,47025.6  109,028136.2
North Carolina870.32290.89,72434.228,422100.0
North Dakota77954.2    1,951135.7
Ohio4,13610.0    43,148104.1
Oklahoma3,07322.9   10.017,977134.0
Oregon3172.57,66659.3  15,226117.8
Pennsylvania561.3    4,249101.7
Puerto Rico4,07627.11,84612.3  20,127133.6
Rhode Island30.1421.0  4,681106.4
South Carolina1371.3180.2  12,407114.9
South Dakota463.0    1,647107.7
Tennessee730.4    21,139110.2
Texas1,0211.5    77,558112.3
Utah5,66443.42,62920.2  15,361117.8
Vermont80.9    884102.7
Virginia751.110.0  7,304107.0
Washington      7,676105.2
West Virginia2,04624.56688.0  9,902118.7
Wisconsin410.52,17625.4  9,009105.0
Wyoming9412.0577.3  827105.2
Total58,577 133,978 10,221 1,009,904 
Percent 6.6 15.1 1.2 114.1
Number reporting49492626555151

of abuse and neglect, as compared to the two earlier NIS surveys. The 1.6 million child victims of maltreatment in 1993 reflected a yearly incidence rate of 23.1 per 1,000 children under age eighteen.

In 1993, under the Endangerment Standard, more than 2.8 million children experienced some type of maltreatment. (See Table 2.4.) This figure doubled the NIS-2 estimate of 1.4 million. As with the Harm Standard, marked increases occurred for all types of abuse and neglect. The incidence rate was 41.9 per 1,000 children under age eighteen.

Gender of Victims

CPS DATA. In 2006 CPS agencies found a higher rate of child maltreatment among girls (12.7 cases per 1,000 children) than among boys (11.4 cases per 1,000 children).

(See Table 2.5.) About 48.2% of maltreated children were boys and 51.5% were girls.

NIS DATA. NIS data allow comparisons of types of maltreatment suffered by boys and girls. Under both the Harm and Endangerment Standards of NIS-3, more females were subjected to maltreatment than males. Females were sexually abused about three times more often than males.

Males, however, were more likely to experience physical and emotional neglect under the Endangerment Standard. Under both standards, males suffered more physical and emotional neglect, whereas females suffered more educational neglect. (See Table 2.6 and Table 2.7.) Males were at a somewhat greater risk of serious injury and death than females.

Age of Victims

CPS DATA. Younger children represented most of the maltreated victims among CPS agencies in 2006. Older children are less likely to be victimized than younger children. The victimization rate for infants was 24.4 per 1,000 children. (See Figure 2.2.) The rate then dropped to 14.2 per 1,000 toddlers aged one to three and 13.5 per 1,000 children aged four to seven. The rate then dropped again to 10.8 per 1,000 children aged eight to eleven and 10.2 per 1,000 children aged twelve to fifteen. Teens aged sixteen and seventeen had the lowest rate, at 6.3 per 1,000.

Children of different ages suffered different types of maltreatment in 2006. Nearly three-quarters of the youngest children under age three suffered from neglect (72.2% of infants and 72.9% of children aged one to three), whereas only a little more than half (55%) of those aged sixteen and older did. (See Table 2.8.) By contrast, 14.3% of infants under age one and 10.8% of toddlers aged one to three suffered physical abuse and 0.4% of infants and 2.6% of toddlers suffered sexual abuse, whereas 22% of maltreated children aged sixteen and older suffered physical abuse and 16.1% suffered sexual abuse.

TABLE 2.3 Comparison of actual maltreatment incidence rates to estimates of maltreatment incidence rates, by Harm Standard guidelines, selected years 198093
SOURCE: Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane E. Broadhurst, National Incidence of Maltreatment under the Harm Standard in the NIS-3 (1993) and Comparison with the NIS-2 (1986) and the NIS-1 (1980) Harm Standard Estimates, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
   Comparisons with earlier studies
 NIS-3 estimates 1993NIS-2: 1986NIS-1: 1980
Harm Standard maltreatment categoryTotal number of childrenRate per 1,000 childrenTotal number of childrenRate per 1,000 childrenTotal number of childrenRate per 1,000 children
All maltreatment1,553,80023.1931,00014.8625,1009.8
All abuse743,20011.1507,7008.1336,6005.3
Physical abuse381,7005.7269,7004.3199,1003.1
Sexual abuse217,7003.2119,2001.942,9000.7
Emotional abuse204,5003.0155,2002.5132,7002.1
All neglect879,00013.1474,8007.5315,4004.9
Physical neglect338,9005.0167,8002.7103,6001.6
Emotional neglect212,8003.249,2000.856,9000.9
Educational neglect397,3005.9284,8004.5174,0002.7
Note: Estimated totals are rounded to the nearest 100. NIS = National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect.
TABLE 2.4 Comparison of actual maltreatment incidence rates to estimates of maltreatment incidence rates, by Endangerment Standard
guidelines, 1986 and 1993
SOURCE: Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane E. Broadhurst, National Incidence of Maltreatment under the Endangerment Standard in the NIS3 (1993) and Comparison with the NIS2 (1986) Endangerment Standard Estimates, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
 NIS-3 estimates 1993Comparison with NIS-2 1986
Endangerment Standard maltreatment categoryTotal no. of childrenRate per 1,000 childrenTotal no. of childrenRate per 1,000 children
All maltreatment2,815,60041.91,424,40022.6
All abuse1,221,80018.2590,8009.4
Physical abuse614,1009.1311,5004.9
Sexual abuse300,2004.5133,6002.1
Emotional abuse532,2007.9188,1003.0
All neglect1,961,30029.2917,20014.6
Physical neglect1,335,10019.9507,7008.1
Emotional neglect584,1008.7203,0003.2
Educational neglect397,3005.9284,8004.5
Note: Estimated totals are rounded to the nearest 100. NIS = National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect.

NIS DATA. Sedlak and Broadhurst find in NIS-3 alow incidence of maltreatment in younger children, particularly among those under age five. This may be because, before reaching school age, children are less observable to community professionals, especially educatorsthe group most likely to report suspected maltreatment. The researchers explain that there was a disproportionate increase in the incidence of maltreatment among children as they reached ages six through fourteen. (See Figure 2.3 and Figure 2.4.) Sedlak and Broadhurst note that the incidence of maltreatment among children older than age fourteen decreased. Older children are more likely to escape if the abuse becomes more prevalent or severe. They are also more able to defend themselves and/or fight back.

Under the Harm Standard only ten per one thousand children in the zero-to-two age group experienced overall maltreatment. (See Figure 2.3.) The numbers were significantly higher for children aged six to seventeen. Under the Endangerment Standard twenty-six per one thousand children aged zero to two were subjected to overall maltreatment. (See Figure 2.4.) A slightly higher number of children (thirty-three per one thousand children) in the oldest age group (fifteen- to seventeen-years-old) suffered maltreatment of some type. As with the Harm Standard, children between the ages of six and fourteen had a higher incidence of maltreatment.

TABLE 2.5 Sex of child abuse victims, by state, 2006
District of Columbia57,9891,38323.850.1
Kentucky51 2,8799,79519.149.4
New Hampshire152,1523812.546.4
New Jersey1,068,2955,6105.348.0
New Mexico259,1612,94611.449.7
New York2,309,64639,48817.149.3
North Carolina1,105,82214,33513.050.4
North Dakota74,35774810.152.0
Puerto Rico520,5587,14013.747.4
Rhode Island121,6492,14217.648.7
South Carolina532,1355,2519.948.6
South Dakota99,9927017.045.8
West Virginia199,3544,04720.348.5
Rate  11.4 
Percen t   48.2
Number reporting51515151

Race and Ethnicity of Victims

CPS DATA. In 2006 rates of child maltreatment as recorded by CPS agencies were highest among African-American children (19.8 per 1,000 children) and lowest among Asian-American children (2.5 per 1,000 children). (See Figure 2.5.) Pacific Islanders had a rate of 14.3 per 1,000 children, Native American and Alaskan Native children had a rate of 15.9 per 1,000 children, Hispanics had a rate of 10.8 per 1,000 children, and whites had a rate of 10.7 per 1,000 children.

TABLE 2.5 Sex of child abuse victims, by state, 2006 [CONTINUED]
SOURCE: Table 38. Sex of Victims, 2006, in Child Maltreatment 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on
Children, Youth, and Families, 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
 GirlsUnknown or missing
District of Columbia56,8921,37424.249.820.1
New Hampshire145,4734413.053.600.0
New Jersey1,021,0436,0315.951.6390.3
New Mexico249,7692,91211.749.1681.1
New York2,204,69640,33018.350.42590.3
North Carolina1,049,56514,08713.449.600.0
North Dakota70,5776889.747.820.1
Puerto Rico498,0937,68515.451.02411.6
Rhode Island115,8022,25319.551.250.1
South Carolina507,5185,40310.650.11411.3
South Dakota94,6898138.653.2151.0
West Virginia189,7174,26622.551.1320.4
Total35,832,971455,510  2,708 
Rate  12.7   
Percent   51.5 0.3
Number reporting515151515151
TABLE 2.6 Maltreatment rates under the Harm Standard by gender, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Sex Differences in Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under
the Harm Standard in the NIS-3 (1993), in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
[Per 1,000 children]
Harm Standard maltreatment categoryMalesFemales
All maltreatment21.724.5
All abuse9.512.6
Physical abuse5.85.6
Sexual abuse1.64.9
Emotional abuse2.93.1
All neglect13.312.9
Physical neglect5.54.5
Emotional neglect3.52.8
Educational neglect5.56.4
Severity of injury:  
TABLE 2.7 Maltreatment rates under the Endangerment Standard by gender, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Sex Differences in Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under
the Endangerment Standard in the NIS-3 (1993), in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
Endangerment Standard maltreatment categoryMalesFemales
All maltreatment40.042.3
All abuse16.120.2
Physical abuse9.39.0
Sexual abuse2.36.8
Emotional abuse8.07.7
All neglect29.227.6
Physical neglect19.718.6
Emotional neglect9.27.8
Educational neglect5.56.4
Severity of injury:  

WHY ARE MINORITY CHILDREN OVERREPRESENTED IN CPS DATA? In Children of Color in the Child Welfare System: Perspectives from the Child Welfare Community (2003,, Susan Chibnall et al. explore the attitudes and perceptions of CPS personnel regarding the overrepresentation of minority children, particularly African-American children, in the child welfare system. According to the researchers, even though African-American children make up 15% of all children in the United States, they represent 25% of substantiated maltreatment victims. In addition, these children account for 45% of all children in foster care.

Chibnall et al. studied nine child welfare agencies across the country. They interviewed agency administrators, supervisors, and caseworkers. The child welfare personnel gave a variety of reasons minority children are overrepresented in the child welfare system, including:

  • Poverty and poverty-related issueschild welfare personnel thought that African-American families are more likely than other ethnic and racial groups to be poor, leaving them more vulnerable to social problems such as child maltreatment, domestic violence, and substance abuse. Moreover, these families typically live in areas lacking resources where they can go for assistance.
  • Visibilitypoor families are more likely to use public services, such as public health care, making them more visible to mandated reporters when they are experiencing problems, including child abuse and neglect.
  • Overreportingmany study participants proposed that, because poor families are more visible to mandated reporters such as doctors and nurses, they are more likely to be reported to CPS.
  • Worker biaswhen investigating particular families, some caseworkers may not understand the cultural norms and practices of minorities; this may influence their decisions at different stages of child welfare services, including child maltreatment reporting, investigation, substantiation, and the child's removal from home and placement in foster care. A caseworker's bias may also make it more likely, for example, that he or she would remove an African-American child than a white child from a comparable home environment.
TABLE 2.8 Child abuse victims, by age group and maltreatment type, 2006
Note: Based on data from 51 states.
SOURCE: "Table 310. Victims by Age Group and Maltreatment Type, 2006," in Child Maltreatment 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
  NeglectPhysical abuseMedical neglectSexual abuse
Age groupVictimsNumber%Number%Number%Number%
Age < 1100,13972,31472.214,32814.33,6293.64450.4
Age 1-3172,940125,99772.918,73110.83,9482.34,5582.6
Age 47213,194138,88665.132,69715.33,8431.817,5398.2
Age 811170,944103,96460.829,31217.13,2331.918,31410.7
Age 1215170,63594,91055.634,34820.13,4472.028,13816.5
Age 16 and older54,56429,98955.011,99822.01,0301.98,79816.1
Unknown or missing2,8291,72761.062722.2501.832811.6
Total885,245567,787 142,041 19,180 78,120 
Percent  64.1 16.0 2.2 8.8
 Psychological abuseOther abuseUnknownTotal maltreatment
Age groupNumber%Number%Number%Number%
Age < 13,9674.016,30016.31,0971.1112,080111.9
Age 1310,2625.929,01616.82,1141.2194,626112.5
Age 4714,5556.831,83314.92,5701.2241,923113.5
Age 81113,6478.025,40614.91,9471.1195,823114.6
Age 121512,3727.323,46513.81,9501.1198,630116.4
Age 16 and older3,5246.57,83214.45411.063,712116.8
Unknown or missing2508.81264.520.13,110109.9
Total58,577 133,978 10,221 1,009,904 
Percent 6.6 15.1 1.2 114.1

In African American Children in Foster Care: Additional HHS Assistance Needed to Reduce the Proportion in Care (July 2007,, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) backs up Chibnall et al.'s study by finding several factors that contribute to the disproportionate number of African-American children in foster care. These factors include higher rates of poverty in the African-American community, the difficulty African-American families face in accessing support services to help prevent the removal of their children, and racial bias and misunderstandings among child welfare workers.

NIS DATA. Sedlak and Broadhurst find in NIS-3 no significant differences in race in the incidence of maltreatment. The researchers note that this finding may be somewhat surprising, considering the overrepresentation of African-American children in the child welfare population and in those served by public agencies. They attribute this lack of race-related difference in maltreatment incidence to the broader range of children identified by NIS-3, compared to the smaller number investigated by public agencies and the even smaller number receiving CPS and other welfare services. NIS-2 had also not found any disproportionate differences in race in relation to maltreatment incidence.

Children with Disabilities Are Particularly at Risk

According to the article Assessment of Maltreatment of Children with Disabilities (Pediatrics, vol. 108, no. 2, August 2001), children with disabilities are potentially at risk for maltreatment because society generally treats them as different and less valuable, thus possibly tolerating violence against them. Some parents may feel disappointment at not having a normal child. Others may expect too much and feel frustrated if the child does not live up to their expectations. These children require special care and attention, and parents may not have the social support to help ease stressful situations. Caring for children with disabilities can also be expensive, creating even more stress and with it risk of maltreatment. In addition, some disabled children may not be able to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate touching of their body, leaving them particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse.

In Violence against Children with Disabilities: Prevention, Public Policy, and Research Implications (Dorothy K. Marge, ed., A Call to Action: Ending Crimes of Violence against Children and Adults with DisabilitiesA Report to the Nation, 2003), Patricia M. Sullivan calls attention to the fact that the federal government does not collect specific data on children with disabilities in its crime statistics systems or in national incidence studies mandated by law. Even though CAPTA required that national incidence studies of child maltreatment include data on children with disabilities, the latest survey, the NIS-3, does not satisfy this mandate. Moreover, NCANDS, which releases annual state data on maltreated children, does not gather information relating to children's disability status.

Sullivan undertook two epidemiological studies on maltreated children with disabilities. (Epidemiological studies consider individuals sex, age, race, social class, and other demographics.) Both the incidence and prevalence of maltreatment were measured. The hospital-based study of six thousand children found a 64% prevalence rate of maltreatment among disabled children, twice the prevalence rate (32%) among nondisabled children. The school-based study included 4,954 children; 31% of disabled children had been maltreated, 3.4 times that of the nondisabled comparison group.

Family Characteristics of Victims

The only reliable information on family characteristics of victims come from NIS data, as the living arrangements data on children reported to CPS were incomplete. For example, in Child Maltreatment 2006, the ACYF states that in 2006 only twenty-eight states reported on living arrangements of children, and more than one-third of the reported cases had unknown or missing data and were excluded from the analysis. The following discussion comes from NIS-3.

FAMILY STRUCTURE. Under the Harm Standard, among children living with single parents, an estimated 27.3 per 1,000 under age eighteen suffered some type of maltreatment almost twice the incidence rate for children living with both parents (15.5 per 1,000). (See Table 2.9.) The same rate held true for all types of abuse and neglect. Children living with single parents also had a greater risk of suffering serious injury (10.5 per 1,000) than did those living with both parents (5.8 per 1,000).

Under the Endangerment Standard an estimated 52 per 1,000 children living with single parents suffered

TABLE 2.9 Maltreatment incidence rates under the Harm Standard by family structure, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under the Harm Standard in the
NIS-3 (1993) for Different Family Structures, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
[Per 1,000 children]
  Single parent 
Harm Standard maltreatment categoryBoth parentsEither mother or fatherMother onlyFather onlyNeither parent
All maltreatment:15.527.326.136.622.9
All abuse8.411.410.517.713.7
Physical abuse3.96.96.410.57.0
Sexual abuse2.
Emotional abuse2.
All neglect7.917.316.721.910.3
Physical neglect3.
Emotional neglect2.
Educational neglect3.09.69.510.83.1
Severity of injury:

some type of maltreatment, compared to 26.9 per 1,000 living with both parents. (See Table 2.10.) Children in single-parent households were abused at a 45% higher rate than those in two-parent households (19.6 versus 13.5 per 1,000) and suffered more than twice as much neglect (38.9 versus 17.6 per 1,000).

FAMILY INCOME. Family income was significantly related to the incidence rates of child maltreatment. Under the Harm Standard children in families with annual incomes less than $15,000 had the highest rate of maltreatment (47 per 1,000). The figure is almost twice as high (95.9 per 1,000) using the Endangerment Standard. (See Table 2.11 and Table 2.12.) Children in families earning less than $15,000 annually also sustained more serious injuries than did children living in families earning more than that amount.

Perpetrators of Child Maltreatment

CPS Data

The law considers perpetrators of child abuse to be those people who abuse or neglect children under their care. They may be parents, foster parents, other relatives, or other caretakers. People who victimize children that are not under their care are not considered to have committed child abuse, but assault, battery, rape, or other crimes.

In Child Maltreatment 2006, the ACYF indicates that in 2006 abuse perpetrators were more likely to be women

TABLE 2.10 Maltreatment incidence rates under the Endangerment Standard by family structure, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under the Endangerment Standard
in the NIS-3 (1993) for Different Family Structures, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
[Per 1,000 children]
  Single parent 
Endangerment Standard maltreatment categoryBoth parentsEither mother or fatherMother onlyFather onlyNeither parent
All maltreatment26.952.050.165.639.3
All abuse13.519.618.131.017.3
Physical abuse6.510.69.816.59.2
Sexual abuse3.
Emotional abuse6.28.67.714.67.1
All neglect17.638.937.647.924.1
Physical neglect10.828.627.536.417.1
Emotional neglect6.410.59.716.28.3
Educational neglect3.09.69.510.83.1
Severity of injury:
TABLE 2.11 Maltreatment incidence rates under the Harm Standard by family income, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under the Harm Standard in the
NIS-3 (1993) for Different Levels of Family Income, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
[Per 1,000 children]
Harm Standard maltreatment category<$l5K/year$1529K/year$30K+/year
All maltreatment47.020.02.1
All abuse22.29.71.6
Physical abuse11.05.00.7
Sexual abuse7.02.80.4
Emotional abuse6.52.50.5
All neglect27.211.30.6
Physical neglect12.02.90.3
Emotional neglect5.94.30.2
Educational neglect11.14.80.2
Severity of injury:   
TABLE 2.12 Maltreatment incidence rates under the Endangerment Standard by family income, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under the Endangerment
Standard in the NIS-3 (1993) for Different Levels of Family Income, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
[Per 1,000 children]
Endangerment Standard maltreatment category<$15K/year$1529K/year$30K=/year
All maltreatment95.933.13.8
All abuse37.417.52.5
Physical abuse17.68.51.5
Sexual abuse9.24.20.5
Emotional abuse18.38.11.0
All neglect72.321.61.6
Physical neglect54.312.51.1
Emotional neglect19.08.20.7
Educational neglect11.14.80.2
Severity of injury:   

(57.9%) than men (42.1%). Concerning the victims, 39.9% were maltreated by their mother acting alone and 17.6% experienced maltreatment from their father acting alone. (See Figure 2.6.) Another 17.8% were maltreated by both parents. About 6.1% of the victims were maltreated by their mother and another person whose relationship with the mother was not known, and 1% were maltreated by their father and another person. One out of ten (10%) victims were maltreated by nonparental perpetrators, and another 7.6% were maltreated by unknown individuals. The ACYF indicates that 79.9% of the perpetrators were parents, whereas smaller numbers were other relatives (6.7%), unmarried partner of parents (3.8%), child day care providers (0.6%), or foster parents (0.4%). (See Figure 2.7.)

