Knowledge and Resource Hub
04 December 2017

The prevalence of child abuse and neglect

This paper reviewed recent studies that estimated the prevalence of child maltreatment in Australia and discussed why estimates can vary. It provides an overview of estimates of the prevalence of physical abuse, neglect, emotional maltreatment, exposure to family violence, and sexual abuse in the Australian community.

As Australia is one of the only developed countries where there has been no methodologically rigorous, nationwide study of the prevalence of child maltreatment, it is important that prevalence rates are presented as a range because methodological variations in studies will influence the estimates obtained in each study.  

Bearing this limitation in mind, the review estimated the prevalence of physical abuse ranged from 5%-18%, with the majority of studies finding rates between 5% and 10%.  For child neglect the prevalence estimates ranged from 1.6% to 4%, while for emotional maltreatment the range was between 9% and 14%.  Prevalence estimates of exposure to family violence ranged from 4% to 23% of children. Studies measuring the prevalence of child sexual abuse found that males had prevalence rates of 1.4-7.5% for penetrative abuse and 5.2-12% for non-penetrative abuse. In comparison, females had prevalence rates of 4-12% for penetrative abuse and 14-26.8% for non-penetrative abuse.