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July 2012Vol. 13, No. 6Victimizations Known to Authorities

Less than half of all incidents of child victimizations are known to police, schools, or medical authorities, according to the latest National Study of Children's Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV). Authorities were more likely to know about victimization perpetrated by adults and more serious victimizations, like kidnapping and sexual or physical assault, and were less likely to know about peer-to-peer victimization. The study's findings can help authorities target prevention and treatment services for underreported victimization types and encourage more disclosures from underserved groups.

NatSCEV researchers conducted telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of the parents of 4,549 children up to age 18; children older than 10 were also interviewed when appropriate. Participants were asked to report the child's lifetime victimization experiences and whether they knew if authorities were aware of the victimization. Researchers compared the results to authorities' past-year data on known victimizations, including those they witnessed or received through a report.

Altogether, authorities knew of 45.7 percent of victimizations. Schools knew of 42.3 percent, police knew of 12.7 percent, and medical authorities knew of 1.8 percent of victimizations. Among the study's findings:

  • Authorities were least likely to know of peer-to-peer victimizations such as peer or sibling assault, dating violence, being flashed, and completed or attempted rape.
  • Victimizations more likely to be known to authorities included those involving a serious injury, a nonfamily or adult perpetrator, a biased motivation, a female or low-socioeconomic status victim, and a victim who had experienced multiple victimizations.
  • Different authorities were aware of different victimization types, e.g., police were more likely to know about kidnapping, neglect, sexual abuse by an adult, and witnessing domestic violence, while schools were more likely to know about attempts or threats rather than assaults and incidents involving children younger than 13.

The study found that the number of disclosures of child victimizations has increased compared to the results of a similar study performed two decades ago. Increasing disclosures of victimizations can help contribute to prevention by improving victims' access to treatment and support services and raising community awareness. The study's authors recommend that authorities increase outreach to male victims and victims with a higher socioeconomic status as well as direct more resources toward underreported incidents involving family members and peers. Collaboration among police, schools, and medical authorities may also improve cross-training on effective responses to disclosures and increase the availability of community resources to support victims and their families.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), U.S. Department of Justice funds NatSCEV. "Child and Youth Victimization Known to Police, School, and Medical Authorities," by D. Finkelhor, R. Ormrod, H. Turner, and S. Hamby, was published in Juvenile Justice Bulletin, April 2012, and is available to download from the OJJDP website: (577 KB)