The ACYF explains that most perpetrators of child maltreatment are in their twenties and thirties. In 2006 the median age (half were older, half were younger) of female perpetrators was thirty-one years, and the median age of male perpetrators was thirty-four years. Almost half of the female perpetrators were younger than thirty (41.3% of twenty- to twenty-nine-year-olds, and 4% of those younger than twenty), whereas only about one-third of male perpetrators were (28.9% of twenty- to twenty-nine-year-olds, and 6.2% of those younger than twenty). (See Figure 2.8.)

NIS Data

In 1993 most (78%) child victims were maltreated by their birth parents. (See Table 2.13.) Parents perpetrated

72% of physical abuse and 81% of emotional abuse. However, almost half (46%) of sexually abused children were violated by someone other than a parent or parent substitute. More than a quarter (29%) were sexually abused by a birth parent, and 25% were sexually abused by a parent substitute, such as a stepparent or a mother's boyfriend. Sexually abused children were the most likely to sustain fatal or serious injuries or impairments when birth parents were the perpetrators.

Overall, children were somewhat more likely to be maltreated by female perpetrators (65%) than by males (54%) in 1993. (See Table 2.14.) Among children maltreated by their natural parents, most (75%) were maltreated by their mothers, and almost half (46%) were maltreated by their fatherswith some children being maltreated by both parents. Children who were maltreated by someone other than parents and parent substitutes were more likely to have been maltreated by a male (85%) than by a female (41%). Of the other adults who maltreated children, 80% were males and 14% were females.

Neglected children differed from abused children with regard to the gender of the perpetrators in 1993. Because mothers or other females tend to be the primary caretakers, children were more likely to suffer all forms of neglect by female perpetrators (87%, versus 43% by male perpetrators). (See Table 2.14.) In contrast, children were more often abused by males (67%) than by females (40%).

Reporting Child Abuse

Mandatory Reporting

In 1974 Congress enacted the first CAPTA, which set guidelines for the reporting, investigation, and treatment

TABLE 2.13 Perpetrator's relationship to child and severity of harm, by type of maltreatment, 1993
SOURCE: Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Distribution of Perpetrator's Relationship to Child and Severity of Harm by the Type of Maltreatment, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
   Percent of children in row with injury/impairment...
CategoryPercent children in maltreatment categoryTotal maltreated childrenFatal or seriousModerateInferred
Natural parents62%461,80022%73%4%
Other parents and parent/substitutes19%144,90012%62%27%
Physical abuse100%381,70013%87%a
Natural parents72%273,20013%87%a
Other parents and parent/substitutes21%78,70013%87%a
Sexual abuse100%217,70034%12%53%
Natural parents29%63,30061%10%28%
Other parents and parent/substitutes25%53,80019%18%63%
Emotional abuse100%204,50026%68%6%
Natural parents81%166,50027%70%2%
Other parents and parent/substitutes13%27,400b57%24%
Natural parents91%800,60051%43%6%
Other parents and parent/substitutes9%78,40035%59%b
Physical neglect100%338,90064%15%21%
Natural parents95%320,40064%16%20%
Other parents and parent/substitutes5%18,400bbb
Emotional neglect100%212,80097%3%a
Natural parents91%194,60099%ba
Other parents and parent/substitutes9%bbba
Educational neglect100%397,3007%93%a
Natural parents89%354,3008%92%a
Other parents and parent/substitutes11%43,000b99%a
All maltreatment100%1,553,80036%53%11%
Natural parents78%1,208,10041%54%5%
Other parents and parent/substitutes14%211,20020%61%19%
a This severity level not applicable for this form of maltreatment.
b Fewer than 20 cases with which to calculate estimate; estimate too unreliable to be given.
c These perpetrators were not allowed by countability requirements for cases of neglect.

of child maltreatment. States had to meet these requirements to receive federal funding to assist child victims of abuse and neglect. Among its many provisions, CAPTA required the states to enact mandatory reporting laws and procedures so that CPS agencies could take action to protect children from further abuse. Each state now designates mandatory reporters, including health care workers, mental health professionals, social workers, school personnel, child care providers, and law enforcement officers. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, in Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect (January 2008,, in 2008 eighteen states and Puerto Rico mandated all people must report suspected abuse or neglect, not only designated professionals. Most states did not recognize the right for communications between certain professionals and their clients to remain confidentialcalled privileged communications in the case of suspected child abuse.

All states offer immunity to individuals who report incidents of child maltreatment in good faith or with sincerity. Besides physical injury and neglect, most states include mental injury, sexual abuse, and the sexual exploitation of minors as cases to be reported.

Who Reports Child Abuse?

In 2006 more than half of all reports of alleged child maltreatment came from professional sourceseducators (16.5%); legal, law enforcement, and criminal justice personnel (15.8%); social services personnel (10%); medical personnel (8.4%); mental health personnel (4.1%);

TABLE 2.14 Perpetrator's gender, by type of maltreatment and by relationship to child, 1993
SOURCE: Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Distribution of Perpetrator's Gender by Type of Maltreatment and Perpetrator's Relationship to Child, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
   Percent of children in row with perpetrator whose gender was...
CategoryPercent children in maltreatment categoryTotal maltreated childrenMaleFemaleUnknown
Natural parents62%461,80056%55%a
Other parents and parent/substitutes19%144,90090%15%a
Physical abuse100%381,70058%50%a
Natural parents72%273,20048%60%a
Other parents and parent/substitutes21%78,70090%19%a
Sexual abuse100%217,70089%12%a
Natural parents29%63,30087%28%a
Other parents and parent/substitutes25%53,80097%aa
Emotional abuse100%204,50063%50%a
Natural parents81%166,50060%55%a
Other parents and parent/substitutes13%27,40074%aa
All neglect:100%879,00043%87%a
Natural parents91%800,60040%87%a
Other parents and parent/substitutes9%78,40076%88%a
Physical neglect100%338,90035%93%a
Natural parents95%320,40034%93%a
Other parents and parent/substitutes5%18,400a90%a
Emotional neglect100%212,80047%77%a
Natural parents91%194,60044%78%a
Other parents and parent/substitutes9%18,200aaa
Educational neglect100%397,30047%88%a
Natural parents89%354,30043%86%a
Other parents and parent/substitutes11%43,00082%100%a
All maltreatment100%1,553,80054%65%1%
Natural parents78%1,208,10046%75%a
Other parents and parent/substitutes14%211,20085%41%a
a Fewer than 20 cases with which to calculate, estimate too unreliable to be given.
b These perpetrators were not allowed by countability requirements for cases of neglect.

child day care providers (0.9%); and foster care providers (0.6%). (See Figure 2.9.) Friends and neighbors (5.3%), parents (6%), and other relatives (7.8%) encompassed nearly one-fifth of the reporters, whereas alleged victims (0.6%) and self-identified perpetrators (0.1%) rarely reported abuse. Other reports came from anonymous (8.2%) and other (8%) sources.

The percentage of neglect and abuse reports from different sources varied by the type of abuse being reported. Educational personnel were responsible for 16.5% of reports in 2006; they reported 11.5% of sexual abuse cases and 10.8% of neglect cases, and 24.2% of all physical abuse cases. (See Table 2.15.) Legal personnel, who were responsible for 15.8% of overall reporting, reported over a quarter of all sexual abuse cases (28.1%) and neglect cases (27.1%), and nearly a quarter (23.1%) of physical abuse cases. Social service personnel were more likely to report sexual abuse than other forms of maltreatment, whereas medical personnel reported more medical neglect cases than any other source.

Failure to Report Child Maltreatment

Many states impose penalties, either a fine and/or imprisonment, for failure to report child maltreatment. A mandated reporter, such as a physician, may also be sued for negligence for failing to protect a child from harm. Even though all states have enacted legislation requiring, among other things, the mandatory reporting of child maltreatment by certain professionals, states vary in the standard for reporting. The standard to report child maltreatment varies from having reasonable cause to suspect, to having reason to believe, to having observed conditions that would reasonably result, to know or suspect.

The 1976 landmark California case Landeros v. Flood et al. (17 Cal.3d 399) illustrates a case involving a physician's failure to report child maltreatment. Eleven-month-old Gita Landeros was brought by her mother to the San Jose Hospital in California for treatment of injuries. Besides a fractured lower leg, the girl had bruises on her back and abrasions on other parts of her body. She also appeared scared when anyone approached her. At the time, Gita was also suffering from a fractured skull, but this was never diagnosed by A. J. Flood, the attending physician.

Gita returned home with her mother and subsequently suffered further serious abuse at the hands of her mother and the mother's boyfriend. Three months later Gita was brought to another hospital for medical treatment, where the doctor identified and reported the abuse to the proper authorities. After surgery for her injuries the child was placed with foster parents. The mother and boyfriend were eventually convicted of the crime of child abuse. The guardian ad litem (a court-appointed special advocate) for Gita filed a malpractice suit against Flood and the San Jose Hospital, citing painful permanent physical injury to the plaintiff as a result of the defendants negligence.

The trial court of Santa Clara County dismissed the Landeros complaint, and the case was appealed to the California Supreme Court. The court agreed that Flood should have identified Gita's abuse and ruled that the doctor's failure to do so contributed to the child's continued suffering. Flood and the hospital were found liable. Even though this case applied specifically to a medical doctor, the principles reached by the court are applicable to other professionals. Most professionals are familiar with the court's decision in Landeros.

In August 2002 two-year-old Dominic James was brought to Cox South Hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Paramedics told emergency nurse Leslie Ann Brown that the boy, who was having seizure-like symptoms, had bruises on his back and to report this to the attending physician. Dominic's foster parents explained that the child got bruised by leaning back on a booster seat, so Brown did not report the bruises to the physician, nor did she include the presence of bruises on her medical reports. Dominic was hospitalized again a week later and died soon after.

In February 2003 the state of Missouri charged Brown with failure to report child abuse. In September 2003 Calvin Holden, a Green County judge, dismissed the criminal charges, stating that the Missouri statute with the reasonable cause to suspect standard for reporting child abuse was unconstitutionally vague in violation of the U.S. and Missouri constitutions. The state appealed the case in May 2004. In August 2004 the Missouri Supreme Court reversed Judge Holden's ruling, allowing the case to proceed to trial. However, later that year charges were dismissed against Brown after an agreement was reached requiring Cox South Hospital to revise its training for mandated reporters and implement annual refresher courses.

Why Mandated Reporters Fail to Report Suspected Maltreatment

Gail L. Zellman and C. Christine Fair explain in Preventing and Reporting Abuse (John E. B. Myers et al., eds., The APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment, 2002) that they conducted a national survey to determine why mandated reporters may not report suspected maltreatment. The researchers surveyed 1,196 general and family practitioners, pediatricians, child psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, social workers, public school principals, and heads of child care centers. Nearly eight out of ten (77%) survey participants had made a child maltreatment report at some time in his or her professional career. More than nine out of ten (92%) elementary school principals reported child maltreatment at some time, followed closely by child psychiatrists (90%) and pediatricians (89%). A lesser proportion of secondary school principals (84%), social workers (70%), and clinical psychologists (63%) reported child maltreatment at some time in their career.

TABLE 2.15 Types of maltreatment, by report source, 2006
SOURCE: Table 37. Maltreatment Types of Victims by Report Source, 2006, in Child Maltreatment 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
 NeglectPhysical abuseMedical neglectSexual abuse
Report sourceNumber%Number%Number%Number%
Educational personnel61,09910.834,24024.23,21716.93,99111.5
Legal, law enforcement, criminal
justice personnel153,36327.132,71123.11,5468.121,88228.1
Social services personnel71,11512.614,94010.62,74514.411,52514.8
Medical personnel52,2179.217,06312.15,55829.27,3309.4
Mental health personnel13,3702.44,5893.26563.45,6187.2
Child daycare providers2,8210.51,8221.31100.62940.4
Foster care providers1,9790.36220.4830.48041.0
Total professionals355,96462.9105,98774.913,91573.156,44472.4
Anonymous reporters39,9277.14,6593.31,0355.41,6392.1
Other reporters46,3538.27,2245.11,0715.65,4647.0
Other relatives46,8418.38,1455.81,3857.34,2545.5
Friends or neighbors29,0815.13,5932.56343.31,6732.1
Unknown reporters23,3174.13,8732.71410.72,0642.6
Alleged victims1,6080.31,0030.7420.26840.9
Alleged perpetrators1,0430.22510.2380.21580.2
Total nonprofessionals209,76237.135,54025.15,11326.921,49727.6
Total percent100.0100.0100.0100.0
Number reporting5050505039395050
 Psychological maltreatmentOther abuseUnknown maltreatmentTotal 
Report sourceNumber%Number%Number%Number 
Educational personnel7,76413.58,9946.71,80517.7126,110 
Legal, law enforcement, criminal18,72032.650,64537.81,98119.4280,848
justice personnel
Social services personnel5,0728.817,39513.01,72016.8124,512
Medical personnel2,1323.78,1396.11,03910.293,478
Mental health personnel3,4686.02,3761.8220.230,099
Child daycare providers2000.34240.3860.85,757
Foster care providers1480.33840.3170.24,037
Total professionals37,50465.388,35765.96,67065.3664,841
Anonymous reporters3,8666.710,4117.88198.062,356
Other reporters4,7188.29,4337.0270.374,290
Other relatives5,0178.710,5327.91,15511.377,329
Friends or neighbors1,6002.85,5394.19068.943,026
Unknown reporters1,5672.77580.631,720
Alleged victims4400.86040.5560.54,437
Alleged perpetrators920.27430.62,325
Total nonprofessionals19,90934.745,61934.13,55134.7340,991
Total percent100.0100.0100.0
Number reporting4848262655

However, nearly 40% of the mandated reporters indicated that at some time in their career they had failed to report even though they had suspected child maltreatment. Almost 60% failed to report child maltreatment because they did not have enough evidence that the child had been maltreated. One-third of the mandated reporters thought the abuse was not serious enough to warrant reporting. An equal proportion of mandated reporters did not report suspected abuse because they felt they were in a better position to help the child (19.3%) or they did not want to end the treatment (19%) they were giving the child. Almost 16% failed to report because they did not think CPS would respond appropriately.

In Confronting Chronic Neglect: The Education and Training of Health Professionals on Family Violence (2002), Felicia Cohn, Marla E. Salmon, and John D. Stobo examine the curricula on family violence for six groups of health professionals: physicians, physician assistants, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and dentists. They find that, in fact, even though child abuse is a well-documented social and public health problem in the United States, few medical schools and residency training programs include child abuse education and other family violence education in their curricula. What training there is consists of lectures and case discussions, and the training duration varies from program to program. Suzanne P. Starling and Stephen Boos suggest in Core Content for Residency Training in Child Abuse and Neglect (Child Maltreatment, vol. 8, no. 4, 2003) offering a core curriculum in residency programs that would enable primary care physicians (including pediatricians, family doctors, and emergency-medicine doctors) to recognize, evaluate, and manage cases of child abuse and neglect. In Pediatrician Characteristics Associated with Child Abuse Identification and Reporting: Results from a National Survey of Pediatricians (Child Maltreatment, vol. 11, no. 4, 2006), Emalee G. Flaherty et al. support the idea that physicians should receive training and find in a national survey that pediatricians who received recent child abuse education were more likely to suspect and report child abuse when it existed.

In Child Maltreatment Training in Doctoral Programs in Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychology: Where Do We Go from Here? (Child Maltreatment, vol. 8, no. 3, 2003), Kelly M. Champion et al. seek to gain information on the type and amount of training psychologists received regarding child maltreatment in American Psychological Associationaccredited doctoral programs. Their study examined surveys sent to training directors of doctoral programs in 1992 and 2001. Champion et al. find that doctoral programs had generally remained unchanged within these years. Few doctoral programs offered specific courses on child maltreatment in 1992 and 2001, just 13% and 11%, respectively. Even though 65% of programs in 1992 and 59% in 2001 covered child maltreatment in three or more courses, these courses were rarely required to complete a doctoral program. Twenty percent of programs in 1992 and 22% in 2001 offered training in child maltreatment in clinical settings; however, most programs reported that students completed just 1% to 10% of such training. Finally, research activities in child maltreatment decreased from 60% in 1992 to 47% in 2001.

What Happens after a Child Maltreatment Report?

CPS. On receipt of a report of suspected child maltreatment, CPS screens the case to determine its proper jurisdiction. For example, if it is determined that the alleged perpetrator of sexual abuse is the victim's parent or caretaker, CPS screens in the report and conducts further investigation. If the alleged perpetrator is a stranger or someone who is not the parent or caregiver of the victim, the case is screened out or referred elsewhere, in this case, to the police because it does not fall within CPS jurisdiction as outlined under federal law.

A state's child welfare system, under which CPS functions, consists of other components designed to ensure

a child's well-being and safety. These include foster care, juvenile and family courts, and other child welfare services. CPS also oversees family reunification, granting custody to a relative, termination of parental rights, and emancipation (releasing a subject from the system because he or she is now recognized by the court as an adult). Cases of reported child abuse or neglect typically undergo a series of steps through the child welfare system. (See Figure 2.10.)

DISPOSITIONS OF INVESTIGATED REPORTS. After a CPS agency screens in a report of child maltreatment, it initiates an investigation. Some states follow one time frame for responding to all reports, whereas others follow a priority system, investigating high-priority cases within one to twenty-four hours. According to the ACYF, in Child Maltreatment 2006, the thirty-six states that reported response time in 2006 showed an average response time of eighty-six hours, or approximately three and a half days.

Following investigation of the report of child maltreatment, the CPS agency assigns a disposition, or finding, to the report. Before 2000 reports of alleged child maltreatment received one of three dispositions: indicated, substantiated, or unsubstantiated. In 2000 several states began implementing an alternative response program to reports of alleged child maltreatment. If the child is at a serious and immediate risk of maltreatment, CPS responds with the traditional formal investigation, which may involve removing the child from the home. If it is determined, however, that the parent will not endanger the child, CPS workers use the more informal alternative response to help the family. Instead of removing the child from the home environment, CPS steps in to assist the whole family by, for example, helping reduce stress that may lead to child abuse through provision of child care, adequate housing, and education in parenting skills. The ACYF indicates that in 2006 twelve states used the alternative response program in such cases, rather than making a formal determination of maltreatment.

Other dispositions, used by all states, include:

  • A disposition of substantiated, which means that sufficient evidence existed to support the allegation of maltreatment or risk of maltreatment
  • A disposition of indicated or reason to suspect, which means that the abuse and/or neglect could not be confirmed, but there was reason to suspect that the child was maltreated or was at risk of maltreatment
  • A disposition of unsubstantiated, which means that no maltreatment occurred or sufficient evidence did not exist to conclude that the child was maltreated or was at risk of being maltreated

Of the two million investigated reports in 2006, the ACYF states that 60.4% were unsubstantiated. More than one-fourth (25.2%) were substantiated, and 3% were indicated. (See Figure 2.11.) Another 6.3% were alternative response cases. Dispositions that were identified closed with no finding referred to cases in which the investigation could not be completed because the family moved out of the jurisdiction, the family could not be found, or the needed reports were not filed within the required time limit. Such dispositions accounted for 1.7% of investigated cases.

COURT INVOLVEMENT. The juvenile or family court hears allegations of maltreatment and decides if a child has been abused and/or neglected. The court then determines what should be done to protect the child. The child may be left in the parents home under the supervision of the CPS agency, or the child may be placed in foster care. If the child is removed from the home and it is later determined that the child should never be returned to the parents, the court can begin proceedings to terminate parental rights so that the child can be put up for adoption. The state may also prosecute the abusive parent or caretaker when a crime has allegedly been committed.

Controversies Surrounding the CPS System

The Debate about Family Preservation

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 mandated: In each case, reasonable efforts will be made (A) prior to the placement of a child in foster care, to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the child from his home, and (B) to make it possible for the child to return to his home. However, because the law did not define the term reasonable efforts, states and courts interpreted the term in different ways. In many cases child welfare personnel took the reasonable efforts of providing family counseling, respite care, and substance abuse treatment, thus preventing the child from being removed from abusive parents.

The law was a reaction to what was seen as zealousness in the 1960s and 1970s, when children, especially African-American children, were taken from their home because their parents were poor. In the twentieth-first century, however, some feel that problems of drug or substance abuse can mean that returning the child to the home is likely a guarantee of further abuse. Others note that some situations exist where a parent's live-in partner, who has no emotional attachment to the child, may also present risks to the child.

Richard J. Gelles, a prominent family violence expert and once a vocal advocate of family preservation, had a change of heart after studying the case of fifteen-month-old David Edwards, who was suffocated by his mother after the child welfare system failed to come to his rescue. Even though David's parents had lost custody of their first child because of abuse, and despite reports of David's abuse, CPS made reasonable efforts to let the parents keep the child. In The Book of David: How Preserving Families Can Cost Children's Lives (1996), Gelles points out that CPS needed to abandon its blanket solution to child abuse in its attempt to use reasonable efforts to reunite the victims and their perpetrators. He contends that those parents who seriously abuse their children are incapable of changing their behavior.

By contrast, in Foster Care vs. Family Preservation: The Track Record on Safety and Well-Being (November 4, 2007,, the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR), a nonprofit organization of experts on child abuse and foster care who are committed to the reform of the child welfare system, contends that many allegedly maltreated children are unnecessarily removed from their homes and in fact that children are in more danger when placed in foster care than when given services to help preserve the family. The NCCPR recognizes that even though there are cases in which the only way to save a child is to remove him or her from an abusive home, in many cases providing support services to the family in crisis, while letting the child remain at home, helps ensure child safety.

