In our rapidly evolving society, the various forms of abuse and victimization have garnered significant attention, calling for immediate awareness and action. Among the different forms of victimization, polyvictimization stands out due to its complex nature, involving multiple types of victimization.

What Is Polyvictimization?

Polyvictimization refers to children experiencing multiple types of victimization, such as sexual abuse and family violence, rather than repetitive events of the same kind.

Understanding Polyvictimization

Polyvictimization is the exposure an individual has to multiple forms of violence or victimization, which can include but is not limited to childhood neglect, sexual abuse, cyberbullying, domestic violence, medical trauma, terrorism, and natural disasters.

As research grows on this topic, findings suggest that the impact of experiencing various types of victimization is more potent than encountering multiple instances of a singular type of victimization.

The Prevalence of Child Victimization

Studies reveal a concerning trend:

  • 1 in 4 children in the U.S. will encounter some form of trauma or victimization by age 16.
  • In a typical classroom of 30 students, approximately 24 will face at least one form of trauma or victimization.

Children who face one form of victimization, like bullying, are more susceptible to other forms, such as physical abuse. Those subjected to multiple abuses are termed “polyvictims.”

Why Addressing Polyvictimization Is Essential

The consequences of childhood victimization are severe and long-lasting. These harmful effects include cognitive delays, impaired development, academic challenges, mental illnesses, substance abuse, and serious diseases, including cancer. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study even links childhood traumas to later-life health complications and early mortality.

Moving Toward a Holistic Approach

Current child protection practices, although beneficial, often focus on singular types of trauma, leading to a segmented approach. However, understanding polyvictimization necessitates a holistic strategy in both intervention and prevention.

Professionals should look beyond the evident trauma, probing deeper into possible additional abuses the child might have encountered. Additionally, prevention programs should teach children comprehensive safety rules and strategies, emphasizing prevention against all forms of victimization.

MBF Prevention Education Programs — including MBF Child Safety Matters® (for grades Pre-K – 5) and MBF Teen Safety Matters (for grades 6 – 12) — are founded based on polyvictimization research. They equip students with five essential safety rules that help protect them from bullying, cyberbullying, all types of child abuse, and digital dangers. To know more, visit mbfpreventioneducation.org.

Consequences of Trauma and Victimization

Recent studies reveal that 1 in 4 children will suffer some form of abuse or traumatic event during their youth. Those exposed to physical abuse or neglect tend to have a higher risk for physical injuries, behavioral and emotional issues, cognitive delays, hindered development, and, subsequently, diminished academic performance. Children who have undergone traumatic events might exhibit:

  • Emotional symptoms: These can range from depression and anxiety to behavioral shifts and learning challenges.
  • Physical symptoms: Physical symptoms may manifest as disturbances in eating and sleeping patterns as well as recurring nightmares.

While children are inherently resilient and many overcome the negative aftermath of trauma and violence, a significant number suffer from ongoing traumatic stress. This stress can negatively impact their daily lives, even long after the traumatic event. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study underscores this and notes that early exposure to challenging childhood experiences (like abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction) serves as a strong predictor for subsequent health problems and a reduced lifespan.

Societal Impact of Abuse/Neglect

In addition to the tragic impact on individuals, society at large faces financial repercussions from child abuse and neglect. Direct costs include:

  • Financial outlays related to managing abuse reports
  • Taking care of children removed from abusive environments
  • Legal and court-associated costs
  • Expenses related to the child welfare system

Additionally, indirect costs include:

  • Increased educational system expenses
  • Enhanced healthcare utilization
  • Costs linked to mental health and substance abuse treatments
  • Expenses stemming from juvenile and adult crime

Perhaps the most pronounced repercussion of child abuse and neglect is its influence on families across generations. Adults who grew up in unsupportive environments frequently lack effective parenting skills and struggle with social and emotional challenges. As a result, they often find themselves caught in a cycle where they can’t adequately address their children’s needs. This pattern perpetuates across generations, affecting broader communities and society. (Source)

Polyvictimization Implications

In 2011, David Finkelhor, Heather Turner, Sherry Hamby, and Richard Ormrod delved into the multifaceted implications of polyvictimization, shedding light on how practitioners, policymakers, and researchers can address this phenomenon.

