Every year, between 3000 and 3500 children are physically abused in Germany. Many more, some 12,000 to 13,000, suffer sexual abuse. These are the figures from official criminal statistics, but in fact a high proportion of unreported cases is assumed for both offenses. The latest edition of Deutsches Ärzteblatt International contains an article in which Winfried Häuser of the Technical University of Munich and his co-authors present the findings of their representative survey of a sample of the German population, conducted with the goal of quantifying the true dimensions of child abuse (Dtsch Arztebl Int 2011; 108(17): 287-94).

Using a standardized questionnaire designed to detect possible maltreatment in childhood or adolescence, the authors interviewed around 2500 people aged 14 years or more. Severe emotional abuse was reported by 1.6% of those surveyed, severe physical abuse by 2.8%, and severe sexual abuse by 1.9%. Severe emotional neglect was indicated by 6.6%, severe physical neglect by 10.8%.

Belonging to the lower or middle social classes predicted severe physical abuse and physical neglect, while female sex was a predictor for severe sexual abuse. All forms of maltreatment were significantly correlated with one another.

The reported frequencies of the various types of maltreatment agree with the findings of a population-based German study conducted in 1992 and with recent investigations in the USA.