Prevalence of child physical and sexual abuse in the community. Results from the Ontario Health Supplement

JAMA. 1997 Jul 9;278(2):131-5.


Context: Although child maltreatment is considered common, few community surveys have examined the prevalence of more than 1 type of maltreatment among both males and females.

Objective: To determine the prevalence of a history of physical and sexual abuse during childhood among the general population.

Design: General population survey.

Setting: Household dwellings in the province of Ontario, Canada.

Participants: A random sample (N=9953) of residents aged 15 years and older participated in the Ontario Health Supplement.

Main outcome measure: Self-administered questionnaire about a history of physical and sexual abuse in childhood.

Results: A history of child physical abuse was reported more often by males (31.2%) than females (21.1%), while sexual abuse during childhood was more commonly reported by females (12.8%) than males (4.3%). Severe physical abuse was reported by similar proportions of males (10.7%) and females (9.2%). A greater percentage of females reported a history of severe sexual abuse (11.1%) compared with males (3.9%). Age of the respondent was not significantly associated with childhood abuse within any category for males. However, for females, the reported prevalence in childhood of sexual abuse, co-occurrence of physical and sexual abuse, and both categories of severe abuse decreased with increasing age of the respondent.

Conclusions: A history of childhood maltreatment among Ontario residents is common. Child abuse may be more prevalent in younger women compared with older women, or there may be a greater willingness among younger women to report abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Population Surveillance
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Distribution
  • Surveys and Questionnaires