Joseph J. Doyle studies in Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care (American Economic Review, forthcoming) the outcomes of foster care placement on school-age children. His results suggest that children in foster care have higher delinquency rates, teen birth rates, and lower earnings compared to other children in comparable family situations. He argues that children on the margin of placementin other words, in cases of neglect or abuse where removal from the home was not a clear callwould do better if they remained at home.

Child Welfare Workforce

Child welfare caseworkers perform multiple tasks in the course of their job. Among other things, they investigate reports of child maltreatment, coordinate various services (mental health, substance abuse, etc.) to help keep families together, find foster care placements for children if needed, make regular visits to children and families, arrange placement of children in permanent homes when they cannot be safely returned to their parents or caretakers, and document all details pertaining to their cases. Caseworker supervisors monitor and support their caseworkers, sometimes taking on some of the cases when there is a staff shortage or heavy caseload.

The GAO examines in Child Welfare: HHS Could Play a Greater Role in Helping Child Welfare Agencies Recruit and Retain Staff (March 2003, the child welfare workforce and how challenges in recruiting and retaining caseworkers affect the children under their care. Among other things, the GAO focuses on exit interview documents of caseworkers who had left their jobs from seventeen states, forty counties, and nineteen private child welfare agencies. The GAO also interviewed child welfare officials and experts and conducted on-site visits to agencies in four states: California, Illinois, Kentucky, and Texas.

The GAO finds that as of 2003, CPS agencies continued to have difficulty attracting and retaining experienced caseworkers. The low pay not only made it difficult to attract qualified workers but also contributed to CPS employees leaving for better-paying jobs. Because the federal government has not set any national hiring policies, employees have college degrees that may not necessarily be related to social work. Workers whom the GAO interviewed in different states also mentioned risk to personal safety, increased paperwork, lack of supervisory support, and insufficient time to attend training as things that affected their job performance and influenced their decision to leave.

According to the GAO, in Child Welfare: Additional Federal Action Could Help States Address Challenges in Providing Services to Children and Families (May 2007,, the difficulties in recruiting and retaining caseworkers in 2007 had barely been addressed since the 2003 report. Child welfare officials in most states reported that caseloads per worker remained too high, caseworkers continued to have too many administrative responsibilities, and the effectiveness of caseworker supervision was poor.

SLIPPING THROUGH THE CRACKS. Some CPS workers at times fail to monitor the children they are supposed to protect. In Florida the Department of Children and Families could not account for the disappearance of a five-year-old foster child, Rilya Wilson, who had been missing for more than a year before the agency noticed her absence in April 2002. At around that time the agency had reportedly lost track of more than 530 children. Rilya's disappearance was only discovered after her case- worker was fired and the new caseworker could not locate the child. The former caseworker had reported that Rilya was fine, even though that caseworker had not visited the child at her foster home for months. Authorities discovered that her foster mother continued to receive welfare payments for the girl in her absence. Witnesses had also testified that the foster mother and her roommate abused the child before her disappearance. The women faced charges of aggravated child abuse, and her foster mother was convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in jail. In March 2005 one of the caregivers was indicted on charges of murdering the girl. Rilya's foster mother eventually confessed to murdering Rilya, although her body has never been recovered.

New Jersey's child welfare system had also come to national attention because of its failure to protect adopted and foster children. In October 2003 four brothers of the Jackson family in Collingswood, New Jersey, aged nine, ten, fourteen, and nineteen, were removed from their adoptive parents home and the couple was arrested. Investigations later revealed the brothers were systematically starved over many years. They weighed no more than forty-five pounds and stood less than four feet tall. The children reportedly subsisted on peanut butter, pancake batter, and wallboard. Authorities admitted two of the boys had fetal alcohol syndrome and two had eating disorders, which were the reasons the adoptive parents gave to neighbors for the brothers emaciated appearance. The brothers, however, began putting on weight and height after living with other foster families.

Investigations also revealed that Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) workers visited the adoptive parents home thirty-eight times in the past to check on three other foster children but never asked about the brothers. In 1995, when DYFS was notified by the oldest boy's school that he seemed malnourished, DYFS did not require a medical examination and even agreed to the adoptive mother's decision to homeschool the brothers. DYFS policies regulating foster homes required an annual medical evaluation and interview of each household member, but these never took place. In May 2004 the adoptive parents were indicted on twenty-eight counts of aggravated assault and child endangerment.

Maureen O'Hagan reports in Judge Demands State Keep Foster-Care Promises (Seattle Times, July 1, 2008) that in June 2008 a judge gave the Washington Department of Social and Health Services thirty days to keep the promises the state had made four years previously in the settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of the state's foster children. The lead plaintiff in that case had been through thirty-four foster-care placements by the time she turned twelve. The June 2008 ruling required the state to immediately make progress in several areas, including reducing caseworker loads to enable workers to make monthly visits to foster children, ensure foster children are promptly screened for health problems, and facilitate regular visits between foster children and their siblings. Should the state not comply, the plaintiffs lawyers can bring the state back to court, where the state could face fines or the agency could be placed under court governance.

These cases and others like them serve to focus public and media attention on the failures of CPS. Even though many departments are conscientiously and effectively doing their jobs, there are sometimes mistakes that result in great harm and even death to the children under their care.

Holding States Accountable

In 2006 the HHS released Child Welfare Outcomes 2003: Annual ReportSafety, Permanency, Well-Being (, the sixth in a series of annual reports on states performances in meeting the needs of at-risk children who have entered the child welfare system. The HHS finds that states were succeeding in some areas and failing in others. However, there had been significant improvement in several areas between 2000 and 2003: the percentage of children who were mistreated by a foster parent declined, the percentage of children who reentered foster care within a twelve-month period declined, the percentage of adoptions of children within twenty-four-months of entering foster care increased, and the percentage of children aged twelve and younger placed in group homes or other institutions decreased. However, the percentage of children who had entered foster care at age twelve or younger who then aged out of the system actually increased during this period.

According to the HHS, in The AFGARS Report: Preliminary FY 2006 Estimates as of January 2008 (January 2008,, an estimated 303,000 children entered and 289,000 exited foster care in fiscal year 2006. Of those children who exited foster care, 53% were reunited with their parents or primary caretakers, 11% went to live with relatives, 17% were adopted, and 9% were emancipated (they became legal adults). (See Table 2.16.) Two percent were transferred to another CPS agency, and another 5% were put under guardianship. Two percent of foster children had run away. Another 509 children had died. As of September 30, 2006, an estimated 510,000 children remained in foster care; 129,000 of them were waiting to be adopted.

Lives Saved

Even though CPS agencies have had many problems and are often unable to perform as effectively as they should, many thousands of maltreated children have been identified, many lives have been saved, and many more

TABLE 2.16 Outcomes for children who exited foster care, fiscal year 2006
SOURCE: What Were the Outcomes for the Children Exiting Foster Care during FY 2006? in The AFCARS Report, U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, Children's Bureau, January 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
Reunification with parent(s) or primary caretaker(s)53%154,103
Living with other relative(s)11%30,751
Transfer to another agency2%6,683
Death of child0%509
Note: Deaths are attributable to a variety of causes including medical conditions, accidents and homicide.

have been taken out of dangerous environments. It is impossible to tally the number of child abuse cases that might have ended in death; these children have been saved by changes in the laws, by awareness and reporting, and by the efforts of the professionals who intervened on their behalf.

Domestic Violence, Law Enforcement, and Court Responses to Domestic Violence

views updated May 18 2018

Chapter 9
Domestic Violence, Law Enforcement, and Court Responses to Domestic Violence

Police Response to Domestic Violence
Reporting Domestic Violence to the Police
Outcome of Police Intervention
Not All Victims who Seek Police Attention are the Same
Protection Orders
Landmark Legal Decisions
Key Domestic Violence Legislation
Difficulties in the Court System
Treatment for Male Batterers

Police Response to Domestic Violence

Family disturbance calls constitute most of the calls received by police departments throughout the country. Historically, such calls were not been taken seriously, which reflects society's attitude about domestic violence at the time. For instance, in the mid-1960s Detroit police dispatchers were instructed to screen out family disturbance calls unless they suspected excessive violence. A 1975 police guide, The Function of the Police in Crisis Intervention and Conflict Management, taught officers to avoid arrest at all costs and to discourage the victim from pressing charges by emphasizing the consequences of testifying in court, the potential lost income, and other detrimental aspects of prosecution.

Changes in society's tolerance for domestic violence mean that these approaches to domestic violence no longer enjoy official support (although they may still influence the actions of individual officers). By 2008 every state had moved to authorize probable cause arrests (arrest before the completion of the investigation of the alleged violation or crime) without a warrant in domestic violence cases. (A warrant is a written legal document authorizing a police officer to make a search, seizure, or arrest.) Many police departments have adopted pro-arrest or mandatory arrest policies. Pro-arrest strategies include a range of sanctions from issuing a warning, to mandated treatment, to prison time.

The police are often an abuse victim's initial contact with the judicial system, making the police response particularly important. The manner in which the police handle a domestic violence complaint will likely color the way the victim views the entire judicial system. Not surprisingly, when police project the blame for intimate partner violence on victims, the victims may be reluctant to report further abuse.

In Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables (December 2006,, which analyzes data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that in 2005, 47.4% of all violent crimes were reported to the police. Out of violent crimes reported to the police, the police came to the aid of victims in 78.2% of cases, the victim went to the police 3.2% of the time, and the police did not come 11% of the time. (See Table 9.1.) Police came to the aid of more victims of robbery (84.8%) and aggravated assault (79%), while coming less often to the aid of victims of purse snatching or pocket picking (64.2%).

The BJS notes that in 2005, 54.6% of female victims of violence had reported the crime to the police. (See Table 9.2.) However, only 38.5% of female victims of rape or sexual assault reported the crime.

Reporting Domestic Violence to the Police

It is well established that a significant amount of intimate partner violence is unreported or underreported. In the past most women did not report incidents of abuse to the police. In the 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey, Murray A. Straus and Richard J. Gelles find that only 6.7% of all husband-to-wife assaults were reported to police. When the assaults are categorized by severity as measured on a Conflict Tactics Scale, only 3.2% of minor violence cases and 14.4% of severe violence cases were reported.

The women who chose not to report their abuse cited a variety of reasons, including fear of retaliation, loss of income, or loss of their children to child protection authorities. When abuse is reported to law enforcement agencies, it is often by health care professionals from whom the woman has sought treatment for her injuries. In many states health professionals are mandated by law to report all instances of domestic violence to law enforcement authorities.

TABLE 9.1 Police response to a reported incident, by type of crime, 2005
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
aIncludes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault
SOURCE: Table 106. Personal and Property Crimes, 2005: Percent Distribution of Police Response to a Reported Incident, by Type of Crime, in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2006, (accessed June 26, 2008)
 Percent of incidents
>Type of crime>Number of incidents>Total>Police came to victim>Victim went to police>contact with policedon't know how>Police did not come>Not known if police came>Police were at the secne
Crimes of violence2,100,200100.0%78.2%3.2%0.0%*11.0%2.9%4.7%
Rape/sexual assaulta70,700100.0%74.713.3*0.0*8.0*0.0*3.9*
Aggravated assault522,910100.0%79.03.5*0.0*12.03.8*1.7*
Simple assault1,219,320100.0%76.52.9*0.0*11.42.2*6.9
Purse snatching/pocket picking79,97010064.29.2*0.0*26.6*0.0*0.0*
Property crimes6,998,740100.0%66.5%4.6%0.1%*24.7%2.6%1.5%
Household burglary1,906,390100.0%*13.41.6*1.0*
Motor vehicle theft786,800100.0%70.22.6*0.0*21.14.0*2.0*
TABLE 9.2 Violent victimizations reported to police by type of crime, victim-offender relationship, and gender of victims, 2005
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
aIncludes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault
SOURCE: "Table 93. Violent Crimes, 2005: Percent of Victimizations Reported to the Police, by Type of Crime, Victim-Offender Relationship and Gender of Victims," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2006, (accessed June 26, 2008)
> Percent of all victimizations reported to the police
> All victimizationsInvolving strangersInvolving nonstrangers
Type of crimeBoth gendersMaleFemaleBoth gendersMaleFemaleBoth gendersMaleFemale
Crimes of violence47.4%42.4%54.6%45.9%39.7%59.3%49.2%46.8%51.4%
Completed violence61.559.064.961.756.374.861.263.859.1
Attempted/threatened violence40.834.549.738.631.752.943.439.247.4
Rape/sexual assaulta38.335.8*38.556.135.8*61.9*28.3*0.0*28.3*
Completed/property taken60.555.570.657.553.868.270.365.0*74.1
With injury73.867.784.970.464.282.4*100.0*100.0*100.0*
Without injury53.649.362.449.048.252.3*64.354.9*70.2*
Attempted to take property36.430.965.2*30.426.658.0*71.8*67.6*78.3*
With injury39.6*36.9*100.0*35.2*35.2*0.0*65.9*51.7*100.0*
Without injury35.027.7*62.2*28.2*21.9*58.0*74.3*76.0*72.0*
With injury76.275.078.480.277.090.6*72.171.772.4
Threatened with weapon56.052.262.549.745.658.065.263.367.6
With minor injury59.054.466.054.848.469.362.460.864.2
Attempted threat without weapon37.

Table 9.2 shows that in 2005 women who were victims of violent crime at the hands of strangers were more likely to report the crime than were women who were victimized by nonstrangers (59.3% and 51.4%, respectively). People who reported crimes of violence to the police reported various reasons for doing so, including to prevent further crimes by offender against the victim (19.6%) or anyone else (10.4%), to stop or prevent that incident (20.1%), to punish the offender (8.1%), to catch or find the offender (7.4%), or simply because it was a crime (15.1%). (See Table 9.3.)

People who did not report violent crime to the police often said it was a personal matter (20.3%), the police

TABLE 9.3 Reasons for reporting victimizations to the police, by type of crime, 2005
>Type of crime>Numbers of reasons for reporting>Total>Stop or prevent this incident>Needed help due to injury>To recover property>To collect insuranceTo prevent further crimes by offender against victims
All personal crimes2,399,330100.0%19.7%2.3%3.5%0.0%*19.4%
Crimes of violence2,292,200100.0%*19.6
Completed violence797,780100.0%*20.1
Attempted/threatened violence1,494,410100.0%22.71.0*0.7*0.0*19.4
Rape/sexual assaulta88,740100.0%16.6*3.4*3.4*0.0*17.2*
Completed/property taken260,590100.0%7.8*1.1*17.30.0*11.0*
With injury67,940100.0%12.5*0.0*4.1*0.0*4.8*
Without injury192,650100.0%6.1*1.5*21.90.0*13.2*
Attempted to take property121,040100.0%8.3*0.0*2.6*0.0*13.5*
With injury44,810100.0%8.7*0.0*0.0*0.0*8.7*
Without injury76,220100.0%8.0*0.0*4.1*0.0*16.2*
Purse snatching/pocket picking107,130100.0%9.7*0.0*23.5*0.0*13.8*
All property crimes9,314,820100.0%9.0%0.3%*21.8%4.4%10.6%
Household burglary2,897,810100.0%12.40.2*17.93.514.3
Forcible entry1,309,190100.0%11.80.2*
Unlawful entry without force1,312,720100.0%11.30.2*21.13.413.5
Attempted forcible entry275,900100.0%20.10.0*0.0*0.8*13.7
Motor vehicle theft1,080,350100.0%5.70.5*
 Percent of reasons for reporting
>Type of crime>To prevent crime by offender>To punish offender>To catch or find offender>To improve police surveillance>Duty to notify police>Because it was a crime>Some other Reasons>Not Available
All personal crimes10.5%7.7%7.1%3.0%6.2%15.3%3.7%1.7%
Crimes of violence10.*
Completed violence8.*3.6*16.12.1*1.6*
Attempted/threatened violence11.*
Rape/sexual assaulta17.6*9.0*5.6*0.0*5.8*18.1*3.3*0.0*
Completed/property taken5.2*6.4*12.0*2.8*4.3*27.81.2*3.0*
With injury0.0*0.0*22.2*5.0*0.0*39.8*0.0*11.6*
Without injury7.0*8.7*8.4*2.1*5.8*23.61.7*0.0*
Attempted to take property21.2*5.0*18.6*2.6*9.5*13.8*5.0*0.0*
With injury16.9*0.0*16.9*0.0*18.7*16.6*13.4*0.0*
Without injury23.7*8.0*19.6*4.1*4.1*12.2*0.0*0.0*
Purse snatching/pocket picking13.1*0.0*0.0*0.0*6.7*19.0*10.5*3.7*

would not want to be bothered (5.5%) or would be ineffective or biased (4%), and fear of reprisal (3.8%). (See Table 9.4.) Reasons varied according to whether the crime was perpetrated by a stranger or a nonstranger. For example, 31.1% of rape and sexual assault victims who were violated by a nonstranger and who did not report the crime to police said they did not report the victimization because it was a private or personal matter; no one raped by a stranger gave this reason. (See Table 9.5.) Similarly, 27% of people assaulted by a nonstranger and who did not report the crime said it was because it was a private or personal matter, whereas only 15.3% of nonreporters who were assaulted by a stranger gave this reason.

Shannan Catalano of the BJS reports in Intimate Partner Violence in the United States (December 2007, that in 200405, 62.1% of female victims of intimate partner violence and 64.3% of male victims reported the violence to police. The percentage of both men and women who reported the violence to the police had risen since 199495.

TABLE 9.3 Reasons for reporting victimizations to the police, by type of crime, 2005 [CONTINUED]
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
Some respondents may have cited more than one reason for reporting victimizations to the police.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
aIncludes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault
SOURCE: "Table 101. Personal and Property Crimes, 2005: Percent of Reasons for Reporting Victimizations to the Police, by Type of Crime," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2006, (accessed June 26, 2008)
>Type of crime>To prevent crime by offender against anyone>To punish offender>To catch or find offender>To improve police surveillance>Duty to notify police>Because it was a crime>some other reasons>Not Available
All personal crimes10.5%7.7%7.1%3.0%6.2%15.3%3.7%1.7%
Household burglary7.*
Forcible entry7.*1.7*
Unlawful entry without force7.*0.4*
Attempted forcible entry6.6*0.0*8.0*10.8*5.5*25.46.2*2.8*
Motor vehicle theft5.*1.4*

Between 2001 and 2005 African-American females were the most likely to report intimate partner violence to police (70.2%), whereas African-American males were the least likely (46.5%). (See Figure 9.1.). Hispanic males were much more likely than non-Hispanic males to report intimate partner violence (86.2% and 53.2%, respectively), whereas Hispanic females were slightly more likely than non-Hispanic females to report (66.3% and 58.6%, respectively). (See Figure 9.2.)

Male and female victims of intimate partner violence who did not report the violence to police differed in the reasons they did not report. Nearly four out of ten (39.2%) male victims said they did not report because it was a private matter, compared to 21.8% of female victims. (See Table 9.6.) By contrast, female victims were much more likely to state they feared reprisal (12.4% and 5.3%, respectively). Other reasons reported included to protect the offender, because victims viewed it as a minor crime, or because victims believed the police were ineffective or would not do anything.

In The Reporting of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault by Nonstrangers to the Police (March 2005,, Richard Felson and Paul-Philippe Pare´ use data from the NCVS to examine the effects of the gender of the victim and the relationship between victim and offender on the victim's decision to report or not report a physical or sexual assault to the police. They find that victims are just as likely to report assaults by intimate partners as they are to report assaults by other people they know. Sexual assaults are less likely to be reported than are physical assaults.

Marsha E. Wolf et al., in Barriers to Seeking Police Help for Intimate Partner Violence (Journal of Family Violence, vol. 18, no. 2, April 2003), interviewed forty-one battered women to find out what kept them from calling police. The factors cited included the idea that they must have physical proof that battering had occurred, the desire to avoid a humiliating physical examination in the case of rape or sexual abuse, cultural attitudes about domestic violence, poor self-esteem, being physically prevented from calling the police by the batterer, poor police response when battering was previously reported, and fears of possible retaliation by the batterer or removal of children from the home by child protective services. These women also came up with a wish list for how they wanted police to treat them when they called about domestic violence. This list, in the words of Wolf et al., reflects the women's desires to have responsive police who treat victims with dignity, listen to them, and send appropriate messages to victims and batterers.

