How prevalent is child maltreatment?

Content warning: child maltreatment and sexual assault statistics.

If you work with children, chances are you’ll meet kids who have experienced maltreatment. Child maltreatment includes abuse — physical, sexual, and emotional — and neglect. All 50 states have laws that protect children against maltreatment.

Although all states have their own specific laws about what constitutes maltreatment, the definition in federal law is:

Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

One way reachers study areas like child maltreatment is by putting numbers to the size of the problem. We call this the prevalence. Prevalence is often described in two different ways: yearly prevalence and lifetime prevalence. Yearly prevalence is straight forward: this is roughly the amount of children who experience maltreatment in any given year. Lifetime prevalence is the number of children who experience maltreatment at any time in their lives. For children, this usually means from birth to 18 years old.

How prevalent is child maltreatment?