Abuse of Teens

The bottom-line message that emerges from research on adolescent development and parenting is that teenagers are vulnerable. Their boldness and bravado mask an inexperience in solving problems and coping with stress that is often no match for the unsupervised, risk-laden environments in which they live.

In the United States, teens have rates of abuse and neglect that are as high as or higher than those of young children—much of it at the hands of family members.

  • Nearly 25% of reported child maltreatment in the United States involves victims who are 12 to 17 years old.
  • About one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused by age 18.
  • Thousands of U.S. teens and preteens become victims of sex trafficking as runaways, through abduction, or even via coercion by parents.

Worldwide, risks for teens are equally grave.

  • An estimated 150 million girls and 73 million boys under the age of 18 have experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence.
  • Over one million children are victims of sex trafficking, and 218 million are involved in child labor, most in hazardous work.

Physical abuse of adolescents is linked to mental disorders, poor school performance, substance abuse, suicide, and aggression. Sexual abuse is linked to depression, eating disorders, sexual dysfunction, and early pregnancy, as well as to increased risk of further sexual abuse and abduction into sex trafficking.

Adolescents are also frequently subjected to psychological harm by parents who are excessively critical or manipulative—a danger highlighted in a 2007 report by the World Health Organization.

In all cases, the consequences of abuse are profound—threatening the strength of our workforce, the cohesion of our families, and the quality of our social fabric.


If you are worried that a teen may be a victim of abuse, take action. These resources can help you decide what to do:

Warning Signs That Teens May Be Victims of Abuse: The Children’s Hospital Boston Child Protection Team website includes signs of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in children and teens.

How to Report Suspected Abuse: The Child Welfare Information Gateway at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website includes links to each state’s hotline.

Resources for Teens Who Are Being Abused: Special section of the Children’s Hospital Boston Child Protection Team website.

Trafficking of Children in the United States: U.S. Department of Education site includes a fact sheet on trafficking, how to identify a victim, and how to report a crime.

Internet Abuse: The NetSmartz Workshop website (a program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children) includes tips on how to recognize and avoid dangers on the Internet.