PRNewswire, June 3, 1999

How America Defines Child Abuse; National Poll Reveals most who Witness Child Abuse Do nothing about it

LOS ANGELES, June 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Although there are more than 3 million reports of child abuse and neglect annually in the United States, a new national poll released today by Children's Institute International (CII) reveals that only one in three people who witness child abuse does anything about it.

The poll also reveals that a majority of Americans view exposing children to domestic violence, spanking a child with a belt, spanking in a way that leaves marks, and exposing an unborn child to alcohol or illegal drugs are forms of child abuse.

Conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland for Children's Institute International (CII), researchers learned child abuse is regarded as a serious problem by nine in 10 Americans. The vast majority of those surveyed said they believe they would report abuse if they witnessed it, even though the poll shows only one in three actually did so when confronted with an actual situation.

"It's not enough to just say we will do it; we have to follow through," says Mary Emmons, chief executive officer, CII. "Our concern is for the children who are not getting the help they so desperately need. It is the job of every one of us to protect our children. We know from the recent tragedies in Colorado and Georgia that it's important to speak out when we suspect there is a problem involving children."

The survey of 981 randomly selected adults was commissioned by CII to frame discussions and debates at its second national forum, "Imagine a Brighter Future: Solutions for Children in Crisis." The forum gets under way today at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and features more than 50 specialists and 500 attendees from children's organizations, foundations, government, education, law enforcement, the religious community and business.

According to the survey, one-quarter of Americans have witnessed what they believe to be child abuse. Reports are most common among Hispanics (36%) and low-income households (30%). A majority (53%) of the people who say they have witnessed an act of child abuse were referring to physical abuse.

"This poll underscores how pervasive child abuse is in our society, when one out of four Americans has witnessed what he or she believes to be child abuse," says Emmons. "We must educate the public about how they can report and prevent child abuse. This is everyone's responsibility."

Long-range research shows that people who are abused become abusers themselves unless the cycle is broken. A significant number of those surveyed, 31%, agreed with the research, saying parental history of abuse was the main cause of physical child abuse, followed by parental emotional problems, 28%, as a cause of physical child abuse. Just 8% say the main cause is either out-of-control children or exposure to violence in society, while 13% believe poverty-related stress is a factor.

However, among African-Americans surveyed, the response to the main causes of physical child abuse vary. Parental history of abuse was cited by 28% as the main cause, followed by 25% who cited poverty-related stress and 24% who cited parental emotional problems. Other key survey findings include:

-- Leaving marks seen as child abuse. A majority (71%) do not believe spanking a disobedient two-year-old with a hand and not leaving marks is child abuse. However, in situations where marks are left, 60% believe this constitutes child abuse, and 74% say it is child abuse when a belt is introduced to discipline the two-year-old child. -- Spanking views vary. Slightly more than half (55%) of Americans think it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking.

- Men are 11% more likely than women to hold this view.

- This view is most prevalent in the South, where 64% believe spanking is sometimes necessary.

- 57% of African-Americans believe it is sometimes necessary to spank a child, compared with 56% of Caucasians and 53% of Hispanics. -- Exposing unborn children to alcohol and drugs is child abuse. 71% say that if an infant is born with alcohol or illegal drugs in its system, the mother should be prosecuted.

- 81% say it is child abuse when a women smokes crack cocaine during pregnancy.

- 75% say it is child abuse when a women drinks alcohol during pregnancy.

- 75% say it is child abuse when a women smokes marijuana during pregnancy.

- 56% say it is child abuse when a women smokes cigarettes during pregnancy. -- Other forms of neglect are child abuse. In cases where parents fail to properly feed their child, 77% say this is child abuse, and when parents do not provide medical treatment for religious reasons, 65% view this as child abuse. -- Exposing child to domestic violence is child abuse. 63% of adults believe it is child abuse if one parent strikes another in front of the child in anger. -- Child age affects perceptions of abuse. There are significant differences in whether the same acts, such as spanking with a belt, are seen as abusive or not when they are acted out on a two-year-old and when they are acted out on a 12-year-old child. While three in four Americans (74%) say that spanking with a belt is child abuse if it is done to a two-year-old, the perception that this is abuse drops to 54% if the belt is used on a 12-year-old. -- Gender affects perceptions of sexual abuse. Seven in 10 (69%) say that when a 25-year-old female and 15-year-old male have sexual relations, it is child abuse. However, when the genders are reversed, and the 25-year-old is male and the 15-year-old is female, 76% view this as abuse. -- Wide support for ways to combat abuse. Seven in 10 (71%) say they would support tougher penalties against child abuse, a large majority (86%) would support parent education classes taught in schools, and more than half of the population (55%) would support a specific proposal to fund child-related programs from an inflated tobacco tax. -- Counseling recommended remedy. When asked about an appropriate remedy for acts they believe constituted child abuse, many adults indicated counseling was the best option.

- 61% say adults who spank a disobedient two-year-old with a belt should receive counseling.

- 71% believe counseling should be recommended or required if an adult yells at a child and calls the child names.

- 77% say if one parent strikes another in anger in front of the child, counseling should be recommended or required.

-- Adults prefer non-physical forms of discipline. Eight in 10 (79%) say that the best way to discipline a child is with non-physical means such as discussing and explaining the behavior with the child (31%), using time-outs (19%), or removing privileges (19%) rather than spanking the child. The survey was conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland, Inc. for Children's Institute International. Interviews were conducted with 981 adults nationwide. All telephone calls were conducted from a central phone facility in Denver, CO, during late April through mid-May, 1999. The margin of error is +/-3.5% for the general sample. For more than 90 years, CII has served Los Angeles-area children and their families with a special focus on the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect, as well as advocating for policies that protect children. Every year, more than 3,500 families receive CII's services, including therapeutic day care, family preservation, substance abuse recovery, foster care, emergency shelter, domestic violence intervention and child abuse treatment. CII has also trained more than 45,000 professionals from as far away as Japan and the Ukraine.

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