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July 9, 1997

Prevalence of Child Physical and Sexual Abuse in the CommunityResults From the Ontario Health Supplement

Author Affiliations

From The Centre for Studies of Children at Risk, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences Corporation, Hamilton, Ontario (Drs MacMillan, Fleming, Boyle, and Offord, and Mss Wong and Racine); Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario (Dr Trocmé); and Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Mass (Dr Beardslee).

JAMA. 1997;278(2):131-135. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550020063039

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.

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