Recommendations include:

  • Comprehensive Assessment: Professionals should check children for the many different types of harm or mistreatment.
  • Prioritizing Polyvictims: Given their increased vulnerability, polyvictims should be given precedence in interventions.
  • Intervention Approaches: Strategies should address multiple victimization types and their underlying risk factors.
  • Addressing Root Causes: It’s essential to tackle environmental conditions perpetuating victimization.
  • Expanding Child Protection: Traditional child protective systems could be improved by having more ways to address the different types of victimization.
  • Proactively Addressing Polyvictimization: Professionals should strive to prevent polyvictimization through early intervention and targeted prevention.

Understanding and addressing polyvictimization requires a multifaceted approach, incorporating comprehensive assessments, targeted interventions, and societal awareness.

Types of Polyvictimization

As research grows on polyvictimization, findings suggest that the impact of experiencing various types of victimization is more potent than encountering multiple instances of a singular type of mistreatment.

Child Abuse and Neglect

Child maltreatment, commonly known as child abuse, consists of willful acts or threats that cause or might cause significant physical, mental, or sexual injury. These acts also comprise neglect, where a child is deprived of essential needs or is permitted to live in hazardous environments.

Long-term consequences of abuse and neglect include heightened risks of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders, and substance abuse.


  • In the US, 1 in 4 children will experience some form of child abuse or neglect. (Source)
  • Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies received referrals involving about 7.8 million children in 2018. (Source)
  • Neglect remains the most prevalent type of abuse, followed by physical, sexual, and psychological maltreatment.
  • The highest victimization rates in 2018 were among American Indian or Alaska Native children (15.2 per 1,000 children) and African American children (14 per 1,000 children).

Bullying and Cyberbullying

Bullying is the recurrent use of hostility or aggression, where a power imbalance exists or is perceived to exist, preventing the victim from defending themselves. A common acronym to remember the legal definition of bullying is RIP. For it to be considered bullying, the behavior must be:

  • Repeated
  • Have an Intent to harm
  • Involve a real or perceived Power imbalance

Here are eye-opening statistics regarding bullying:

  • 1 out of 5 children is bullied. (Source)
  • Over 160,000 kids stay home from school every day because of fear of bullying. (Source)
  • 60% of boys characterized as bullies in 6th through 9th grades had at least one criminal conviction by age 24. (Source)
  • Bullying victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University. (Source)
  • 70.6% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools, and 70.4% of school staff have seen bullying. (Source)
  • A higher percentage of males report being physically bullied (6% vs. 4%), whereas a higher percentage of females reported being the subjects of rumors (18% vs. 9%) and being excluded from activities on purpose (7% vs. 4%). (Source)
  • When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time. (Source)
  • Only about 20 to 30% of students who are bullied notify adults about the bullying. (Source)
  • School-based bullying prevention programs have been found to reduce bullying by up to 25%. (Source)

Cyberbullying occurs when someone uses technology to threaten, harass, or bully others. It encompasses rumor-spreading, impersonation, name-calling, and sharing abusive media.

Notable statistics include:

  • One million children were harassed, threatened, or subjected to other forms of cyberbullying on Facebook during the past year. (Source)
  • Over 50% of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying. (Source)
  • Girls are three times more likely to be cyberbullied than boys. (Source)
  • Only 1 out of 10 teens inform their parents after being cyberbullied. (Source)

Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)

CSE is a form of abuse where perpetrators give children material or non-material benefits for sexual activities. It can occur both offline and online. Online sexual exploitation can include grooming, sexual discussions, live streaming, producing and distributing child sexual abuse material, coercion, and blackmail.