Outcome of Police Intervention

In the early 1970s it was legal for the police to make probable cause arrests without a warrant for felonies, but only fourteen states permitted it for misdemeanors. Because the crime of simple assault and battery is a misdemeanor in most states, family violence victims were forced to initiate their own criminal charges against a batterer. By 2008, however, all states authorized warrantless probable cause misdemeanor arrests in domestic violence cases. However, more than half of the states have added qualifiers, such as visible signs of injury or

TABLE 9.4 Reasons for not reporting victimizations to the police, by type of crime, 2005
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
Some respondents may have cited more than one reason for not reporting victimizations to the police.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
aIncludes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault.
SOURCE: Table 102. Personal and Property Crimes, 2005: Percent of Reasons for Not Reporting Victimizations to the Police, by Type of Crime, in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2006.
 Percent of reasons for not reportingPercent of reasons for not reporting
>Type of crime>Number of reasons for not reporting>Total>Reported to another official>Private or personal matter>Object recovered; offender unsuccessful>Not important enough>Insurance would not cover>Not aware crime occurred until later>Unable to recover property; no ID no.>Lack of proof>Police would not want to be bothered>Police inefficient, ineffective, or biased>Fear of reprisal>Too inconvenient or time consuming>Other reasons
All personal crimes3,447,480100.0 %13.0 %19.8 %20.1 %6.4 %0.1 %*0.8%*0.8 %*5.2 %5.8 %3.9 %3.7 %4.0 %16.3%
Crimes of violence3,271,670100.013.220.320.16.40.1*0.5*0.6*
Completed violence828,580100.011.415.711.93.8*0.0*0.8*1.7**24.2
Rape/sexual assaulta142,410100.018.2*22.0*3.7*0.0*0.0*0.0*0.0*0.0*13.5*4.0*3.2*1.7*33.7
Completed/property taken229,230100.01.4*9.8*18.50.0*0.0*3.0*6.3*15.3*14.1*9.6*2.0*6.9*13.1*
With injury60,390100.00.0*0.0*11.3*0.0*0.0*11.3*6.3*26.9*8.1*6.8*0.0 *8.1*21.2*
Without injury168,840100.01.9*13.4*21.1*0.0*0.0*0.0*6.2*11.2*16.2*10.6*2.7*6.4*10.2*
Attempted to take property163,280100.03.6*18.2*24.80.0*0.0*0.0*2.3*20.6*4.1*5.0*0.0*5.7*15.6*
With injury38,960100.07.7*27.5*9.7*0.0*0.0*0.0*9.7*29.0*0.0*0.0*0.0*8.5*8.0*
Without injury124,320100.02.3*15.3*29.50.0*0.0*0.0*0.0*18.0*5.3*6.6*0.0*4.9*18.0*
Purse snatching/pocket picking175,810100.09.6*10.6*21.56.1*0.0*7.8*5.1*16.2*11.1*1.8*1.7*0.0*8.4*
All property crimes14,073,950100.0 %8.6 %5.1 %26.7 %3.9 %3.0 %5.6%7.4 %13.0 %8.7 %2.9 %0.6 %3.9 %10.4%
Household burglary2,023,280100.*3.912.2
Forcible entry381,430100.02.7*4.1*9.5*2.3*6.6*5.3*9.5*15.99.5*6.6 *2.2*7.0*18.8
Unlawful entry1,328,610100.04.35.320.*3.710.9
without force       6.4*0.0*14.87.4*6.7*0.0*0.9*9.2*
Attempted forcible entry313,240100.05.8*0.0*31.514.52.9*        
Motor vehicle theft211,600100.01.3*9.5*31.20.0*5.5*4.8*2.3*9.0*7.9*6.2*4.4*4.1*13.8*
Attempted129,730100.02.2*2.9*46.90.0*4.6*7.8*0.0 *10.2*10.5*4.2*0.0*1.7*9.0*
TABLE 9.5 Reasons for not reporting violent victimizations to the police, by victim-offender relationship and type of crime, 2005
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
Some respondents may have cited more than one reason for not reporting victimizations to the police.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
aIncludes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault.
SOURCE: Table 104. Personal Crimes of Violence, 2005: Percent of Reasons for Not Reporting Victimizations to the Police, by Victim-Offender Relationship and Type of Crime, in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2006, (accessed June 26, 2008)
 Percent of reasons for not reportingPercent of reasons for not reporting
Relationship and type of crimeNumber of reasons for not reportingTotalReported to another officialPrivate or personal matterObject recovered; offender unsuccessfulNot important enoughInsurance would not coverNot aware crime occurred until laterUnable to recover property; no ID no.Lack of proofPolice would not want to be botheredPolice inefficient, ineffective, or biasedFear of reprisalToo inconvenient or time consumingOther reasons
Involving strangers
Crimes of violence1,689,490100.0%10.4%13.7%24.6%6.5%0.2%*0.5%*1.1%*7.6%6.5%5.4%4.6%5.6%13.3%
Rape/sexual assaulta41,910100.0%49.6*0.0*12.7*0.0*0.0*0.0*0.0*0.0*19.9*6.9*11.0*0.0*0.0*
Involving nonstrangers
Crimes of violence1,582,190100.0%16.227.415.36.30.0*0.4*0.0*1.5*4.42.632.820.3
Rape/sexual assaulta100,500100.0%5.1*31.1*0.0*0.0*0.0*0.0*0.0*0.0*10.8*2.8*0.0*2.4*47.7

a report of the violence within eight hours of the incident. Most state codes authorizing warrantless arrests require

TABLE 9.6 Intimate partner violence victims who failed to report their victimization to the police, by reasons for not reporting and by gender, 200105
SOURCE: Information is not provided because the small number of cases is insufficient for reliable estimates. *Based on 10 or fewer sample cases. Note: Detail may not add to 100% because victims may report more than one reason and because of values not shown in instances when the small number of cases in category is insufficient for reliable estimates.
Shannan Catalano, Reasons for Not Reporting, in Intimate Partner Violence in the United States, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2007, (accessed May 20, 2008)
> Percent of victims who did not report the victimization
>Reason victimizations not reported>Female victims>Male victims
Private or personal matter22.8%39.2%
Afraid of reprisal12.45.3*
Protect offender14.415.6
Minor crime8.48.5*
Police will not do anything7.9
Police ineffectiveness2.72*
Reported to another official3.1*
Police biased1.3*1.2*
Not clear a crime occurred1.9*8.6*
Don't know why I did not report it0.6*1.2*
Other reason given2217.1

police to inform victims of their rights, which include the acquisition of protection orders and referral to emergency and shelter facilities and transportation.

In Determining Police Response to Domestic Violence Victims (American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 36, no. 5, MayJune 1993), a landmark study of four precincts of the Detroit Police Department and their responses to domestic violence in 1993, Eve S. Buzawa and Thomas Austin document several factors that affected police decisions to arrest offenders:

  • The presence of bystanders or children during the abuse
  • The presence of guns and sharp objects as weapons
  • An injury resulting from the assault
  • The offender and victim sharing the same residence whether they were married or not
  • The victim's desire to have the offender arrested (of the victims who expressed such a desire, arrests were made in 44% of the cases; when the victim did not want the offender arrested, arrests were made in only 21% of the cases)

Mandatory Arrests

Arrest gained popularity as a tactic after the publication of the first in a series of six studies funded by the National Institute of Justice known as the Spouse Assault Replication Program. All the studies were designed to explain how arrest in domestic violence cases could serve as a deterrent to future violence. Lawrence W. Sherman and Richard A. Berk, the authors of the influential first study in the series, The Specific Deterrent Effects of Arrest for Domestic Assault (American Sociological Review, vol. 49, 1984), find that the arrest intervention certainly did not make things worse and may well have made things better.

Even though Sherman and Berk caution about generalizing the results of a small study dealing with a single police department in which few police officers properly followed the test procedure, they conclude that in instances of domestic violence, an arrest is advisable except in cases where it would be clearly counterproductive. At the same time, Sherman and Berk recommend allowing police a certain amount of flexibility when making decisions about individual situations, on the premise that police officers must be permitted to rely on professional judgment based on experience.

Sherman and Berk's study had a tremendous impact on police practices, although J. David Hirschel, Ira W. Hutchison III, and Charles W. Dean explain in The Failure of Arrest to Deter Spouse Abuse (Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, vol. 29, no. 1, 1992) that the five other Spouse Assault Replication Program studies found arrest had little or no effect on domestic violence recurrence. Some police departments have adopted a presumptive arrest policy. This policy means that an arrest should be made unless clear and compelling reasons exist not to arrest. Presumptive arrest provisions forbid officers from basing the decision to arrest on the victim's preference or on a perception of the victim's willingness to testify or participate in the proceedings. Proponents point out that arresting an offender gives the victim a respite from fear and an opportunity to look for help. Furthermore, they claim it prevents bias in arrests.

By the 1990s as many as one out of three police precincts had adopted a mandatory arrest policy in domestic abuse cases. In The Influence of Mandatory Arrest Policies, Police Organizational Characteristics, and Situational Variables on the Probability of Arrest in Domestic Violence Cases (Crime and Delinquency, vol. 51, no. 4, 2005), David Eitle of the Florida International University finds that mandatory police arrest policies do result in more arrests when called to the scene of a domestic assault. In addition, he notes that these policies reduce somewhat the overrepresentation of African-Americans among those arrested. However, do these arrests reduce violence against women?

Some studies suggest that mandatory arrest policies have positive effects. For example, Jacquelyn C. Campbell et al. explain in Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results from a Multisite Case Control Study (American Journal of Public Health, vol. 93, no. 7, July 2003) that previous arrest for battering actually decreased women's risk of being subsequently killed by the batterer. According to Christopher D. Maxwell, Joel H. Garner, and Jeffrey A. Fagan, in The Effects of Arrest on Intimate Partner Violence: New Evidence from the Spouse Assault Replication Program (July 2001,, arrest of batterers is consistently related to subsequent reduced aggression against their intimate partner.

However, Debra Houry, Sudha Reddy, and Constance Parramore of Emory University suggest in Characteristics of Victims Coarrested for Intimate Partner Violence (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 21, no. 11, 2006) that some battered women's advocates do not support mandatory arrest. They fear that poor and minority families are treated more harshly than middle-class families and that if the police arrive and both spouses are bloodied by the fight, both will be arrested, forcing the children into foster care. In fact, Mary A. Finn and Pamela Bettis of Georgia State University state in Punitive Action or Gentle Persuasion (Violence against Women, vol. 12, no. 3, 2006) that mandatory and preferred arrest policies may be resulting in a backlash for victims who are arrested along with their batterers. Officers justified arrest of both parties, citing that such was required by law and the desire to force both parties to obtain counseling for their relationship.

In The Voices of Domestic Violence Victims: Predictors of Victim Preference for Arrest and the Relationship between Preference for Arrest and Revictimization (Crime and Delinquency, vol. 49, no. 2, April 2003), David Hirschel and Ira W. Hutchinson find support for a police policy of taking victim preferences into account in the decision to arrest. Victims based their preferences for arrest on the seriousness of the violence and the perpetrator's previous abusive behavior; in fact, victims proved to be good judges of the seriousness of the violence and the likelihood of it recurring. The researchers indicate that victims who wanted their abuser arrested were more likely to suffer subsequent abuse than were victims who did not want their batterer arrested. Hirschel and Hutchinson state that based on these data, victim desire for arrest of the offender would appear to be a factor that police should take into account in determining subsequent action.

DO MANDATORY ARREST POLICIES DISEMPOWER THE VICTIM? Paula C. Barata and Frank Schneider examine in Battered Women Add Their Voices to the Debate about the Merits of Mandatory Arrest (Women's Studies Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 34, 2004) the debate about mandatory arrest policies from a different angle: from the victim's viewpoint. They find that a large proportion of battered women actually support a mandatory arrest policy, although they were more likely to see the benefits of mandatory arrest for other victims/survivors than for themselves. Barata and Schneider hypothesize that battered women's support for mandatory arrest policies in their own situations was influenced by factors such as love for their battering partner, their fear of retaliatory abuse, or their worries about money.

Battered women whose partner had been arrested generally described a pattern of initial decreased violence when the batterer was removed from the home, but an increase in violence when the abuser, who was potentially angry about being arrested, returned home. Nearly four out of ten (38.5%) of the women interviewed believed the threat of another arrest would decrease the violence in the long run.

However, despite their disbelief in deterrence, a majority of women still thought that domestic violence was a crime, not a family problem, and several participants liked mandatory arrest policies because they proved to the abuser that assault is wrong and will be punished by the legal system. In fact, most of the battered women interviewed by Barata and Schneider did not view mandatory arrest policies as disempowering. The researchers argue that this is for two reasons: first, victims do not want the responsibility for deciding if their battering partner will be arrested and were relieved when the decision was taken out of their hands, and second, victims of battering do not believe they have much influence over the decision to arrest, even without a mandatory arrest policy in place. Also, the vast majority of women believed mandatory arrest policies made police take their abuse more seriously.

JoAnn Miller of Purdue University also studied victims perceptions of empowerment or disempowerment as a result of arrest. In An Arresting Experiment: Domestic Violence Victim Experiences and Perceptions (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 18, no. 7, July 2003), she examined two concepts of power: personal power (control of economic and social resources) and legal power (perceived empowerment in response to police intervention). Miller finds that women did not use their sense of personal power (derived from an independent income) to end domestic violence. However, she notes that victims perception of legal power (derived from their satisfaction with the police action taken) could be used to feel safer and to control interactions with a violent partner in the future. In Miller's view, mandatory arrest policies tend to undermine victims personal power because they do not take into account victims needs.

Victims Attitudes toward Police Response

In Perceptions of the Police by Female Victims of Domestic Partner Violence (Violence against Women, vol. 9, no. 11, November 2003), Robert Apsler, Michele R. Cummins, and Steven Carl investigate what female victims of domestic violence wanted from the police, the extent to which they perceived they obtained what they wanted, and how helpful they found the actions of the police. They find that women in the study were satisfied with the police response to their call. The women believed the police had been helpful, and more than 80% of them said they would definitely call the police for help in the future. Apsler, Cummins, and Carl emphasize that the particular police department involved in the study had recently instituted policies specifically designed to help battered women.

Not All Victims who Seek Police Attention are the Same

Another study by Apsler, Cummins, and Carl points out the need for a police response tailored to individual victims needs. In Fear and Expectations: Differences among Female Victims of Domestic Violence Who Come to the Attention of Police (Violence and Victims, vol. 17, no. 4, August 2002), Apsler, Cummins, and Carl report that one-quarter of women who had come to a police department requesting intervention in a violent intimate partner dispute said they were afraid of their abuser. Another 6% were fairly afraid, 12% said they were slightly afraid, and 36% claimed they were not at all afraid of their abuser. Taken together, these latter two groups accounted for nearly half of participants reporting little or no fear of their abuser.

The results were similar in terms of participants expectations of future abuse. Apsler, Cummins, and Carl find that just 21% of victims thought future abuse was likely, and well over half of women surveyed said future abuse was not at all likely or only slightly likely. These findings challenge long-standing beliefs that the victims who tend to come to the attention of the police are those who most fear future abuse.

Interestingly, there were no statistically significant relationships found between victims expectations of future violence and whether they lived with their abuser, had children under eighteen years old, or were able to support themselves financially. A less surprising result was that victims expectations of future abuse strongly influenced their desired future relationship with their offender. A strong majority (90%) of the participants who thought future abuse was fairly likely or likely wanted to permanently separate from the offenders. In contrast, only about half of the women who thought further abuse was not at all likely wanted permanent separation.

Apsler, Cummins, and Carl conclude that the differences between victims of domestic violence and their varied expectations when seeking police attention point to a need for law enforcement agencies to offer a variety of police responses tailored to victims needs. For example, they suggest that mandatory arrest of victims aggressors might not help as a universally applicable strategy for all victims, especially women who do not fear further abuse. By contrast, fearful victims might be reassured and experience greater security if police maintained regular, ongoing contact with them following the incident. Apsler, Cummins, and Carl add that police follow-up might also send a powerful message to perpetratorsthat they are under surveillance and that future violations will not be tolerated.

Protection Orders

What Are They?

An abuse victim in any state may go to court to obtain a protection order. Also referred to as restraining orders or injunctions, civil orders of protection are legally binding court orders that prohibit an individual who has committed an act of domestic violence from further abusing the victim. Even though the terms are often used interchangeably, restraining orders usually refer to short-term or temporary sanctions, whereas protection orders have longer duration and may be permanent. These orders generally prohibit harassment, contact, communication, and physical proximity to the victim. Protection orders are common and readily obtained, but they are not always effective.

All states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow an abused adult to petition the court for an order of protection. States also have laws to permit people variously related to the abuser to file for protection orders. Relatives of the victim, children of either partner, couples in dating relationships, same-sex couples, and former spouses are among those who can file for a protection order in a majority of the states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. In Hawaii and Illinois, those who shelter an abused person can also obtain a protective order against the abuser.

Petitioners may file for protection orders in circumstances other than violent physical abuse, including sexual assault, marital rape, harassment, emotional abuse, and stalking. Protection orders are valid for varying lengths of time depending on the state. In thirty states the orders are in force for six months to a year. In Illinois and Wisconsin the orders last two years, and in California and Hawaii they are in effect for three years. Furthermore, some states have extended the time during which a general or incident-specific protective order is effective. For example, a no-contact order issued against a stalker convicted in California remains in effect for ten years. In Iowa five-year protection orders are issued and additional five-year extensions may be obtained. New Jersey offers permanent protective orders, and a conviction for stalking serves as an application for a permanent restraining order. Judges in Connecticut may issue standing criminal restraining orders that remain in effect until they are altered or revoked by the court.

Protection orders give victims an option other than filing a criminal complaint. Issued quickly, usually within twenty-four hours, they provide safety for the victim by barring or evicting the abuser from the household. Statutes in most states make violating a protection order a matter of criminal contempt, a misdemeanor, or even a felony. However, this judicial protection has little meaning if the police do not maintain records and follow through with arrest should the abuser violate the order.

The full faith and credit provision of the Violence against Women Act was passed to establish nationwide enforcement of protection orders in courts throughout the country. States, territories, and tribal lands were ordered to honor protection orders issued in other jurisdictions although the act did not mandate how these orders were to be enforced. According to Christina DeJong and Amanda Burgess-Proctor of Michigan State University, in A Summary of Personal Protection Order Statutes in the United States (Violence against Women, vol. 12, no. 1, January 2006), most states have amended their state domestic violence codes or statutes to reflect the new requirement, although the states vary widely on how easy it is for battered women to get their protection orders enforced. Courts and law enforcement agencies in most states have access to electronic registries of protection orders, both to verify the existence of an order and to assess whether violations have occurred.

Effects of Protection Orders

In Protection Orders and Intimate Partner Violence: An 18-Month Study of 150 Black, Hispanic, and White Women (American Journal of Public Health, vol. 94, no. 4, April 2004), Judith McFarlane et al. report on their study of the effects on intimate partner violence of the application for and receipt of a two-year protection order against abusers. The researchers interviewed 150 women over an eighteen-month period to determine whether protection orders diminished violence. Even though almost half (44%) of the women reported at least one violation of the order, McFarlane et al. find significant reductions in physical assaults, stalking, and threats of assault over time among all women who applied for a protection order, even if they had not been granted the order. McFarlane et al. hypothesize that it was not the protection order itself that led to the diminished violence but the contact with the criminal justice system that exposed the battering to public view.

Victoria L. Holt et al. come to a similar conclusion in Do Protection Orders Affect the Likelihood of Future Partner Violence and Injury? (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 24, no. 1, January 2003), a study of 448 female victims of intimate partner violence. The researchers measured the number of unwelcome calls or visits, threats, threats with weapons, psychological, sexual, or physical abuse, and abuse-related medical care among women who had obtained a civil protection order and those who had not. Holt et al. find that women who obtained a protection order following an abusive incident had a significantly decreased risk of contact by the abuser, threats by weapons, injury, and abuse-related medical care.

Enforcement of Orders of Protection

Robert J. Kane of the American University examines in Police Responses to Restraining Orders in Domestic Violence Incidents (Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 27, no. 5, 2000) arrest patterns of batterers who violate restraining orders. Even though all the violators in his study were required by Massachusetts state law to be immediately arrested, in reality only between 20% and 40% of violators of restraining orders were taken into custody. Kane finds that restraining orders had no significant effect on arrest rate; instead, police perception of imminent danger to the victim was the strongest predictor of arrest. He also finds that as the number of domestic violence calls from one victim to police increased, the rate of arrest decreased, regardless of whether a restraining order was in place. Kane suggests that further studies should be done into variations in arrest rates that include personal characteristics of police officers and the social contexts of the couples involved in domestic violence incidents.

The U.S. Department of Justice observes in Enforcement of Protective Orders (January 2002, that even though all the states have passed some form of legislation to benefit victims of domestic violence, and thirty-two states have integrated these rights at the constitutional level, the scope and enforcement of these rights varies. The Department of Justice calls for law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and judges to be completely informed about the existence and specific terms and requirements of orders and to act to enforce them. Furthermore, it asserts that unequivocal standardized enforcement of court orders is imperative if protective orders are to be taken seriously by the offenders they attempt to restrain.

Landmark Legal Decisions

Before the 1962 landmark case Self v. Self (58 Cal. 2d 683), when the California Supreme Court ruled that one spouse may maintain an action against the other for battering, women had no legal recourse against abusive partners. The judicial system had tended to view wife abuse as a matter to be resolved within the family. Maintaining that a man's home is his castle, the federal government traditionally had been reluctant to violate the sanctity of the home. Furthermore, many legal authorities persisted in blaming the victim, maintaining that the wife was, to some degree, responsible for her own beating by somehow inciting her husband to lose his temper.

