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BMC Public Health. 2013 Oct 20;13:980. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-13-980.

Frequency of child maltreatment in a representative sample of the German population.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Bielefeld University, Postbox 100131, 33501 Bielefeld, Germany.



Representative data about the frequency of child maltreatment is needed in order to estimate the extent of the problem in the wider population as well as to provide the basis for interpretation of frequency rates in clinical samples. However, previous representative studies on the frequency of child maltreatment in Germany and other countries were limited as they focused on the assessment of physical and sexual abuse whilst emotional forms of maltreatment were ignored. In addition, previous studies applied scales that had not been validated against external criteria.


In a cross-sectional study, standardized questionnaires were administered to a representative sample of the German population. Maltreatment in childhood and adolescence was assessed using the German version of the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Empirically derived threshold values for the five different types of child maltreatment including emotional maltreatment were applied to determine presence of abuse and neglect.


Complete data was available from N = 2,500 subjects. Prevalence rates were 13.9% for emotional neglect, 10.2% for emotional abuse, 12.0% for physical abuse, 48.4% for physical neglect, and 6.2% for sexual abuse. Differences between sexes were found for the frequency of sexual abuse.


Although our analysis has found lower rates of child maltreatment than previous reports that used less well validated criteria, the results of this study confirm that child abuse, with its many different facets, is a significant problem in Germany.

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