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Emotional Child Abuse Statistics

Emotional Child Abuse Statistics

Emotional abuse statistics are notoriously difficult to obtain. Relatively few cases are reported, leaving only the most severely traumatized children and youth protected and treated. As a child, I was among the unreported cases.

Gathering emotional abuse statistics is a challenge, because emotional abuse is often concealed in secrets and behaviours that are tied to other problems. Another challenge is the lack of a standard definition worldwide.

Even in Canada, though the provinces and territories have mandated protection guidelines, statistics are compiled using a variety of gauges. No set points of recognition are in place.

That said, below are some international statistics:

  • In a Canadian study of 135,000 investigations by child welfare agencies over a three month period, 60% were emotional maltreatment and neglect, while 10% were for sexual abuse, and 31% for physical harm severe enough to require treatment (Health Canada, 2001 (1)).
  • Of the emotional abuse statistics available, and depending on the definition adopted, estimates of the prevalence of “psychological maltreatment” vary from between 1 to 26% of children (Fortin & Chamberland, 1995(2)).
  • In a 1997 U.S. study, emotional maltreatment was reported in 15% of 817,665 or in 122,650 cases across 43 states (National Center of Child Abuse and Neglect, 1997 (3)).
  • Emotional child abuse accounts for approximately 7% of all reported cases of child maltreatment across the United States. However, the absence of operational definitions and true standards of severity means that the true occurrence of the extent of emotional child abuse is unknown (National Research Council, 1993 (4)).
  • The most recent national Australian emotional abuse statistics, produced by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, indicate that in 1995-96, emotional abuse cases accounted for 31% of substantiated child maltreatment cases (Broadbent & Bentley, 1997(5)).
  • In 1996, 15% of all registrations of maltreatment in England were for psychological maltreatment (Doyle, 1997(6)).
  • In one emotional abuse statistics survey in Ontario, 40.8% of adolescent respondents had experienced emotional abuse (Manion & Wilson, 1995, pp.13-14(7)).
  • In a study of 1,000 women 15 years of age or older, 36% had experienced emotional abuse while growing up; 43% had experienced some form of abuse as children or adolescents; 39% reported experiencing emotional abuse in a relationship in the past five years (Women’s College Hospital, 1995(8)).



(1) Health Canada. (2001). Canadian incidence study of reported child abuse and neglect: Final report. Ottawa: Government of Canada.

(2) Fortin, A. and Chamberland, C. (1995). Preventing the psychological maltreatment of children. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 10, 275-295.

(3) National Center of Child Abuse and Neglect. (1997). Child maltreatment. Washington, DC.

(4) National Research Council. (1993). Understanding child abuse and neglect Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

(5) Broadbent, A. & Bentley, R. (1997). Child abuse and neglect Australia 1995 – 1996. Child Welfare Series, (17). Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

(6) Doyle, C. (1997). Emotional abuse of children: Issues for intervention. Child Abuse Review, 6, 330-342.

(7) Manion, I. & Wilson, S. (1995). An examination of the association between histories of maltreatment and adolescent risk behaviours. Ottawa: National Clearinghouse on Family Violence.

(8) Women’s College Hospital. (1995). Canadian women’s health test. Toronto.

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