Worldwide study of child abuse
How often does child abuse occur worldwide? Education and Child Studies expert Marije Stoltenborgh discovered that depending on the research method used, the results of studies can differ tremendously. How is this possible? PhD defence on 22 June.
Researchers agree that child abuse can cause much damage both in the short and the long term, but they do not agree on how often such abuse takes place. Reason for Marije Stoltenborgh to use the technique of meta-analysis to bring together the results of hundreds of international scientific publications in which the prevalence (how often a given phenomenon occurs per 100 or 1000 subjects) of five forms of child abuse was reported: physical abuse, physical neglect, emotional abuse, emotional neglect and sexual abuse.
The results of studies that made use of informant reports – such as reports in the Netherlands for instance, made by staff members of the Child Protection Services (AMK and BJ) – differed significantly from the results of studies based on self-reporting. In such studies participants reported their own experiences of child abuse in childhood.
The informant studies showed that 4 out of every 1000 children were the victim of sexual abuse. Both physical and emotional abuse occurred in 3 out of every 1000 children. These figures were much lower than the prevalence figures on the basis of self-reporting. These showed that 76 out of every 1000 boys and 184 put of every 1000 girls were sexually abused. Out of every 1000 children, 226 were physically abused and 363 were emotionally abused. Out of every 1000 children, 163 suffered physical neglect and 184 suffered emotional neglect.
How can this enormous difference in the prevalence of child abuse be explained? Stoltenborgh: ‘We assume that the informant studies only uncover the tip of the iceberg, because only serious and visible cases of child abuse are reported to the official authorities. On the other hand, in self-reporting you are faced with the unreliability of memory. Besides, most informant studies report the prevalence over a period of one year, while in self-reporting, subjects are often asked about their experiences throughout their childhood.’
One thing is overwhelmingly obvious in Stoltenborgh’s opinion: ‘It is clear that child abuse occurs far too often worldwide, despite the fact that almost all countries in the world have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is therefore important to focus our attention on the prevention of (the consequences of) child abuse.’
Leiden University carries out a lot of research into the prevention of child abuse and its consequences in later life. Researchers from various fields work together in the Leiden Interdisciplinary Network Child Abuse and Neglect (LINC) and in the Leiden Family Lab. The researchers are organising a large-scale conference on this theme in October of this year.
'It should not hurt to be a child. Prevalence of child maltreatment across the globe'
Friday 22 June 2012
Supervisors: Prof. M.H. van IJzendoorn and Prof. M.J. Bakermans-Kranenburg
Education and Child Studies
Bachelor’s students can follow an interdisciplinary minor on child abuse. This interdisciplinary minor (the only one of its kind in the world) consists of a programme with courses in Education and Child Studies, Psychology, Psychiatry, Law and Medicine.
Health across the Human Life Cycle is one of the six profile themes of research at Leiden University. Child abuse is an important topic within this theme.
(22 June 2012)