Child Abuse and Behavior Problems

Child Help, a non-profit organization for victims of child abuse and neglect, notes that each year nearly 6 million U.S. children reportedly suffer some form of child abuse and neglect. Child abuse can have lasting behavioral outcomes on children, adolescents and adults, including aggressive behavior, juvenile delinquency and criminality, and risky sexual activity. Early and persistent behavioral interventions can help those exposed to child abuse and neglect increase their resilience and enhance their overall well-being.

Aggressive Behavior

Children who have experienced some form of abuse may have challenges in managing their anger. The American Psychological Association states that some indicators of child sexual abuse include angry outbursts and destructive behavior 1. Research from the Australian Institute of Family Studies reports that the earlier children are exposed to maltreatment, the more likely they are to exhibit behavioral problems in adolescence. Furthermore, externalizing behaviors, such as aggression and hyperactivity, are more closely associated with victims of physical and sexual abuse, or those who have witnessed domestic violence.

Juvenile Delinquency

Child Help reports that children who experience abuse are 59 percent more likely to be arrested as juveniles and 30 percent are more likely to commit violent crimes. Shay Bilchik and Judge Michael Nash, contributing researchers at The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University, report that not all victims of child abuse will have these outcomes, and list socioeconomic advantages and supportive peer and adult relationships as protective factors for those who have experienced child abuse.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is also an issue for child abuse victims. Research compiled by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that 29 percent of adolescents who have experienced traumatic events, such as abuse and maltreatment, have experimented with illegal substances by the eighth grade. Substance abuse is also a contributing factor to children being abused by their parents and caretakers, reports Child Help, as children whose parents abuse drugs and alcohol are three times more likely to be abused.

Internalizing Behaviors

Social withdrawal and depressive symptoms include a list of internalizing behaviors that child abuse victims may exhibit, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies. Research conducted by scholars at Brigham Young University notes that internalizing behaviors are not easily observable, and they can have a negative impact on academic performance, physical health and future psychological and employment outcomes. Scholars also note that this behavior is typically unreported because it is not disruptive to others and tends to meet teachers' and other authority figures' behavioral expectations.

Risky Sexual Behavior

There is significant evidence to support the assertion that children who have been sexually abused have a heightened chance of engaging in risky sexual behavior. The American Psychological Association states that behavioral problems often associated with child sexual abuse victims include sexualized behavior, which then increases the risk of pregnancy and exposure to sexually transmitted infections among this cohort 1. The Australian Institute of Family Studies adds that child sexual abuse victims are also more vulnerable to further sexual offenses and rape.