Yet even after Self v. Self, turning to the judicial system for help was still unlikely to bring assistance to or result in justice for victims of spousal abuse. Jurisdictions throughout the United States continued to ignore the complaints of battered women until the late 1970s.

Many victims of domestic violence have sought legal protection from their abusive partner. This section summarizes the outcomes of several landmark cases that not only helped define judicial responsibility but also shaped the policies and practices aimed at protecting victimized women.

Baker v. The City of New York

Sandra Baker was estranged from her husband. In 1955 the local domestic relations court issued a protective order directing her husband, who had a history of serious mental illness, not to strike, molest, threaten, or annoy his wife. Baker called the police when her husband created a disturbance at the family home. When a police officer arrived, she showed him the court order. The officer told her it was no good and only a piece of paper and refused to take any action.

Baker went to the domestic relations court and told her story to a probation officer. While making a phone call, she saw her husband in the corridor. She went to the probation officer and told him her husband was in the corridor. She asked if she could wait in his office because she was afraid to stand in the room with him. The probation officer told her to go to the waiting room. Minutes later, her husband shot and wounded her.

Baker sued the city of New York, claiming that the city owed her more protection than she was given. The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, in Baker v. The City of New York (1966), agreed that the city of New York failed to fulfill its obligation. The court found that she was a person recognized by order of protection as one to whom a special duty was owed . . . and peace officers had a duty to supply protection to her. Neither the police officer nor the probation officer had fulfilled this duty, and both were found guilty of negligence. Because the officers were representatives of the city of New York, Baker had the right to sue the city.

Equal Protection

Another option desperate women have used in response to unchecked violence and abuse is to sue the police for failing to offer protection, alleging that the police violated their constitutional rights to liberty and equal protection under the law. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This clause prohibits states from arbitrarily classifying individuals by group membership. If a woman can prove that a police department has a gender-based policy of refusing to arrest men who abuse their wives, she can claim that the policy is based on gender stereotypes and therefore violates the equal protection law.

THURMAN V. CITY OF TORRINGTON. Between October 1982 and June 1983 Tracey Thurman repeatedly called the Torrington, Connecticut, police to report that her estranged husband was threatening her life and that of her child. The police ignored her requests for help no matter how often she called or how serious the situation became. At one point her husband attacked her in view of the police and was arrested. Thurman obtained protection and restraining orders against him after this incident. However, when her husband later came to her home and threatened her again, in violation of his probation and the court orders, police refused to intervene.

On June 10, 1983, Thurman's husband came to her home. She called the police. He then stabbed her repeatedly around the chest, neck, and throat. A police officer arrived twenty-five minutes later but did not arrest her husband, despite the attack. Three more police officers arrived. The husband went into the house and brought out their child and threw him down on his bleeding mother. The officers still did not arrest him. Even though his wife was on the stretcher waiting to be placed in the ambulance, he came at her again. Only at that point did police take him into custody. Thurman later sued the city of Torrington, claiming she was denied equal protection under the law.

In Thurman v. City of Torrington (595 F. Supp. 1521 [D. Conn. 1984]), the U.S. District Court for Downstate Connecticut agreed, stating:

City officials and police officers are under an affirmative duty to preserve law and order, and to protect the personal safety of people in the community. This duty applies equally to women whose personal safety is threatened by individuals with whom they have or have had a domestic relationship as well as to all other people whose personal safety is threatened. . . . A police officer may not . . . automatically decline to make an arrest simply because the assailant and his victim are married to each other. Such inaction on the part of the officer is a denial of the equal protection of the laws.

There could be no question, the court concluded, that the city of Torrington, through its police department, had condoned a pattern or practice of affording inadequate protection or no protection at all, to women who complained of having been abused by their husbands or others with whom they have had close relations. Therefore, the police had failed in their duty to protect Tracey Thurman and deserved to be sued.

Due Process

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state can deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. It does not, however, obligate the state to protect the public from harm or provide services that would protect them. Rather, a state may create special conditions in which that state has constitutional obligations to particular citizens because of a special relationship between the state and the individual. Abused women have used this argument to claim that being under a protection order puts them in a special relationship.

MACIAS V. HIDE. During the eighteen months before her estranged husband, Avelino Macias, murdered her at her place of work, Maria Teresa Macias had filed twenty-two police complaints. In the months before her death, Avelino Macias sexually abused his wife, broke into her home, terrorized, and stalked her. The victim's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department in California, accusing the department of failing to provide Macias equal protection under the law and of discriminating against her as a Hispanic and a woman.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the case because Judge D. Lowell Jensen (1928) said there was no connection between Macias's murder and how the sheriff's department had responded to her complaints. In Macias v. Hide (No. 99-15662 [2000]), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the earlier decision and ruled that the lawsuit could proceed with the discovery phase and pretrial motions. Judge Arthur L. Alarcon (1935) of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit conveyed the unanimous opinion of the court when he wrote, It is well established that there is no constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen. There is a constitutional right, however, to have police services administered in a nondiscriminatory mannera right that is violated when a state actor denies such protection to disfavored persons.

After this decision the case proceeded to trial. In June 2002 Sonoma County agreed to pay $1 million to the Macias family to settle the case. The settlement agreement did not include an admission of any wrongdoing by the county. Nevertheless, domestic violence activists lauded the result.

TOWN OF CASTLE ROCK V. GONZALES. The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed in 2005 that governments are not required to offer citizens protection from violent abusers. According to the case Town of Castle Rock, Colorado v. Gonzales (000 U.S. 04-278 [2005]), Jessica Gonzales's three children were taken from her home by her estranged husband in violation of an order of protection. When she alerted the police and repeatedly asked them for assistance, they made no effort to find the children or enforce the state's mandatory arrest law. The children were killed later that night. Gonzales sued the town, arguing that by failing to respond to her calls the police had violated her right to due process of law, and the case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In its review, the Court found in June 2005 that Colorado law has not created a personal entitlement to enforcement of restraining orders and that the state's law did not really require arrest in all cases, but actually left considerable discretion in the hands of the police. So even though the Castle Rock police made a tragically incorrect decision in this case, they did not do so in violation of Gonzales's due process rights. The American Civil Liberties Union subsequently filed the case with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, arguing that domestic violence victims have the right to be protected by the state from their abuser. The commission heard the case in March 2007. In October 2007 the commission decided to admit the case. In the next phase, the commission will decide whether the human rights of Gonzales and her children were violated.

Key Domestic Violence Legislation

Even though appealing to the judicial system for help will not solve all the problems an abused woman faces, the reception a battered woman can expect from the system police, prosecutors, and courtsimproved markedly in the late twentieth century. The Violence against Women Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton (1946) in September 1994, did much to help. The act simultaneously strengthened prevention and prosecution of violent crimes against women and provided law enforcement officials with the tools they needed to prosecute batterers. Even though the system is far from perfect, legal authorities are far more likely to view abuse complaints as legitimate and serious than they had in the past.

The Violence against Women Act

A key provision in the Violence against Women Act, the civil rights provisions of Title III, declares that violent crimes against women motivated by gender violate victims federal civil rightsgiving victims access to federal courts for redress. In 2000 the civil rights section of the act was tested in the U.S. Supreme Court. Christy Brzonkala, an eighteen-year-old freshman at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, was violently attacked and raped by two men, Antonio Morrison and James Crawford, on September 21, 1994. Brzonkala did not immediately report the rape, and no physical evidence of the rape was preserved. Two months later, she filed a complaint with the school; after learning that the college took limited action against the two men, she withdrew from the school and sued her assailants for damages in federal court.

Brzonkala's case reached the Supreme Court in 2000. Briefs in favor of giving victims of gender-based violence access to federal courts were filed by dozens of groups (such as the American Medical Women's Association, the National Association of Human Rights Workers, the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, and the National Women's Health Network) as well as by law scholars and human rights experts. However, in May 2000 five of the Supreme Court justices decided in United States v. Morrison et al. (529 U.S. 598) that Congress could not enact a law giving victims of gender-motivated violence access to federal civil rights remedies. The majority opinion emphasized that the Constitution requires a distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local and it ruled that the violent assault of Christy Brzonkala was local.

In October 2000 Congress responded to the Supreme Court decision by passing new legislation, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. The new statute included these titles: Strengthening Law Enforcement to Reduce Violence against Women, Strengthening Services to Victims of Violence, Limiting the Effects of Violence on Children, and Strengthening Education and Training to Combat Violence against Women. The act allocated $3.3 billion over five years to fund traditional support services along with prevention and education about dating violence, rape, and stalking via the Internet, as well as new programs for transitional housing and expanded protection for immigrant women. The new act did not mention women's civil rights. The Violence against Women Act was reauthorized in 2005, providing funding to programs through 2009.

Domestic Violence Gun Ban

Federal law includes batterers convicted of domestic violence crimes or those with domestic violence protection orders filed against them among the people who are prohibited from owning or carrying guns. Since 1994, most people attempting to purchase guns in the United States have had to pass a background check first. In Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2006 Statistical Tables (March 19, 2008,, the BJS states that between 1994 and 2006, 78.5 million applications for firearm permits or transfers were subjected to background investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and state and local agencies. (See Table 9.7.) Of these applications, close to 1.5 million (1.9%) were rejected. A substantial proportion of these rejections were because of previous domestic violence convictions. In 2006, 12.4% of applications rejected by the FBI, 10.4% of applications rejected by the state, and 11.1% of applications rejected by local authorities were rejected because of a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction. (See Table 9.8.) After prior felony convictions and other criminal history, domestic violence was the third-leading reason for rejecting applicants gun permit requests.

Loopholes in state and federal laws allow batterers to purchase guns despite the federal ban. In many states private gun owners can sell their firearms without back-

TABLE 9.7 Number of applications and estimates of denials for firearm transfers or permits, 19942006
Note: Counts are rounded to the nearest 1,000.
aFrom March 1, 1994 to November 29, 1998, background checks on applicants were conducted by state and local agencies, mainly on handgun transfers.
bThe National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) began operations. Checks on handgun and long gun transfers are conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and by state and local agencies. Totals combine Firearm Inquiry Statistics (FIST) estimates for state and local agencies with actual transactions and denials reported by the FBI.
cNovember 30 to December 31, 1998. Counts are from the NICS Operations Report for the period and may include multiple transactions for the same application.
SOURCE: "Table 1. Number of Applications and Estimates of Denials for Firearm Transfers or Permits since the Inception of the Brady Act, 19942006," in Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2006 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 2008, bcft06st/table/bcft06st01.htm (accessed July 3, 2008)
 Number of applications 
>Received>Denied>Percent denied
Brady interim perioda
Permanent Bradyb65,782,0001,182,0001.8

ground checks. In addition, many states keep incomplete records of domestic violence offenders and orders of protection. Still other evidence suggests that some gun dealers knowingly allow people who are not legally eligible to purchase firearms to buy them through a third party. However, Elizabeth Richardson Vigdor and James A. Mercy report in Do Laws Restricting Access to Firearms by Domestic Violence Offenders Prevent Intimate Partner Homicide? (Evaluation Review, vol. 30, no. 3, June 2006) that female intimate partner homicide declines by 7% after a state passes a law restricting access to firearms by individuals subject to a restraining order, although they see no decline in homicides resulting from restricting access of those convicted of a misdemeanor to firearms.

Difficulties in the Court System

An appeal to the U.S. judicial system should be an effective method of obtaining justice. For battered women, however, this has not always been the case. In the past ignorance, social prejudices, and uneven attention from the criminal justice system all tended to underestimate the severity and importance of battering crimes against women. Even though society has become significantly less tolerant of domestic violence, and laws in many states criminalize behavior previously considered acceptable, old attitudes and biases continue to plague intimate partner violence and spouse abuse cases in the courts.

Intimate partner abuse cases are often complicated by evidence problems, because domestic violence usually takes place behind closed doors. The volatile and unpredictable emotions and motivations influencing the behav-

TABLE 9.8 Reasons for rejection of firearm transfer applications, 19992006
aIncludes state prohibitions, multiple DUI's, non-NCIC (National Crime Information Center) warrants, and other unspecified criminal history disqualifiers.
bIncludes juveniles, persons dishonorably discharged from the Armed Services, persons who have renounced their U.S. citizenship, and other unspecified persons.
SOURCE: Table 4. Reasons for Denial of Firearm Transfer Applications by Checking Agencies, 19992006, in Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2006 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 2008, (accessed July 3, 2008)
>Reason for denial>FBI>State>Local>FBI>State>Local
Felony indictment/conviction36.144.726.24856.727.3
Other criminal historya28.519.4
State law prohibition6.11.36.914.2
Domestic violence      
Misdemeanor conviction9.810.814.112.410.411.1
Restraining order4.
Illegal alien1.
Mental illness or disability0.
Drug addiction8.719.
Local law prohibition02.705.8
Other prohibitionsb4.318.431.3312.726.3
Note: Reasons for denials are based on 18 U.S.C. 922 and state laws.
Not available or Not applicable.

ior of both the abuser and victim may not always fit neatly into the organized and systematic framework of legal case presentation. Finally, the varying training mandates to ensure that prosecutors and judges are better informed about the social and personal costs of domestic violence, along with society's changing attitudes toward abuse, influence the responses of the judicial system.

The victim-offender relationship is an important factor in determining how the offender is treated by the criminal justice system. On the one hand, strangers are treated more harshly because stranger offenses are considered more heinous and the true targets of the justice system. As a result, criminal law is strictly enforced against them. On the other hand, the justice system has traditionally perceived nonstranger offenses as a victim's misuse of the legal system to deal with a strained interpersonal relationship.

Willingness of Victims to Prosecute

One of the most formidable problems in prosecuting abusers is the victim's reluctance to cooperate. Even though many abused women have the courage to initiate legal proceedings against their batterer, some are later reluctant to cooperate with the prosecution because of their emotional attachment to their abuser. Other reasons for their reluctance are fear of retaliation, mistrust or lack of information about the criminal justice system, or fear of the demands of court appearances. These reasons are among the findings by Lisa Goodman, Lauren Bennett, and Mary A. Dutton in Obstacles to Victims Cooperation with the Criminal Prosecution of Their Abusers: The Role of Social Support (Violence and Victims, vol.14, no. 4, winter 1999) and by JoAnn Miller of Purdue University in An Arresting Experiment: Domestic Violence Victim Experiences and Perceptions (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 18, no. 7, July 2003). A victim's fear and ambivalence about testifying, and the importance of her behavior as a witness, can undoubtedly discourage some prosecutors from taking action.

However, a victim might choose not to move forward with the prosecution because the violence ceases temporarily following the arrest while the batterer is in custody. In most cases, a woman does not want her husband to go to jail with the attendant loss of income and community standing. She simply wants her husband to stop beating her.

Religious convictions, economic dependency, and family influence to drop the charges place great pressure on victimized women. Consequently, many prosecutors, some of whom believe abuse is a purely personal problem and others who believe winning the case is unlikely, test the victim's resolve to make sure she will not back out. This additional pressure drives many women to drop the charges because after being controlled by their husband, they feel that the judicial system is repeating the pattern by abusing its power. Hence, the prosecutors fears contribute to the problem, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

Goodman, Bennett, and Dutton explore the reasons many domestic violence victims refuse to cooperate in the prosecution of their abuser. Surprisingly, the researchers find that the relationship between the emotional support and the cooperation with prosecutors was not significant. Similarly, institutional support, whether from police or victim advocates, was also unrelated to cooperation. Neither the level of depression nor the degree of emotional attachment to the abuser had an effect. These findings refute the common perception that the battered woman is too depressed, helpless, or attached to the abuser to cooperate in his prosecution. Instead, Goodman, Bennett, and Dutton's findings show that many domestic violence victims persevere in the face of depression and the sometimes complex emotional attachment to their partner.

Consistent with findings from earlier studies, Goodman, Bennett, and Dutton note that the more severe the violence, the more likely the abused women were to cooperate with prosecutors. Participants rearing children with the abuser were also more likely to cooperate, perhaps because these women hoped that the criminal justice system would force the abuser into treatment. In contrast, women with substance abuse problems were less than half as likely as other women to cooperate with the prosecution. Goodman, Bennett, and Dutton conclude that the women who used alcohol or drugs believed that the abuse was partly their fault or that a judge would not take them seriously. Some also feared that their substance abuse might negatively affect the court proceedings and possibly even lead to criminal charges or the loss of their children.

Factors Associated with Prosecutors Charging Decisions in Domestic Violence Cases

In Modeling Prosecutors Charging Decisions in Domestic Violence Cases (Crime and Delinquency, vol. 52, no. 3, 2006), John L. Worrall, Jay W. Ross, and Eric S. McCord investigate what factors influenced the decisions of prosecutors to charge a batterer and what factors influenced the decisions of prosecutors to pursue a misdemeanor or a felony charge. They collected data on 245 domestic violence cases filed by police officers, examined the impact of characteristics of the victim, offender, and the offense, and determined how these characteristics influenced the prosecutors charging decisions.

Worrall, Ross, and McCord find that prosecutors were more likely to charge offenders if they had been arrested or if they had inflicted serious injuries on the victim. The researchers indicate that criminal charges were more likely to be filed against a male batterer than against a female batterer. They also note that if the victim supported prosecution, felony charges were more likely to be filed against the batterer.

Treatment for Male Batterers

Rather than serving a prison term, many convicted batterers enter treatment programs. As a requirement of probation, most courts will order a batterer into an intervention program. Regardless of an intervention program's philosophy or methods, program directors and criminal justice professionals generally monitor offenders behavior closely. Most batterers enter intervention programs after having been charged by the police with a specific incident of abuse.

The criminal justice system categorizes offenders based on their potential danger, history of substance abuse, psychological problems, and risk of dropout and rearrest. Ideally, interventions focus on the specific type of batterer and the approach that will most effectively produce results, such as linking a substance abuse treatment program with a batterer intervention program. Other program approaches focus on specific sociocultural characteristics, such as poverty, race, ethnicity, and age. Shelly Jackson argues in Analyzing the Studies (Shelly Jackson et al., Batterer Intervention Programs: Where Do We Go from Here? June 2003, that the effectiveness of batterer intervention programs might improve if the programs were seen as part of a broader criminal justice and community response to domestic violence that includes arrest, restraining orders, intensive monitoring of batterers, and changes to social norms that may inadvertently tolerate partner violence.

Batterers leave the program either because of successful completion or because they are asked to leave. The reasons for termination include failure to cooperate, non-payment of fees, revocation of parole or probation, failure to attend group sessions regularly, or violation of program rules. Successful completion of a program means that the offender has attended the required sessions and accomplished the program's objectives. With court-mandated clients a final report is also made to probation officials. To be successful, batterer intervention programs must have the support of the criminal justice system, which includes coordinated efforts between police, prosecutors, judges, victim advocates, and probation officers.

Program Dropout Rates

Dropout rates in battering programs are high, even though courts have ordered most clients to attend. Several studies, such as that by Jennifer Rooney and R. Karl Hanson in Predicting Attrition from Treatment Programs for Abusive Men (Journal of Family Violence, vol. 16, no. 2, 2001), record varying dropout rates, some finding that as many as 90% of the men who begin short-term treatment programs do not complete them.

High dropout rates in batterer intervention programs make it difficult to evaluate their success. Evaluations based on men who complete these programs focus on a select group of highly motivated men who likely do not reflect the composition of the group when it began. Because a follow-up is not conducted with program dropoutsthe men most likely to continue their violenceresearch generally fails to accurately indicate the success or failure of a given treatment program.

Certain characteristics are generally related to drop-out rates. Bruce Dalton of the University of South Carolina indicates in Batterer Characteristics and Treatment Completion (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 16, no. 12, 2001) that the level of threat that the batterer perceived from the referral source (e.g., the court) was, surprisingly, not related to program completion. Unemployment was the one characteristic most consistently related to dropping out of treatment. Dalton theorizes that these men have both trouble paying for the treatment and a lower investment in the official social order. Loretta J. Stalans and Magnus Seng of Loyola University find similar results in Identifying Subgroups at High Risk of Dropping out of Domestic Batterer Treatment: The Buffering Effects of a High School Education (International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, vol. 51, no. 2, 2007). The following groups had a 60% dropout rate or higher: batterers who were aggressive in general, not only in the family setting; high school dropouts who were also ordered into substance abuse treatment; and unemployed offenders who were also ordered into substance abuse treatment.

Rooney and Hanson explain that factors influencing completion rates of batterer intervention programs include youth, not being legally married, low income and little education, unstable work histories, criminal backgrounds, and excessive drinking or drug abuse. Voluntary clients, especially those with college educations, remain in treatment longer. Some researchers, such as Edward W. Gondolf of Indiana University of Pennsylvania in A Comparison of Four Batterer Intervention Systems: Do Court Referral, Program Length, and Services Matter? Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 14, no. 1, 1999), find better attendance among college-educated men, regardless of whether their enrollment in a program is court ordered or voluntary.