Child Sexual Exploitation Statistics:

  • In 2022, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children received 32 million reports of alleged child sexual exploitation and abuse, including 49.4 million images and 37.7 million videos from electronic service providers.
  • 40% of people charged with child pornography also sexually abuse children. (Source)
  • 14% of seventh through ninth-grade students reported they had communicated with someone online about sexual things; 11% of students reported they had been asked to talk about sexual things online; 8% had been exposed to nude pictures, and 7% were also asked for nude pictures of themselves online.
  • 1 in 5 children who use computer chatrooms has been approached over the internet by predators. (Source)
  • 1 in 5 youths reported being sexually solicited or approached in the last year. Only around 25% of the youths who received a sexual solicitation told a parent. (Source)

Understanding Human Trafficking

According to Polaris, human trafficking deprives individuals of their freedom for monetary gains. This illicit trade takes multiple forms:

  • Sex Trafficking: Victims are deceived, threatened, or forced into selling sex. This can manifest in escort services, pornography, illicit massage parlors, brothels, and street solicitation.
  • Labor Trafficking: Individuals are compelled to work in harsh conditions through deceit or threats. Common sectors include agriculture, domestic services, restaurants, cleaning, and carnivals.
  • Child Trafficking: Illegally transporting, recruiting, harboring, or receiving a child below 18 for forced labor or sexual exploitation.

Alarming Statistics

  • The average age a child is lured into the sex trade industry in the U.S. is 15 years old. (Source)
  • At any given time in 2020, an estimated 27.6 million people were victims of trafficking. (Source)
  • The U.S. Department of State estimates that 18,000 to 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year. (Source)
  • According to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, human trafficking generates an estimated $9.5 billion in annual revenue. (Source)
  • 70-90% of child trafficking victims were sexually abused in a non-commercial manner first. (Source)
  • 1 in 6 of the 25,000 runaways reported missing in 2022 were likely sex trafficking victims. (Source)
  • Studies consistently report that 50-90% of child sex trafficking victims have been involved in the child welfare system. (Source)

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, involves abusive behavior between partners. It includes both threats as well as emotional, sexual, and physical abuse. Both men and women can be victims, but it’s more common among women, with 25-31% of women in the United States experiencing it during their lifetimes.

  • Each year, 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence, with 90% directly observing violent incidents.
  • Studies indicate that such exposure risks maladaptive outcomes in their behavioral, emotional, social, cognitive, and physical functions.

For further insights on the effects of domestic violence on children, visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

School Violence

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 1 in 4 students has experienced a traumatic event impacting their learning or behavior. Such experiences encompass everything from minor altercations to severe incidents like school shootings. For comprehensive resources for school professionals, consult the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Community and Gang Violence

Community violence encompasses public, intentional violent acts committed by individuals unrelated to the victim. This includes bullying, gang confrontations, and shootings. Such events induce fear, phobia, and anxiety among victims. For in-depth information on this subject and its implications on children, refer to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.


Every citizen, whether a mandatory reporter or not, should report suspected abuse. If you suspect any child is being abused, please call the Hotline for your state or area. You DO NOT NEED PROOF that a child has been abused or neglected to make a report, only reasonable suspicion. The authorities will determine if abuse or neglect is occurring. For a list of state reporting hotlines, click here.

To learn more, take the Monique Burr Foundation’s free one-hour professional development course, Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse & Neglect.

MBF Resources

MBF’s Prevention Education Programs cater to Pre-K-12 students. They cover topics like abuse, bullying, trafficking, digital threats, etc. Created with research and expert opinions, these programs are age-appropriate and emphasize prevention.

Other Resources

The Monique Burr Foundation for Children, established in 1997, strives to shield children from exploitation and maltreatment through evidence-based prevention education rooted in polyvictimization research. Their various programs cater to different age groups, providing comprehensive prevention education.

MBF’s programs are well-researched, practical, and have robust backing from educational and prevention experts. They address a wide spectrum of victimizations, keeping in tune with polyvictimization research. Discover more about MBF Prevention Education Programs HERE.

What They're Saying...

The MBF Child Safety Matters program is impressive. This important information is well formulated and well presented, developmentally appropriate, and based on good understanding of literature.

There’s not a child in the world who can’t benefit from this program. There are so many instances where we see children who have been damaged and hurt. Things happened to them and we think, if they’d only had this program, if they’d only had the benefit of this education, that might not have happened to them. If we can prevent that from happening to a single child, then it’s worth all the effort we have put forth

I heard about the program through my son. He came home…and showed me the safety rules. I cannot thank the Foundation enough; to have other people who are also concerned about my child’s safety and the safety of other kids is wonderful. I especially like the program’s focus on the prevention side.

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