HKU Bulletin June 2011 (Vol. 12 No. 2)

The effects of child victimization are well-known - depression and other mental health problems, difficulty concentrating in school, even poor physical health. But until now, the extent of the problem in China has been largely a matter of speculation. Dr Edward Chan Ko-ling, Assistant Professor of Social Work and Social Administration, has been in-charge of a huge study to plug the information hole. He oversaw a small army of interviewers who went into the field to survey 3,321 15-17 year olds at home, 18,341 of them at school and 8,945 parents to determine both the prevalence and risk factors of child victimization in China. They found that large numbers of teenagers had been subject to victimization such as conventional crime, maltreatment, bullying and witnessing violence or victimization, although the responses varied among each of the three responding groups. Some 50.1 per cent of teenagers surveyed at home reported they had been subject to victimization and 71.7 per cent surveyed at school reported the same. Parents only reported 35.1 per cent. In terms of sexual abuse, 3.1 per cent of teenagers surveyed at home said they had been subject to sexual victimization, against eight per cent of teenagers surveyed at school and only 1.3 per cent of parents. By comparison, the rate in the US is reported to be more than 10 per cent. Under-reporting or reality? "Under-reporting could be possible because of the cultural shame or stigmatization attached to sexual abuse, but we still see the possibility that the results may be reflecting reality," Dr Chan said, particularly as supervision of children tends to be stronger in Chinese society than in the US. Dr Chan said the discrepancies between teenager reports and those of their parents may be because parents did not want to record any abusive incidents they knew of, or because they simply did not know about such incidents. All questionnaires were completed in private, but teenagers at school may have felt freer to respond because they faced less psychological burden from having their parents nearby, he said. Apart from the prevalence of abuse, the findings also highlighted how other types of family violence increase the likelihood of child victimization. Violence between parents increased the risk 1.5 times, violence between in-laws increased the risk 2.6 times, and violence against elderly people in the home tripled the risk that children themselves would be victimized. Boys, rural residents more affected Boys were more likely to be victimized than girls, and people living in rural areas were more likely to be affected by violence and child victimization than those in urban areas (the study was carried out in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xi'an and Hong Kong; results for Hong Kong were similar to those of other Mainland cities). "It may be that the extended family [in rural areas] interacts more and so gives rise to more conflict. You also have a more patriarchal structure, which is heavily associated in other studies with partner violence and child abuse. You can't conclude that the nuclear family is free from that, but the subculture in rural areas is more supportive to the use of violence," Dr Chan said. He added that the findings underscored the value of screening for multiple types of violence when one type was detected. The results also offer a baseline for tracking changes in child victimization in future. The project was funded by the UBS Optimus Foundation, which is supporting child abuse research after UN studies found global data on violence against children was unrepresentative and highly variable. The first surveys being funded are Dr Chan's China study and a similar project in Switzerland. Dr Edward Chan Students subjected to sexual abuse seem to speak up more at school. Parents could be doing more to break the burden of silence. Research 19 The University of Hong Kong Bulletin June 2011 Child Victimization in China More than 30,000 teenagers and parents were interviewed in a massive study to determine the extent of child victimization in China, including child sexual abuse.