Recidivism Rates

Recidivism (the tendency to relapse to old ingrained patterns of behavior) is a well-documented problem among people in intimate partner violence treatment programs. In Predictors of Criminal Recidivism among Male Batterers (Psychology Crime and Law, vol. 10, no. 4, December 2004), R. Karl Hanson and Suzanne Wallace-Capretta examine the risk factors associated with the recidivism of 320 male batterers within a five-year follow-up period. Of those men, 25.6% recidivated with a battering offense. Risk factors included being young, having an unstable lifestyle, being a substance abuser, and having a criminal history. Batterers were not deterred by expectations of social or legal negative consequences. However, maintaining positive relationships with community treatment providers was associated with deterrence of future battering. Rodney Kingsnorth of California State University, Sacramento, notes in Intimate Partner Violence: Predictors of Recidivism in a Sample of Arrestees (Violence against Women, vol. 12, no. 10, October 2006) that risk factors for recidivism during an eighteen-month period included use of a weapon, prior arrests (for domestic violence or other offenses), and the presence of a protective order.

According to Matthew T. Huss and Anthony Ralston of Creighton University, in Do Batterer Subtypes Actually Matter? Treatment Completion, Treatment Response, and Recidivism across a Batterer Typology (Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 35, no. 6, June 2008), men who only expressed violent behaviors in the context of their families were much more likely to complete batterer intervention programs than men who were generally violent or antisocial or who had personality disorders. Because of the higher treatment completion rates, these men were less likely to batter again. However, all men who completed treatment reported reductions in violence toward their partner.

In The Effects of Domestic Violence Batterer Treatment on Domestic Violence Recidivism (Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 30, no. 1, 2003), Jill A. Gordon and Laura J. Moriarty of Virginia Commonwealth University study the effect of batterer treatment on recidivism. The researchers find that attending treatment had no impact on recidivism when comparing the treatment group as a whole with the experimental group. Christopher I. Eckhardt et al., in Intervention Programs for Perpetrators of Intimate Partner Violence: Conclusions from a Clinical Research Perspective (Public Health Reports, vol. 121, no. 4, JulyAugust 2006), concur in their review of the literature concerning batterer intervention programs and recidivism rates. However, Gordon and Moriarty also find that among the treatment group, the more sessions a batterer completed, the less likely he was to batter again. Batterers who completed all sessions were less likely to be rearrested for domestic violence than were batterers who had not completed all sessions.

Still, as Huss and Ralston note, even small reductions in rates of domestic violence can have a substantial impact in tens of thousands of women's lives. Therefore, research continues into how to identify batterers who are most likely to benefit from batterer intervention programs.

Causes and Effects of Child Abuse

views updated May 23 2018

Chapter 3
Causes and Effects of Child Abuse

Causes of Child Abuse
Families at Risk for Child Maltreatment
Mothers, Fathers, and Siblings
Consequences of Childhood Maltreatment
Corporal Punishment: Abuse or Not?

Causes of Child Abuse

Child abuse is primarily a problem within families. Even though abuse by nonfamily members does occur, most victims are abused by one or more of their parents. For this reason, much of the research into the causes of child abuse has focused on families and the characteristics and circumstances that can contribute to violence within them.

The 1975 National Family Violence Survey and the 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey, conducted by Murray A. Straus and Richard J. Gelles, are the most complete studies of spousal and parent-child abuse yet prepared in the United States. Unlike most studies of child abuse, the data from these surveys came from detailed interviews with the general population, not from cases that came to the attention of official agencies and professionals. Therefore, Straus and Gelles had a more intimate knowledge of the families and an awareness of incidences of child abuse that were not reported to authorities or community professionals.

Straus and Gelles believe that cultural standards permit violence in the family. They incorporated research from the two surveys and additional chapters into the book Physical Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families (1990).

Understanding Factors that Contribute to Child Abuse

The factors contributing to child maltreatment are complex. In Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3 ; 1993), the most comprehensive federal source of information about the incidence of child maltreatment in the United States, Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst find that family structure and size, poverty, alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, and community violence are contributing factors to child abuse and neglect.

Even though these and other factors affect the likelihood of child maltreatment, they do not necessarily lead to abuse. It is important to understand that the causes of child abuse and the characteristics of families in which child abuse occurs are only indicators. Most parents, even in the most stressful and demanding situations, and even with a personal history that might predispose them to be more violent than parents without such a history, do not abuse their children.

Murray A. Straus and Christine Smith note in Family Patterns and Child Abuse (Straus and Gelles, Physical Violence in American Families ) that a combination of several factors is more likely to result in child abuse than is a single factor alone. Also, the sum of the effects of individual factors taken together does not necessarily add up to what Straus and Smith call the explosive combinations of several factors interacting with one another. Nonetheless, even explosive combinations do not necessarily lead to child abuse.

Families at Risk for Child Maltreatment

It is impossible to determine whether child maltreatment will occur, but generally a family may be at risk if the parent is young, has little education, has had several children born within a few years, and is highly dependent on social welfare. According to Judith S. Rycus and Ronald C. Hughes, in Field Guide to Child Welfare (1998), a family at high to moderate risk includes parents who do not understand basic child development and who may discipline inappropriately for the child's age, those who lack the necessary skills for caring for and managing a child, those who use physical punishment harshly and excessively, and those who do not appropriately supervise their children. They find that families under stresses such as divorce, death, illness, disability, unemployment, or incarceration are more likely to abuse or neglect children. Small stresses can have a cumulative effect and become explosive with a relatively minor event. For potentially abusive parents, high levels of ongoing stress, coupled with inadequate coping strategies and limited resources, produce an extremely high-risk situation for children involved.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains in the fact sheet Understanding Child Maltreatment (2008, that a family may also be at risk if:

  • A child in the family is age four or younger
  • The family is socially isolated
  • The family has a history of violence, drug or alcohol use, or chronic health problems
  • The family is poor
  • The surrounding community is particularly violent

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse can cause great harm to children but tends to be less well recognized than physical or sexual abuse or neglect. In Family Dynamics Associated with the Use of Psychologically Violent Parental Practices (Journal of Family Violence, vol. 19, no. 2, April 2004), Marie-He´le`ne Gagne´ and Camil Bouchard identify four family characteristics that are likely to result in parental psychological violence. The first involves a scapegoat child, who may be different from other family members by his or her unattractiveness, disability, having been adopted, or being the child of a former spouse. This child is typically neglected by the parents, treated harshly, and excluded from family intimacy. The second type of family has a domineering father, who intimidates the children and may even turn physically violent. The mother herself may be a victim of spousal violence. The authoritarian mother typifies the third family characteristic leading to parental psychological abuse. She controls the household, and the children are expected to do as she bids. The fourth family characteristic involves the broken parent, who has not attained maturity and a feeling of self-worth because of a difficult past. This type of parent takes care of the children when things are going smoothly, but falls apart when difficulties arise.

Family Structure

Single-parent families appear to be at greater risk of child maltreatment. Sedlak and Broadhurst find in NIS-3 that under the Harm Standard, children in single-parent households were at a higher risk of physical abuse and all types of neglect than were children in other family structures in 1993. (See Chapter 2 for a definition of the Harm and Endangerment Standards.) Children living with only their fathers suffered the highest incidence rates of physical abuse and emotional and educational neglect. (See

Figure 3.1.) Under the Endangerment Standard higher incidence rates of physical and emotional neglect occurred among children living with only their fathers than among those living in other family structures. (See Figure 3.2.)

The Problem of Substance Abuse

Child protective services (CPS) workers are faced with the growing problem of substance abuse among families involved with the child welfare system. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in Children Living with Substance-Abusing or Substance-Dependent Parents (June 2, 2003,, approximately 70 million children under age eighteen lived with at least one parent in 2001; about 6.1 million (9%) of these children lived with one or more parents with past-year substance abuse or dependence. About one-fifth were five years old or younger (9.8% of three- to five-year-olds and 9.8% of children younger than three). (See Table 3.1.) Among these children, about 4.5 million lived with an alcoholic parent, an estimated 953,000 lived with a parent with an illicit drug problem, and approximately 657,000 lived with parents who abused both alcohol and illicit drugs. (See Figure 3.3.) The HSS notes that fathers (7.8%) were more likely than mothers (4%) to report past-year substance abuse or dependence.

TABLE 3.1 Children age 17 or younger living with one or more parents with past-year substance abuse or dependence, by number and
percentage, 2001
SOURCE: Table 2. Estimated Numbers (in Thousands) and Percentages of Children Aged 17 or Younger Living with One or More Parents with Past
Year Substance Abuse or Dependence: 2001, in Children Living with Substance-Abusing or Substance-Dependent Parents, U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, June 2, 2003, (accessed May 20, 2008)
Ages of children (years)Estimated numbers (in thousands)Percentage
Younger than 31,0789.8
3 to 51,1159.8
6 to 111,8167.5
12 to 172,1009.2
Notes: Children include biological, step, adoptive, or foster. Children aged 17 or younger who were not living with one or more parents for most of the quarter of the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) interview are excluded from the present analysis. According to the 2000 Current Population Survey, this amounts to approximately 3 million or 4 percent of children aged 17 or younger.

The 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health surveyed parents about different forms of household turbulence in the past year. The survey found that households in which there was past-year alcohol dependence or abuse were more likely to report turbulence. For

example, 40.4% of households containing children in which there was alcohol dependence or abuse reported that people often insulted or yelled at each other, compared to 27.3% of households with no past-year alcohol dependence or abuse. (See Figure 3.4.) Nearly a third (29.8%) of the households with alcohol problems reported that people in the household had serious arguments, compared to 18.2% of people in households with no alcohol problems. Parents in households with alcohol problems (9.9%) were also more likely than parents with no alcohol problems (3.6%) to report that one spouse hit or threatened to hit the other at least once in the past year. In other words, children living in homes where alcohol dependence or abuse was a problem were more likely to be exposed to domestic violence than children living in homes where alcohol abuse was not a problem.

Sedlak and Broadhurst note that the increase in illicit drug use since the Second National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (1986) may have contributed to the increased child maltreatment incidence reported in NIS-3. Children whose parents are substance abusers

are at high risk of abuse and neglect because of the physiological, psychological, and sociological nature of addiction.

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, in Substance Abuse and Child Maltreatment (2003,, about one-third to two-thirds of substantiated child maltreatment reports (those having sufficient evidence to support the allegation of maltreatment) involve substance abuse. Younger children, especially infants, are more likely to be victimized by substance-abusing parents, and the maltreatment is more likely to consist of neglect than abuse. Many children experience neglect when a parent is under the influence of alcohol or is out of the home looking for drugs. Even when the parent is at home, he or she may be psychologically unavailable to the children.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE AMONG PREGNANT WOMEN. Illicit drug use among pregnant women continues to be a national problem. Each year the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, formerly known as the National House-hold Survey on Drug Abuse, asks female respondents aged fifteen to forty-four about their pregnancy status and illicit drug use the month before the survey. In Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (September 2007,, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Office of Applied Studies states that in 200506, 4% of pregnant women, compared to 10% of nonpregnant women, reported using illicit drugs during the past month. (See Table 3.2.) Pregnant teens were much more likely to use illicit drugs than were older pregnant women; 15.5% of pregnant women aged fifteen to seventeen reported illicit drug use the previous month, compared to just 1.8% of pregnant women aged twenty-six to forty-four. Among pregnant women, more African-Americans (6.1%) than whites (4.7%) and Hispanics (1.4%) reported using illicit drugs the previous month.

CHILDREN AT ILLICIT DRUG LABS. The rapid growth of methamphetamine use in the United States has resulted in the establishment of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories (meth labs) in many places. In years past large-scale operations, particularly in California and Mexico, produced large quantities of drugs, which were then distributed throughout various areas in the country. With more demand for methamphetamines, many small-scale businesses have started operating. Because methamphetamines can be produced almost anywhere using readily available ingredients, nearly anyone can set up a temporary laboratory, make a batch of drugs, then dismantle the apparatus. Authorities have found makeshift laboratories in places inhabited or visited by children, including houses, apartments, mobile homes, and motel rooms.

As more children are found living in or visiting home-based meth labs, CPS personnel have to deal with those children who have been exposed not only to potentially abusive people associated with the production of methamphetamines but also to dangers such as fire and explosions. Melinda Hohman, Rhonda Oliver, and Wendy Wright report in Methamphetamine Abuse and Manufacture: The Child Welfare Response (Social Work, vol. 49, no. 3, July 1, 2004) that hazardous living conditions in these labs include unsafe electrical equipment, chemical ingredients that can cause respiratory distress and possibly long-term effects such as liver and kidney disease and cancers, syringes, and the presence of firearms and pornography. Police find meth homes with defective plumbing, rodent and insect infestation, and without heating or cooling. Children living in meth labs are also likely to be victims of severe neglect and physical and sexual abuse. According to Karen Swetlow, in Children at Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs: Helping Meth's Youngest Victims (June 2003,,

TABLE 3.2 Illicit drug use in the past month among females, by age, pregnancy status, and Hispanic origin and race, 200304 and 200506
SOURCE: Table 7.52B. Illicit Drug Use in the Past Month among Females Aged 15 to 44, by Pregnancy and Demographic Characteristics: Percentages, Annual Averages Based on 20032004 and 20052006, in Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, September 2007, (accessed May 20, 2008)
   Pregnancy status
 TotalaPregnantNot pregnant
Demographic/pregnancy characteristic200320042005200620032004200520062003200420052006
Hispanic origin and race
Not Hispanic or Latino10.610.24.54.810.810.4
Black or African American9.
American Indian or Alaska Native17.8c10.5**18.6b10.0
Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander*6.0***6.4
Two or more races20.314.6**20.814.6
Hispanic or Latino6.97.55.0c1.47.07.9
* Low precision; no estimate reported.
N/A: Not applicable.
Note: Illicit drugs include marijuana/hashish, cocaine (including crack), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics used non medically.
a Estimates in the total column are for all females aged 15 to 44, including those with unknown pregnancy status.
b Difference between estimate and 20052006 estimate is statistically significant at the 0.01 level.
c Difference between estimate and 20052006 estimate is statistically significant at the 0.05 level.
d Pregnant females aged 15 to 44 not reporting trimester were excluded.
TABLE 3.3 Children involved in methamphetamine lab incidents, by selected demographics, 200002
SOURCE: Karen Swetlow, Children Involved in Methamphetamine Lab-Related Incidents in the United States, in Children at Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs: Helping Meth's Youngest Victims, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office for Victims of Crime, June 2003, (accessed May 20, 2008)
  Number of children 
YearNumber of meth lab-related incidentsPresentResiding in seized meth labsaAffectedbExposed to toxic chemicalscTaken into protective custodyInjured or killed 
200215,3532,0772,0233,1671,3731,02626 injured, 2 killed
200113,2702,1919762,19178877814 injured
20008,9711,8032161,80334535312 injured, 3 killed
aChildren included in this group were not necessarily present at the time of seizure.
b Includes children who were residing at the labs but not necessarily present at the time of seizure and children who were visiting the site; data for 2000 and 2001 may not show all children affected.
c Includes children who were residing at the labs but not necessarily present at the time of seizure.

thousands of children were living in or visiting meth labs that were seized by law enforcement nationwide between 2000 and 2002. In 2002, 1,026 children, or about half of the 2,077 children present during lab-related incidents, were taken into protective custody. (See Table 3.3.)

Poverty and Unemployment

Even though Sedlak and Broadhurst find in NIS-3 a correlation between family income and child abuse and neglect, most experts agree that the connection between poverty and maltreatment is not easily explained. In Depression, Substance Abuse, and Domestic Violence: Little Is Known about Co-occurrence and Combined Effects on Low-Income Families (June 2004,, Sharmila Lawrence, Michelle Chau, and Mary Clare Lennon show that the problems of depression, substance abuse, and domestic violence are interrelated and that these problems are more likely to be prevalent among low-income families. They note that federally funded and community-based programs, such as Early Head Start, which are designed to help low-income parents and their infants and toddlers, recognize the connection between poverty and parental and child well-being.

Lawrence M. Berger of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, argues in Income, Family Characteristics, and Physical Violence toward Children (Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal, vol. 29, no. 2, February 2005) that several family factors make abuse of children more likely. He finds that in both single- and two-parent families, depression, maternal alcohol consumption, and a history of family violence put children at risk for abuse. Low income was significantly related to violence toward children, but only in single-parent families.

In Understanding the Ecology of Child Maltreatment: A Review of the Literature and Directions for Future Research (Child Maltreatment, vol. 11, no. 3, 2006), Bridget Freisthler, Darcey H. Merritt, and Elizabeth A. LaScala underscore the influence of neighborhood characteristics, such as impoverishment and housing stress, in rates of child maltreatment. The researchers also show that unemployment, child care difficulties, and alcoholism may also contribute in this atmosphere to child maltreatment.

Violent Families

Straus and Smith report that one of the most distinct findings of the National Family Violence Resurvey is that violence in one family relationship is frequently associated with violence in other family relationships. In families in which the husband struck his wife, the child abuse rate was much higher (22.3 per 100 children) than in other families (8 per 100 children). Similarly, in families in which the wife hit the husband, the child abuse rate was also considerably higher (22.9 per 100 children) than in families in which the wife did not hit the husband (9.2 per 100 children).

In Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, and Youth Violence: Strategies for Prevention and Early Intervention (March 14, 2005,, Janet Carter reviews the research and finds that domestic violence and child abuse often occur in the same families. One study finds that 50% of the men who regularly assaulted their wife also assaulted their children; another finds that 59% of mothers of abused children have also been assaulted by their partner.

TABLE 3.4 Percentage of households that experienced nonfatal intimate partner violence where children under age 12 resided, by gender
of the victims, 200105
SOURCE: Shannan Catalano, Average Annual Number and Percentage of Households Experiencing Nonfatal Intimate Partner Violence Where
Children under Age 12 Resided, by Gender of Victims, 20012005, in Intimate Partner Violence in the United States, U.S. Department of Justice,
Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2007, (accessed May 20, 2008)
 Annual average
Households with intimate partner violence victimsNumberPercent
All households with615,795100%
No children303,61549.3
Female victim households with510,970100%
No children235,94046.2
Male victim households with104,820100%
No children67,68064.6
Note: The National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) does not ask about the extent to which young children may have witnessed the violence.

Shannan Catalano of the Bureau of Justice Statics notes in Intimate Partner Violence in the United States (December 2007, that between 2001 and 2005, 510,970 women and 104,820 men were victims of abuse by an intimate partner. (See Table 3.4.) Children were known to reside in 38.1% of the households with female victims and 21% of the households with male victims of intimate partner violence. Experts believe these children are at high risk of being abused as well.

To determine the relationship among family stress, partner violence, caretaker distress, and child abuse, Suzanne Salzinger et al. compare in Effects of Partner Violence and Physical Child Abuse in Child Behavior: A Study of Abused and Comparison Children (Journal of Family Violence, vol. 17, no. 1, March 2002) a sample of one hundred New York City children from grades four to six who experienced physical abuse with a control group of one hundred nonabused children. They questioned each caretaker concerning stressful events that had occurred in their family during the lifetime of the subject child. These stress factors included, among other things, separation or divorce, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, deaths, serious illness in the past year, and job loss in the past year. Salzinger et al. find that in households where partner violence and child maltreatment both occurred, the children suffered physical aggression from both the perpetrator and the victim. In addition, in these households the mothers who were typically the primary caretakersreported that they were more likely than the fathers to physically abuse the children. Interestingly, Salzinger et al. find that family stress, not partner violence, was responsible for caretaker distress, which in turn increased the risk for child abuse.

Even if children themselves are not battered, witnessing assaults on a mother is damaging to children. In Longitudinal Investigation of the Relationship among Maternal Victimization, Depressive Symptoms, Social Support, and Children's Behavior and Development (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 20, no. 12, 2005), Catherine Koverola et al. find that maternal victimization is related to child behavior problems at age four and persists to at least age eight.

Mothers, Fathers, and Siblings

A family's dynamics, stress levels, and overall situation are significant risk factors for child maltreatment, but there are other considerations as well. Many researchers have investigated how the background and temperament of the individual caregivers within a family influence the likelihood of child abuse.

Maltreatment by Mothers

Straus and Smith find that women are as likely, if not more likely, as men to abuse their children. They believe child abuse by women can be explained in terms of social factors rather than in psychological factors. Women are more likely to abuse their children because they are more likely to have much greater responsibility for raising the children, which means they are more exposed to the trials and frustrations of child rearing. Women spend more time at risk while tending to their children. Time at risk refers to the time a potential abuser spends with the victim.

To determine the connection between psychological risk factors for child maltreatment and chronic maltreatment, Louise S. Ethier, Germain Couture, and Carl Lacharite´ of the Universite´ du Que´bec a` Trois-Rivie`res conducted interviews and tests of a group of abusive mothers in Quebec, Canada, on three separate occasions: during the initial recruitment for an intervention program; two years later at the end of the program; and four years after the initial recruitment as a follow-up. In Risk Factors Associated with the Chronicity of High Potential for Child Abuse and Neglect (Journal of Family Violence, vol. 19, no. 1, February 2004), the researchers report that fifty-six mothers were evaluated: twenty-one mothers whose files at the social agencies had been closed for at least four months (transitory problems group), and thirty-five mothers who were still abusive (chronic group). The risk factors were categorized into two general groups: the mother's history and her characteristics as an adult. The mother's history included placement in foster care, childhood sexual abuse, running away from home in her teens, breakups with parental relationships, parental unavailability, neglect, and physical violence. The mother's adult characteristics included family unemployment, limited social support, past intimate partner violence, low level of intellectual functioning, low level of education, and high numbers of children and partners.

