The prevalence of child sexual abuse: integrative review adjustment for potential response and measurement biases

Child Abuse Negl. 1997 Apr;21(4):391-8. doi: 10.1016/s0145-2134(96)00180-9.


This integrative review synthesizes the finding of 16 cross-sectional surveys (25 hypotheses) on the prevalence of child abuse among nonclinical, North American samples. It is essentially a research literature on sexual abuse; only one of the studies assessed physical abuse, and there has not yet been a single study of prevalent child emotional abuse nor neglect. The following summative inferences were made: (1) response rates diminished significantly over time, M = 68% prior to 1985 and M = 49% for more recent surveys, p < .05; (2) unadjusted estimates of the prevalent experience among women and men of childhood sexual abuse was 22.3% and 8.5%, respectively; (3) study response rates and child abuse operational definitions together accounted for half of the observed variability in their abuse prevalence estimates, R2 = .500, p < .05; (4) female and male child sexual abuse prevalence estimates adjusted for response rates (60% or more) were respectively, 16.8% and 7.9%, and adjusted for operational definitions (excluding the broadest, noncontact category) they were 14.5% and 7.2%; (5) after adjustment for response rates and definitions, the prevalence of child sexual abuse was not found to vary significantly over the three decades reviewed. Given the large human costs, both personal and social, of child abuse, and the identified gap in the requisite knowledge needed to steer effective preventive and treatment interventions, it is time to invest in a large, methodologically rigorous, population-based study of child abuse which, if it does nothing else, spares no expense in ensuring very high participation.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology