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Children, Violence, and Trauma: Introduction

Exposure to crime, abuse, and violence is a common experience for children in this country. According to the National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence,1 60 percent of the children surveyed were exposed to violence, crime, or abuse in their homes, schools, or communities in the preceding year. Nearly 40 percent had been directly victimized in more than one way, and 8 percent had witnessed or experienced seven or more different types of violence, crime, or abuse.

The survey highlighted yet another troubling statistic: More than one in nine children were exposed to family violence, and most saw the violence directly. Most of these incidents were committed by fathers or father figures. By the time they reached adolescence, one child in five had been an eyewitness to the assault of a parent.

Exposure to violence can have serious, long-lasting consequences for children’s physical and mental health. Traumatic experiences early in life can even affect the developing brain. Of course, every child is unique and will react differently, but research demonstrates that children who are exposed to violence are at increased risk for a wide range of physical, emotional, and behavioral problems, including becoming victims or perpetrators of violence as teens or adults. The physical, psychological, and emotional fallout of exposure to violence is more severe for children who experience multiple types of crime, violence, or abuse.

We pay for children’s exposure to violence in many ways: health and mental health care, child welfare, special education, juvenile and criminal justice, and losses in productivity over the individual’s lifespan. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that child maltreatment cost the nation as much as $585 billion in 2008. This estimate reflects only the lifetime cost of fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment (e.g., physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect); it does not include costs associated with exposure to other types of violence or crime.

How can you identify children who have witnessed or experienced violence? Parents and caregivers may observe surprising changes in their children’s behavior. Teachers may see incidents of bullying. Doctors may see injuries—in children or their parents—that warrant explanation. Neighbors may see or hear violence erupting next door or in the street. Members of faith- or community-based organizations may learn of troubled children or families. Addressing the violence in children’s lives requires an approach that builds bridges across all these settings, along with public and private agencies that have a mandate to serve people in need. There is a role for everyone.

Related Resources

Hotlines and Tiplines

Childhelp® (child abuse hotline)
800–422–4453 (800–4–A–CHILD)

CyberTipline (online sexual abuse tipline)
800–843–5678 (800–THE–LOST)

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (missing child hotline)
800–843–5678 (800–THE–LOST)

National Human Trafficking Hotline (human trafficking hotline)

National Runaway Switchboard (runaway helpline)
800–786–2929 (800–RUNAWAY)

Prevent Child Abuse America (information and referrals)

Stop It Now (sexual abuse hotline)
1–888–773-8368 (1–888–PREVENT)


Crimes Against Children Research Center
Futures Without Violence
National Center for Trauma-Informed Care
National Child Traumatic Stress Network
National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center
Office for Victims of Crime
Safe Start Center
Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Web Sites

Child Welfare Information Gateway
Defending Childhood Initiative
Hear My Voice

Public Awareness Products

Child Maltreatment Awareness Campaign Posters
Our House Dating Violence PSAs
Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence PSA
When I Am an Elder PSAs


RealTalk: A Resource Guide for Educating Teens on Healthy Relationships


A Better Start: Child Maltreatment Prevention as a Public Health Priority
Child Maltreatment Prevention: Past, Present, and Future
Children’s Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence and Other Family Violence
Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive National Survey
The Economic Burden of Child Maltreatment in the United States and Implications for Prevention
New Directions in Child Abuse and Neglect Research
OVC Help Series: Child Abuse (For Youth Ages 12 and Older)
OVC Help Series: What Adults Need To Know About Child Abuse
Polyvictimization: Children’s Exposure to Multiple Types of Violence, Crime, and Abuse
Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development

1The National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence (NatSCEV) was conducted in 2008. It involved 4,500 telephone interviews with children ages 10–17, and caregivers of children ages 9 and younger, asking about 45 different kinds of violence, abuse, and victimization in the past year and over their lifetime. For more information on the survey and its findings, visit the National Criminal Justice Reference Service and search for NatSCEV.