Ethier, Couture, and Lacharite´ find that mothers who reported a history of childhood sexual abuse, placement in foster care, and running away from home during adolescence were more likely to chronically mistreat their own children. Overall, mothers exhibiting more than eight risk factors had about four times the risk for chronic child maltreatment. Those with a history of childhood sexual abuse were 3.8 times more likely to chronically mistreat their children than those without this risk factor. The risk for chronic child maltreatment was 3.6 times greater for those with a childhood history of placement in foster care and 3 times greater for those with a history of running away from home in adolescence. Ethier, Couture, and Lacharite´ find that the following risk factors also predisposed mothers to chronic child maltreatment: childhood neglect (0.6 times more likely than those without this risk factor), physical violence (0.7 times), and unavailability of and breakup with parental figures (0.9 and 1.5 times, respectively). Ethier, Couture, and Lacharite´ conclude that traumatic experiences of childhood sexual abuse (77.8% of mothers in the study), placement in foster care (80%), and running away from home during adolescence (77.3%) had the greatest adverse effects on the mother's ability to parent her children.

Carol Coohey compares in Battered Mothers Who Physically Abuse Their Children (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 19, no. 8, August 2004) four groups of mothers: those who were battered and who physically abused their children, those who were neither battered nor who physically abused their children, those who were battered but who did not physically abuse their children, and those who were not battered but who did physically abuse their children. Coohey finds that women who were assaulted by their own mother as childrennot women who were battered by their partnerwere the most likely to abuse their own children.

Maltreatment by Fathers

According to Katreena L. Scott and Claire V. Crooks, in Effecting Change in Maltreating Fathers: Critical Principles for Intervention Planning (Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, vol. 11, spring 2004), even though some fathers are perpetrators of child maltreatment, little research has been done on abusive fathers. The researchers note that for intervention services to be effective, it is important to know the characteristics of abusive fathers. Abusive fathers tend to be controlling of their children. Being self-centered, they demand respect and unconditional love. They are insecure and are constantly looking for signs of defiance or disrespect. An abusive father may feel that a child has more power than he does and may misinterpret a child's action as misbehavior. He therefore inflicts physical abuse to regain control. An abusive father has a sense of entitlement, expecting his children to do as he says. Scott and Crooks point out that sexual abuse may result from the father's sense of entitlement.

An abusive father's involvement with his children is usually based on his own needs, focusing on activities that he likes instead of what the children may want to do. However, his interest in his children may come and go, depending on his emotional state. Some fathers maltreat their children because they believe in the stereotypical role of fathers as disciplinarians. Some also feel that they have to show others that they are doing a good job as a parent. Refusing to acknowledge that they may be having a tough time as a parent, they take out their frustrations on the children.

Maltreatment by Siblings

Vernon R. Wiehe explores in What Parents Need to Know about Sibling Abuse: Breaking the Cycle of Violence (2002) the reasons siblings hurt each other. Sibling abuse may stem from a desire to control another person or to take advantage of that person. The sibling in control typically does not know how to empathize (be aware and sensitive to the feelings of others). Wiehe notes the reason most often given for sibling abuse is that an older sibling has been put in charge of younger siblings. Some parents may expect too much from older children, relegating parental responsibilities to them. Even if an older brother or sister is capable of babysitting his or her younger siblings, he or she lacks the knowledge or skills to parent. Wiehe also points out that sibling abuse may be a learned behavior. Children who grow up in households where they see their parents abusing each other or are the recipients of such abuse may in turn use aggression toward one another. Children may also learn abusive behavior from television programs, movies, videos, and computer games.

Consequences of Childhood Maltreatment

Cycle of Violence

In Childhood Victimization: Early Adversity, Later Psychopathology (National Institute of Justice Journal, January 2000), one of the most detailed longitudinal studies (a study of the same group over a period of time) of the consequences of childhood maltreatment, Cathy Spatz Widom focuses on 908 children in a midwestern metropolitan area who were six to eleven years old when they were maltreated (between 1967 and 1971). A control group of 667 children with no history of childhood maltreatment

TABLE 3.5 Childhood victimization and later criminality, 1986
SOURCE: Cathy Spatz Widom, Table 1. Childhood Victimization and Later Criminality, in Childhood Victimization: Early Adversity, Later
Psychopathology, National Institute of Justice Journal, no. 242, January 2000, (accessed May 20, 2008)
 Abuse/neglect group (676) %
Control group (520) %
Arrest as juvenile31.219.0
Arrest as adult48.436.2
Arrest as juvenile or adult for any crime56.542.5
Arrest as juvenile or adult for any violent crime21.015.6
Note: Numbers in parentheses are numbers of cases.

was used for comparison. Each group contained about two-thirds whites and one-third African-Americans and about an equal number of males and females. Widom examined the long-term consequences of childhood maltreatment on the subjects intellectual, behavioral, social, and psychological development. When the two groups were interviewed for the study, they had a median age (half were older, half were younger) of about twenty-nine years.

Widom is widely known for her work on the cycle of violence theory. This theory suggests that childhood physical abuse increases the likelihood of arrest and of committing violent crime during the victim's later years. Widom finds that even though a large proportion of maltreated children did not become juvenile delinquents or criminals, those who suffered childhood abuse or neglect were more likely than those with no reported maltreatment to be arrested as juveniles (31.2% versus 19%) and as adults (48.4% versus 36.2%) when surveyed in 1986. (See Table 3.5.) The maltreated victims (21%) were also more likely than those with no reported childhood maltreatment history (15.6%) to be arrested for a violent crime during their teen years or adulthood.

Widom notes that the victims later psychopathology (psychological disorders resulting from the childhood maltreatment) manifested itself in suicide attempts, antisocial personality, and alcohol abuse and/or dependence. When surveyed in 1989, maltreatment victims were more likely than the control individuals to report having attempted suicide (18.8% versus 7.7%) and having manifested antisocial personality disorder (18.4% versus 11.2%). Both groups, however, did not differ much in the rates of alcohol abuse and/or dependence. In Adult Psychopathology and Intimate Partner Violence among Survivors of Childhood Maltreatment (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 19, no. 10, October 2004), Ariel J. Lang et al. conducted research that also supports the association between childhood maltreatment and psychopathology in adulthood.

TABLE 3.6 Childhood victimization and later psychopathology by gender, 1989
SOURCE: Cathy Spatz Widom, Table 3. Childhood Victimization and Later Psychopathology, by Gender, in Childhood Victimization: Early Adversity, Later Psychopathology, National Institute of Justice Journal, no. 242, January 2000, (accessed May 20, 2008)
 Abuse/neglect groupControl group
Suicide attempt24.38.6
Antisocial personality disorder9.84.9
Alcohol abuse/dependence43.832.8
Suicide attempt13.46.9
Antisocial personality disorder27.016.7
Alcohol abuse/dependence64.467.0
Note: Numbers in parentheses are numbers of cases.

Widom finds that gender plays a role in the development of psychological disorders in adolescence and adulthood. In 1989 females (24.3%) with a history of childhood maltreatment reported being more likely to attempt suicide, compared to their male counterparts (13.4%). (See Table 3.6.) However, a significantly larger percentage of male victims (27%) than female victims (9.8%) developed an antisocial personality disorder. Even though mistreated males (64.4%) and control subjects (67%) had similar proportions of alcohol abuse or dependence, females who experienced abuse or neglect were more likely than the control group to have alcohol problems (43.8% versus 32.8%).

Another phase of Widom's cycle of violence research was conducted when the maltreated and control groups had a median age of 32.5 years. Aside from collecting arrest records from federal, state, and local law enforcement, Cathy S. Widom and Michael G. Maxfield, in An Update on the Cycle of Violence (February 2001, http://, also conducted interviews in 1994 with the subjects. Overall, Widom and Maxfield find that childhood abuse or neglect increased the likelihood of arrest in adolescence by 59% and in adulthood by 28%. Childhood maltreatment also increased the likelihood of committing a violent crime by 30%.

Even though earlier analysis of the maltreated group found that most of the victims did not become offenders, Widom and Maxfield's study shows that nearly half (49%) of the victims had experienced a nontraffic offense as teenagers or adults. Comparison by race shows that even though both white and African-American maltreated children had more arrests than the control group, there was no significant difference among whites in the maltreated and control groups. Among African-American

TABLE 3.7 Involvement in criminality by history of childhood abuse and neglect and race, 1994
SOURCE: Cathy S. Widom and Michael G. Maxfield, Exhibit 4. Involvement in Criminality by Race, in Percent, in Research in Brief: An Update on the
Cycle of Violence,
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, February 2001, (accessed May 20, 2008)
[In percent]   
Type of arrestAbused and neglected group (sample size = 900)Comparison group (sample size = 667)   
Violent crime   

children, however, the maltreated group had higher rates of arrests. Maltreated African-Americans were nearly twice as likely as their counterparts in the control group to be arrested as juveniles (40.6% versus 20.9%). (See Table 3.7.)

Abigail A. Fagan's research in The Relationship between Adolescent Physical Abuse and Criminal Offending: Support for an Enduring and Generalized Cycle of Violence (Journal of Family Violence, vol. 20, no. 5, October 2005) supports the cycle of violence theory. She demonstrates that adolescents who are physically abused are more likely to commit violent and non-violent crimes, use drugs, and batter their partners. Even though this relationship holds steady across racial and class backgrounds, the frequency of this behavior is moderated by family income, the area in which the adolescent lives, and family structure.

Widom and Maxfield also examined the type of childhood maltreatment that might lead to violence later in life. They find that physically abused children (21.1%) were the most likely to commit a violent crime in their teen or adult years and were closely followed by those who experienced neglect (20.2%). (See Table 3.8.) Even though their study shows that just 8.8% of children who had been sexually abused were arrested for violence, Widom and Maxfield note that the victims were mostly females, and females less often had a record of violent offenses.

Jennie G. Noll suggests in Does Childhood Sexual Abuse Set in Motion a Cycle of Violence against Women?: What We Know and What We Need to Learn (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 20, no. 4, April 2005) that sexual abuse of females, rather than resulting

TABLE 3.8 Victims of child abuse arrested for violent crimes in later life, by type of abuse, 1994
SOURCE: Cathy S. Widom and Michael G. Maxfield, Exhibit 5. Does Only Violence Beget Violence? in Research in Brief: An Update on the Cycle
of Violence,
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, February 2001, (accessed May 20, 2008)
Abuse groupNumber of subjectsPercentage arrested for violent offense 
Physical abuse only7621.1  
Neglect only60920.2  
Sexual abuse only1258.8  

in criminal behavior as the girl ages, sets in motion a cycle of violence against women. She argues that a girl who is sexually abused as a child is more likely than her peers to be physically or sexually assaulted in adolescence. Ultimately, these women are more likely to abuse their own children than are women who were not assaulted in childhood.

The Consequences of Neglect

When most people think of child maltreatment, they think of abuse and not neglect. Furthermore, research literature and conferences dealing with child maltreatment have generally overlooked child neglect. The congressional hearings that took place before the passage of the landmark Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 focused almost entirely on examples of physical abuse. Barely three pages of the hundreds recorded pertained to child neglect.

Nonetheless, every year the federal government reports a high incidence of child neglect. According to the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF), in Child Maltreatment 2006 (2008, programs/cb/pubs/cm06/cm06.pdf), in 2006, 64.1% of all victims of child maltreatment experienced neglect, compared to 16% of all victims who were physically abused. It is important to note that these percents pertain only to children reported to CPS, and whose cases had been substantiated. Experts believe these numbers are grossly underreported. Neglect does not necessarily leave obvious physical marks like abuse does, and it often involves infants and young children who cannot speak for themselves.

Severe neglect can have devastating consequences. For example, James M. Gaudin Jr. reports in Child Neglect: Short-Term and Long-Term Outcomes (Howard Dubowitz, ed., Neglected Children: Research, Practice, and Policy, 1999) that, compared to both nonmaltreated and physically abused children, neglected children have the worst delays in language comprehension and expression.

Psychologically neglected children also score lowest in intelligence quotient tests. Michael D. De Bellis of Duke University posits in The Psychobiology of Neglect (Child Maltreatment, vol. 10, no. 2, 2005) that childhood neglect might have profound affects on neuropsychological development, although the exploration of these effects is still in its infancy.

More than four out of ten (41.1%) of the children who died of child maltreatment in 2006 died of neglect alone. (See Figure 3.5.) Neglect can lead to death from causes such as malnourishment, lack of proper medical care, or abandonment. Emotional neglect, in its most serious form, can result in the nonorganic failure to thrive syndrome, a condition in which a child fails to develop physically or even to survive. According to Gaudin, studies find that even with aggressive intervention the neglected child continues to deteriorate. The cooperation of the neglectful parents, which is crucial to the intervention, usually declines as the child's condition worsens. It is difficult to change the parental attributes that have contributed to the neglect in the first place.

Maltreated Girls Who Become Offenders

In Childhood Victimization and the Derailment of Girls and Women to the Criminal Justice System (Beth E. Richie, Kay Tsenin, and Cathy Spatz Widom, Research on Women and Girls in the Justice System, September 2000,, Widom studied a group of girls who had experienced neglect and physical and sexual abuse before age eleven through young adulthood. Widom finds that abused and neglected girls were almost twice as likely (20%) to have been arrested as juveniles, compared to a matched control group of nonabused girls (11.4%), and almost twice as likely as the control group to be arrested as adults (28.5% versus 15.9%). Additionally, the maltreated girls were also more than twice as likely (8.2%) as the nonmaltreated girls (3.6%) to have been arrested for violent crimes. However, Widom notes that even though abused and neglected girls were at increased risk for criminal behavior, about 70% of the maltreated girls did not become criminals.

Cathy Spatz Widom, Daniel Nagin, and Peter Lambert find in Does Childhood Victimization Alter Developmental Trajectories of Criminal Careers? (paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Washington, DC, November 1998) that 8% of the maltreated girls developed antisocial and criminal lifestyles that carried over to adulthood. Among this group, nearly two out of five (38%) had been arrested for status offenses as juveniles, but a larger percentage had been arrested for violence (46%) and property crimes (54%). Another third (32%) had been arrested for drug crimes. None of the girls in the control group exhibited these tendencies.

Dating Violence

In Child and Adolescent Abuse and Subsequent Victimization: A Prospective Study (Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal, vol. 29, no. 12, December 2005), Cindy L. Rich et al. investigate the possible relationship between abuse in childhood and teen dating violence. They find that early emotional abuse by parents put adolescent women at risk. They also find that early physical abuse by a father put female adolescents at risk for sexual violence in their dating relationships. Rich et al. are careful to note that emotional abuse by both parents was actually more predictive of subsequent psychological symptoms than was physical or sexual abuse. They state, Thus, subtler forms of abuse can be equally or more traumatic and set the stage for subsequent abuse experiences.

On the contrary, Marie-He´le`ne Gagne´, Francine Lavoie, and Martine He´ bert find in Victimization during Childhood and Revictimization in Dating Relationships in Adolescent Girls (Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal, vol. 29, no. 10, October 2005) that extrafamilial experiences with violence are a more important risk factor for subsequent dating violence than is abuse experienced at the hands of family members. In particular, young girls experiences with violent or victimized peers, verbal sexual harassment by male peers, and previous dating violence all significantly contributed to the risk of subsequent dating violence.

Illicit Drug Use

Illicit drug use is associated with behaviors leading to violence, sexually transmitted diseases, other health problems, and crime. In Childhood Abuse, Neglect, and Household Dysfunction and the Risk of Illicit Drug Use: The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (Pediatrics, vol. 111, no. 3, March 2003), Shanta R. Dube et al. study a population of 8,613 adult members of a health plan who filled out a questionnaire relating to their adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) during the first eighteen years of life. The intent of Dube et al.'s study was to determine the effects of related ACEs on various health outcomes and behaviors. ACEs included physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; and household dysfunction, such as a battered mother, parental separation or divorce, mental illness at home, substance abuse in the home, or an incarcerated household member.

Dube et al. find that each ACE increased two to four times the likelihood of initiation to illicit drug use by age fourteen and increased the risk of drug use into adulthood. They note that several ACEs usually occur together. Their cumulative effect on illicit drug use is strongest during early adolescence because the young teen has just been through these painful experiences and is at the same time undergoing the turmoil characteristic of that age group. However, ACEs were also found to increase the likelihood of initiation to illicit drug use among adolescents aged fifteen to eighteen and people aged nineteen and over, showing the long-term effects of these experiences. Moreover, people who had experienced more than five ACEs were seven to ten times more likely to have illicit drug use problems, specifically addiction to illicit drugs and intravenous drug use.

In Substance Use in Maltreated Youth: Findings from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (Child Maltreatment, vol. 12, no. 1, 2007), Ariana E. Wall and Patricia L. Kohl find that among maltreated children aged eleven to fifteen, 20% reported low levels of substance use and 9% reported moderate to high levels of use. A high level of monitoring by the current caregiver decreased the level of substance use among these youth. Wall and Kohl conclude, Caregiver monitoring may be a key tactic in attempts to reduce the likelihood of substance use in maltreated youth.

Widom et al. find in Long-Term Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect on Alcohol Use and Excessive Drinking in Middle Adulthood (Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, vol. 68, no. 3, May 2007) that the greater likelihood that maltreated children will abuse substances continued into adulthood for women. The researchers studied individuals with documented cases of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect in childhood. They note that women with histories of child abuse and neglect reported consuming larger amounts of alcohol in the past year and drank eight or more drinks in more days in the past month than did women without abuse or neglect histories.

Problems in Early Brain Development

The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child sponsors a variety of research projects that focus on the effects of stressful environments on children's developing brains. A number of research projects, such as Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain (2005, and Dorian Friedman's Stress and the Architecture of the Brain (2005,, show that child abuse or neglect during infancy and early childhood affects early brain development.

Brain development, or learning, is the process of creating connections among neurons in the brain, called synapses. Neurons, or nerve cells, send signals to one another through synapses, which in turn form the neuronal pathways that enable the brain to respond to specific environments. An infant is born with very few synapses formed. These include synapses that are responsible for breathing, eating, and sleeping. During the early years of life the brain develops synapses at a fast rate. Scientists find that repeated experiences strengthen the neuronal pathways, making them sensitive to similar experiences that may occur later on in life. Unfortunately, if these early life experiences are of a negative nature, the development of the brain may be impaired. For example, if an infant who cries for attention constantly gets ignored, his or her brain creates the neuronal pathway that enables him or her to cope with being ignored. If the infant continually fails to get the attention he or she craves, the brain strengthens that same neuronal pathway.

Childhood abuse or neglect has long-term consequences on brain development. When children suffer abuse or neglect, their brains are preoccupied with reacting to the chronic stress. As the brain builds and strengthens neuronal pathways involved with survival, it fails to develop social and cognitive skills. Later on in life, maltreatment victims may not know how to react to kindness and nurturing because the brain has no memory of how to respond to these new experiences. They may also have learning difficulties because the brain has focused solely on the body's survival so that the thinking processes may not have been developed or may have been impaired.

Hyperarousal is another consequence of maltreatment on brain development. During the state of hyperarousal, the brain is always attuned to what it perceives as a threatening situation. The brain has learned that the world is a dangerous place and that it has to be constantly on the alert. The victim experiences extreme anxiety toward any perceived threat, or he or she may use aggression to control the situation. For example, children who have been physically abused may start a fight just so they can control the conflict and be able to choose their adversary. Males and older children are more likely to exhibit hyperarousal. According to Friedman, Childhood adversity shapes a stress system that has trouble flipping the off switch.

Researchers find that even though males and older children tend to suffer from hyperarousal, younger children and females are more likely to show dissociation. In the dissociative state, victims disconnect themselves from the negative experience. By pretending not to be there, their body and mind does not react to the abusive experience.

Childhood maltreatment can result in the disruption of the attachment process, which refers to the development of healthy emotional relationships with others. Under normal circumstances the first relationship that infants develop is with their caregivers. Such relationships form the basis for future emotional connections. In maltreated children the attachment process may not be fully developed, resulting in the inability to know oneself as well as to put oneself in another's position.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that sometimes develops after experiencing a terrifying event in which a person is severely physically harmed or was threatened with severe physical harm. People with PTSD may experience flashbacks (they re-experience the trauma), sleep disturbances, emotional numbness, depression, rage, memory loss, concentration problems, anxiety, and physical symptoms. The disorder can be highly distressing for sufferers.

Physical and sexual abuse in childhood can lead to the development of PTSD, which can persist into adulthood. Some psychologists, such as Judith Lewis Herman, in Trauma and Recovery (1997), have defined a disorder called complex PTSD, which is found among people who have been exposed to prolonged traumatic experience, as is usually the case among child abuse survivors. Sheryn T. Scott of Azusa Pacific University finds in Multiple Traumatic Experiences and the Development of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 22, no. 7, 2007) that multiple lifetime traumatic events, such as physical and sexual abuse in childhood, lifetime community violence, and domestic violence increases the likelihood of developing PTSD. In other words, victimized adults who were subjected to physical or sexual abuse in childhood are more likely than other victimized adults to develop PTSD. The number of traumas, as well as their severity, is related to the severity of the symptoms developed.


Child fatality is the most severe result of abuse and neglect. In Risk of Death among Children Reported for Nonfatal Maltreatment (Child Maltreatment, vol. 12, no. 1, 2007), Melissa Jonson-Reid, Toni Chance, and Brett Drake find that low-income children who had been reported

TABLE 3.9 Child fatalities by state, 2006
SOURCE: Adapted from Table 4.1. Child Fatalities, 20052006, in Child Maltreatment 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
StateChild populationChild file or SDC fatalitiesAgency file fatalitiesTotal child fatalitiesFatalities per 100,000 children
District of Columbia114,8812021.74
New Hampshire297,6251231.01
New Jersey2,089,338311321.53
New Mexico508,93077142.75
New York4,514,34273731.62
North Carolina
North Dakota144,9341121.38
Puerto Rico1,018,651550.49
Rhode Island237,4510000.00
South Carolina1,039,653109191.83
South Dakota194,681110.51
West Virginia389,07169153.86
Weighted rate2.04
Number reporting4844314848

maltreated were at about twice the risk of death before age eighteen as a comparison group of other low-income children without reported maltreatment. Approximately 0.5% of the children with maltreatment reports died in childhood, compared to 0.3% of other children. Most of these deaths were preventableif they were not the result of recurrent maltreatment, they resulted from other preventable causes, such as accidents. Among the children with maltreatment reports, the median time from the first report to the subsequent death was nine months. This study underscores the dangers that face maltreated children.

In 2006 CPS and other state agencies, including coroners offices and fatality review boards, reported an estimated 1,376 deaths from child maltreatment. (See Table 3.9.) The

national fatality rate was 2.04 per 100,000 children in the general population in 2006. Texas reported the highest rate (3.96 deaths per 100,000 children), followed by West Virginia (3.86 deaths per 100,000 children). Rhode Island and Vermont were the only two states that reported no deaths resulting from child maltreatment that year.

In 2006 children three years old and younger accounted for a majority (78%) of deaths due to maltreatment. (See Figure 3.6.) Almost half (44.2%) of the deaths consisted of infants less than one year old. The ACYF reports in Child Maltreatment 2006 that infant boys had a fatality rate of 18.5 per 100,000 and infant girls had a fatality rate of 14.7 per 100,000. Young children are more likely to be victims of child fatalities because of their small size, their dependency on their caregivers, and their inability to defend themselves.

Neglect alone was responsible for 41.1% of maltreatment deaths. (See Figure 3.5.) About a quarter (22.4%) of fatalities resulted from physical abuse. Another 31.4% of fatalities resulted from a combination of maltreatment types. The ACYF provides data on the victims previous contact with CPS agencies. More than one out of ten (13.7%) of the victims families had received family preservation services during the five years before the deaths occurred; 2.3% of children killed had been in foster care and were reunited with their families in the past five years.

Perpetrators of Fatalities

The ACYF states in Child Maltreatment 2006 that 75.9% of maltreatment deaths were inflicted by one or both parents of the victims. Mothers alone accounted for

27.4% of the deaths, whereas fathers were the perpetrators in 13.1% of the deaths. (See Figure 3.7.) In about one-fifth (22.4%) of cases, both parents were responsible for causing their child's death.

Family Composition and Maltreatment Deaths

In Household Composition and Risk of Fatal Child Maltreatment (Pediatrics, vol. 109, no. 4, April 2002), Michael N. Stiffman et al. examined all information related to Missouri-resident children under five years old who died in that state within a three-year period to determine whether family composition might be a risk factor for fatal child maltreatment. The researchers used the comprehensive data of child deaths (birth through age seventeen) collected by the Missouri Child Fatality Review Panel (CFRP) system between 1992 and 1994. The CFRP data contained information on all household members and their relationship to the deceased child. For comparison, Stiffman et al. used a control group consisting of children under age five who had died of natural causes. Of the 291 injury deaths that were examined, 175 children (60%) were determined to have died of maltreatment. Fifty-five (31%) of the deaths resulted from injury caused by a parent or other caregiver. Of this group, thirty-nine of the children died from being shaken, hit, or dropped. Eleven children died from the use of physical objects, including guns. The cause of death for the remaining five children was unknown.

Stiffman et al. find that children living in households with one or more biologically unrelated adult males and boyfriends of the child's mother had the highest risk of death from maltreatment. These children were eight times more likely to die of maltreatment than children living with two biological parents with no other adults. Children residing with foster and adoptive parents, as well as with stepparents, were nearly five times as likely to suffer maltreatment deaths. Those living in households with other adult relatives present were twice as likely to die from maltreatment. However, children living with just one biological parent, with no other adult present, were not at an increased risk for fatal maltreatment.

Corporal Punishment: Abuse or Not?

Corporal Punishment by Parents

In the United States all fifty states allow parents to use corporal punishment for purposes of disciplining their children. As long as the child does not suffer injury, the parent may use objects such as belts and the more typical spanking with the hand. When states passed child abuse laws in the 1960s, provisions allowing parents to use corporal punishment helped facilitate passage of the legislation. The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children reports in States with Full Abolition (December 2007, that as of 2007 corporal punishment by parents, caretakers, and teachers was completely banned in twenty-three countries around the world. Since January 2003, Canada has banned corporal punishment for children under two and over twelve years of age, as well as the use of any object, such as a paddle.

Corporal Punishment in Schools

As of 2006, among industrialized countries, only Australia (just Outback areas) and the United States allowed spanking in schools. In 2008 twenty-nine U.S. states banned corporal punishment in public schools. (See Figure 3.8.) Most of the states that allowed corporal punishment were southern states. During the 200607 school year, 223,190 school children were subjected to physical punishment, a decrease of 18% over the previous year (2008, Mississippi used physical punishment on the largest percentage of students (7.5%), followed by Arkansas (4.7%), and Alabama (4.5%).

Prevalence and Chronicity of Corporal Punishment

In Parents Discipline of Young Children: Results from the National Survey of Early Childhood Health (Pediatrics, vol. 113, no. 6, June 2004), Michael Regalado et al. report on the parental use of corporal punishment for discipline in regard to the health and development of children under three years of age. Six percent of parents surveyed indicated they had spanked their children when they were four to nine months old, 29% spanked their children when they were ten to eighteen months old, and 64% spanked their children when they were nineteen to thirty-five months old. Frequent spankings were also administered by some parents (11%) of children ten to eighteen months old and nineteen to thirty-five months old (26%).

Murray A. Straus and Julie H. Stewart of the University of New Hampshire find in Corporal Punishment by American Parents: National Data on Prevalence, Chronicity, Severity, and Duration, in Relation to Child and Family Characteristics (Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, vol. 2, no. 2, June 1999) that more than a third (35%) of parents surveyed used corporal punishment on their infants, reaching a peak of 94% of parents of children who were three to four years old. The prevalence rate of parents using corporal punishment decreased after age five, with just over 50% of parents using it on children at age twelve, 33% at age fourteen, and 13% at age seventeen. Straus and Stewart also find that corporal punishment was more prevalent among African-Americans and parents in the low socioeconomic level. It was also more commonly inflicted on boys, by mothers, and in the South.

Chronicity refers to the frequency of the infliction of corporal punishment during the year. Corporal punishment was most frequently used by parents of two-year-olds, averaging eighteen times per year. After age two, chronicity declined, averaging six times per year for teenagers.

Effects of Corporal Punishment

BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. Studies on the spanking of children have mostly used sample populations of children aged two and older. In Spanking in Early Childhood and Later Behavior Problems: A Prospective Study of Infants and Young Toddlers (Pediatrics, vol. 113, no. 5, May 2004), Eric P. Slade and Lawrence S. Wissow of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health conducted the first study of its kind in the United States by following a group of children younger than two years old to test the hypothesis that spanking frequency before age two is positively associated with the probability of having significant behavior problems four years later.

Slade and Wissow collected data on 1,966 children and their mothers who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Mother-Child Sample, a large-scale national study of youth aged fourteen to twenty-one years old. Some of these young people were mothers with children. Data were collected on the mother-children groups when the children were under two years of age.

Four years later, after the children had entered elementary school, Slade and Wissow interviewed the mothers to explore their hypothesis. Mothers were asked if they spanked their child the previous week and how frequently they spanked their children. They were also questioned about the child's temperament, mother-child interactions, and whether they had ever met with the child's teacher because of behavioral problems.

Slade and Wissow find that, when compared to children who were never spanked, white non-Hispanic children who were frequently spanked (five times per week) before age two were four times more likely to have behavioral problems by the time they started school. No connection was found between spanking and later behavioral problems among African-American and Hispanic children. According to Slade and Wissow, the same results were found in studies involving children older than two years. They explain that the way white families and other ethnic groups view the spanking of children may influence the effects of spanking. For example, African-American families typically do not consider spanking as harsh or unfair.

INCREASED RISK OF PHYSICAL ABUSE. Murray A. Straus presents in Physical Abuse (Murray A. Straus with Denise A. Donnelly, Beating the Devil out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families and Its Effects on Children, 2001) a model called path analysis to illustrate how physical punishment could escalate to physical abuse. Straus theorizes that parents who have been physically disciplined as adolescents are more likely to believe that it is acceptable to use violence to remedy a misbehavior. These parents tend to be depressed and to be involved in spousal violence. When a parent resorts to physical punishment and the child does not comply, the parent increases the severity of the punishment, eventually harming the child.

Corporal punishment experienced in adolescence produces the same effect on males and females. Parents who were physically punished thirty or more times as adolescents (24%) were three times as likely as those who never received physical punishment (7%) to abuse their children physically. Straus notes, however, that his model also shows that three-quarters (76%) of parents who were hit many times (thirty or more) as adolescents did not, in turn, abuse their children.

EFFECTS ON COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT. According to Murray A. Straus and Mallie J. Paschall, in Corporal Punishment by Mothers and Child's Cognitive Development: A Longitudinal Study (paper presented at the Fourteenth World Congress of Sociology, Montreal, Canada, August 1998), corporal punishment is associated with a child's failure to keep up with the average rate of cognitive development. The researchers followed the cognitive development of 960 children born to mothers who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth. The women were fourteen to twenty-one years old in 1979, at the start of the study. In 1986, when the women were between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-eight, those with children were interviewed regarding the way they were raising their children. The children underwent cognitive, psychosocial, and behavioral assessments. Children aged one to four were selected, among other reasons, because the development of neural connections is greatest at the youngest ages. The children were tested again in 1990.

About seven out of ten (71%) mothers reported spanking their toddlers in the past week, with 6.2% spanking the child during the course of their interview for the study. Those who used corporal punishment reported using it an average of 3.6 times per week. This amounted to an estimated 187 spankings per year.

Straus and Paschall find that the more prevalent the corporal punishment, the greater the decrease in cognitive ability. Considering other studies, which show that talking to children, including infants, is associated with increased neural connections in the brain and cognitive functioning, Straus and Paschall hypothesize that if parents are not using corporal punishment to discipline their child, they are very likely verbally interacting with that child, thus positively affecting cognitive development.

Corporal Punishment as Effective Discipline

Some experts believe nonabusive spanking can play a role in effective parental discipline of young children. According to Robert E. Larzelere of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, in Child Outcomes of Nonabusive and Customary Physical Punishment by Parents: An Updated Literature Review (Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, vol. 3, no. 4, December 2000), spanking can have beneficial results when it is nonabusive (e.g., two swats to the buttocks with an open hand) and used primarily to back up milder disciplinary tactics with 2- to 6-year-olds by loving parents. Larzelere reviewed thirty-eight studies on corporal punishment to determine the effects of nonabusive and customary spanking. He describes research on customary spanking as studies that measure physical punishment without emphasizing the severity of its use.

Generally, the thirty-eight studies were nearly equally divided in their reports of beneficial child outcomes, detrimental child outcomes, and neutral or mixed outcomes: 32%, 34%, and 34%, respectively. Larzelere examines seventeen studies he considers to be causally conclusive, that is, the research showed that nonabusive spanking was associated with the child outcomes. Nine studies in which children two to six years of age received nonabusive spankings after noncompliance with room time-out found beneficial child outcomes, such as subsequent compliance with parental orders. Of these nine studies, two studies in which parents used reasoning with the child followed by nonabusive spanking revealed a longer delay in between misbehaviors. A study involving extended disciplining by mothers showed that child compliance occurred at higher rates when the mothers used spanking as a final resort after other disciplinary measures had been tried.

Of the eight controlled longitudinal studies that examined spanking frequency, five reported negative child outcomes, such as low self-esteem. (Controlled studies refer to studies that excluded initial child misbehavior.) Larzelere notes that three of these studies showed that the detrimental effects were a result of frequent spankings.

Larzelere finds that the child's age was associated with the outcome of nonabusive spanking. Of twelve studies involving children with mean (average) ages under six, eleven reported beneficial outcomes. Among children aged seven-and-a-half to ten years, just one study reported beneficial outcomes, whereas six studies found detrimental outcomes.

Larzelere notes that confounding factors in some studies were responsible for a conclusion of detrimental child outcomes. In other words, studies that used opposing or unclear factors found negative outcomes. According to Larzelere, studies that did not show detrimental child outcomes shared three common factors: serious corporal punishment was not included in those studies, spanking was measured as a backup for other disciplinary practices and not in terms of frequency, and many children exhibited behavior problems at the start of the study.

Rape and Stalking

views updated May 29 2018

Chapter 8
Rape and Stalking

Rape in the United States
Rape by an Intimate Partner
Marital Rape
Acquaintance Rape
Rape Among Lesbians and Gay Men

Historically, because women have been viewed as the possessions of their fathers and husbands, sexual abuse of a woman has been considered a violation of a man's property rights rather than a violation of a woman's human rights. However, primarily through the efforts of women's advocacy groups worldwide, in most countries rape is no longer viewed as a violation of family honor but as an abuse and violation of women. In most countries rape is now considered a crime. The United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (December 20, 1993, specifically names marital rape, sexual abuse of female children, selling women into slavery or prostitution, and other acts of sexual violence against women in its condemnation of any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. In December 2007 the UN adopted a resolution to intensify efforts to eliminate rape and sexual violence.

Rape in the United States

In Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey (January 2006,, an analysis of data from the National Violence against Women Survey (NVAWS), Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes of the Center for Policy Research in Denver, Colorado, estimate that 302,091 women are raped each year and that 17.7 million women have been raped in their lifetime, compared to 92,748 men who are raped each year and 2.8 million men who have been raped in their lifetime. (See Table 8.1.) Native American and Alaskan Native women have the highest rate of having been raped in their lifetime (34.1%), followed by African-American women (18.8%), non-Hispanic white women (17.9%), and Hispanic women (11.9%). (See Table 8.2.)

Tjaden and Thoennes find that most female victims of rape had been raped by a current or former intimate partner. One out of five (20.2%) had been raped by a spouse or former spouse, 4.3% by a cohabitating partner or former partner, and 21.5% by a date or former date. (See Figure 8.1.) Male victims tended to be raped by acquaintances. Only 4.1% of males had been raped by a spouse or former spouse, 3.7% by a current or former cohabitating partner, and 2.7% by a date or former date. In fact, Tjaden and Thoennes note that 7.7% of all women, but only 0.4% of all men, had ever been raped by a current or former intimate partner.

Justice System Outcomes

Tjaden and Thoennes find that the overwhelming majority of rapes are unreported to police, and women raped by intimate partners are even less likely to report rapes to the police than are women raped by nonintimate partners. Only 18% of women raped by intimates reported the rape, compared to 20.9% of women raped by nonintimates. (See Table 8.3.) Of the women who did not report to the police, 22.1% said they were too afraid of the rapist, 18.1% said they were too ashamed, 17.7% said it was a minor incident, 12.6% said the police could not do anything, and 11.9% said the police would not believe them. (See Table 8.4.) Almost one out of ten (8.6%) said it was because the perpetrator was a husband, family member, or friend.

When women did call the police, police took a report only 79.8% of the time, and in 8.3% of the cases, the police did nothing. (See Table 8.3.) In 46.4% of the cases the perpetrator was arrested or detained. The perpetrator was prosecuted in only 32.1% of reported cases; only 36.4% of those prosecutions resulted in a conviction. Of those convicted rapists, 33.3% did not go to jail.

TABLE 8.1 Women and men raped during their lifetime and/or in a selected 12-month period in 199596
SOURCE: Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, Exhibit 1. Percentage and Number of Women and Men Who Were Raped in Lifetime and Previous 12
Months, in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, January 2006, (accessed June 2, 2008)
Rape timeframeWomenbMenbWomen(100,697,000)Men(92,748,000)
Raped in lifetimec17.63.017,722,6722,782,440
Raped in previous 12 months0.30.1302,09192,748
aEstimates are based on women and men age 18 and older.
bSample = size 8,000.
cDifference between women and men is statistically significant.
Notes: Lifetime prevalence rates for women in this exhibit are based on survey records of 6,999 women who were administered a version of the survey questionnaire that contains separate questions about attempted rape and completed rape. The remaining 1,001 women were administered versions of the questionnaire that combine questions about attempted rape and completed rape. Because it is impossible to distinguish attempted rape and completed rape from the combined questions, the corresponding 1,001 survey records were excluded when attempted rape and completed rape rates for women were calculated. The 1,001 survey records also were excluded when the total lifetime rape rate for women presented here was calculated.
TABLE 8.2 Women and men who were raped in their lifetime, by race/ethnicity, 199596
SOURCE: Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes, Exhibit 8. Percentage of Women and Men Who Were Raped in Lifetime by Race/Ethnicity, in
Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, January 2006, (accessed June 2, 2008)
Victims genderNon-Hispanic white
Hispanic white
American Indian/Alaska Native
Mixed race
Asian/Pacific Islander
 (n = 6,217)(n = 235)(n = 780)(n = 88)(n = 397)(n = 133)
 (n = 6,250)(n = 174)(n = 659)(n = 105)(n = 406)(n = 165)
aDifference between Hispanic white and mixed-race women and between American Indian/Alaska Native and all other non-Asian/Pacific Islander women is statistically significant.
bEstimates were not calculated on five or fewer victims.
Notes: Rates for women in this exhibit are based on 8,000 records of survey data.
n = sample size.

Rape by an Intimate Partner

Rape has little to do with the sexual relations associated with love and marriage. Rape is an act of violence by one person against another. It is an act of power that aims to hurt at the most intimate level. Rape is a violation, whether it occurs at the hands of a stranger or within the home at the hands of an abusive husband or partner.

Judith McFarlane and Ann Malecha of Texas Woman's University report in Sexual Assault among Intimates: Frequency, Consequences and Treatments (October 2005, that intimate partner sexual assault is common and that as many as a quarter of women surveyed report being sexually assaulted by an intimate partner at some time. Sexual assault is especially common among physically abused women; 68% of the abused women in the research study also reported sexual assault. Four out of five (79%) of these women reported multiple assaults. The consequences for these women were severe. After a sexual assault by an intimate partner, 27% of the women increased their use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes, 15% contracted a sexually transmitted disease, and 22% reported threatening or attempting suicide within ninety days of the initial assault. The children of these mothers also suffer from depression and exhibit more behavioral problems than other children.

Because rape frequently occurs in relationships plagued by other types of abusive behavior, some researchers view it as just another expression of intimate partner violence. Amy D. Marshall and Amy Holtzworth-Munroe of Indiana University investigated the relationship between two forms of sexual aggressioncoerced sex (persuading or pressuring the victim into having sex) and threatened/ forced sexand husbands physical and psychological aggressiveness. They report their findings in Varying Forms of Husband Sexual Aggression: Predictors and Subgroup Differences (Journal of Family Psychology, vol. 16, no. 3, 2002). The researchers interviewed 164 couples and evaluated husbands using their own self-reports and their wife's reports on three measures: the revised Conflict Tactics Scale, a questionnaire called the Sexual Experiences Survey, and the Psychological Maltreatment of Women Inventory, a fifty-eight-item measure of psychological abuse.

Marshall and Holtzworth-Munroe find that husbands physical and psychological aggression predicted husbands sexual coercion, but only physical aggression predicted threatened/forced sex. Husbands who were rated as generally violent and antisocial engaged in the most threatened and forced sex. Interestingly, even the subtype of physically nonviolent men was found to have engaged in some sexual coercion in the year preceding the study. The researchers conclude that their findings underscore the need to consider sexual aggression as a form of intimate partner abuse. They also call for research to determine the extent to which sexual coercion precedes and predicts threatened and forced sex and whether this association holds true for all relationships or only for those relationships in which there are other forms of violence.

Marital Rape

Attitudes about Marital Rape

Historically, wives were considered the property of the husband, and therefore rape of a wife was viewed as

impossible. No husband still living with his wife was prosecuted for marital rape in the United States until 1978and at that time, marital rape was a crime in only five states, as reported by Jennifer A. Bennice and Patricia A. Resick of the University of Missouri, St. Louis, in