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Apr 29, 2014 11:50 AM EDT

US Kids Exposure To Violence Is Decreasing

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Despite frequent reports of child abuse and school shootings, a new study reveals that children's exposure to violence and crime has declined in the past decade.

Researchers from the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham found that of 50 measures of direct or indirect violence experienced or witnessed by children and teens - including child abuse, bullying or school shootings - rates for 27 measures declined between 2003 and 2011 "while rates for the others declined slightly or went unchanged," USA Today reported.

"It should be encouragement to people who have been working on this problem," David Finkelhor, lead author and director of the Crimes against Children Research Center, told Reuters. "We're seeing an improving trend and an overall decline in the exposure to violence, abuse and crime among young people."

The most dramatic declines were found in assault, which dropped by 33 percent from 2003 to 2011, bullying, which also fell by about a third, and sexual violence, which fell 25 percent.

 "The trends that we see in this study are supported by lots of other research, from the National Crime Victimization Survey, from official data from FBI, data from the child protection system, and a number of other studies," Finkelhor told USA Today.

The declines were seen across the country and in all demographic groups. The reductions persisted even through the economic recession period from 2008 to 2011, suggesting that economic hardships did not reverse the downward trend in violence and crime exposure for children.

"For most part, the public is unaware of the fact that crime, violence, and abuse have declined over the last 20 years if you look at all the data." Finkelhor said. "They are still at unacceptable levels, and there are horrible crimes that occur that get extensive coverage that certainly give people the impression that it's increasing or becoming more severe."

For the study, researchers administered three telephone surveys to children and teens between the ages of two 17 years old in 2003, 2008 and 2011. The surveys asked about whether children had been either victims or perpetrators of violent behaviors.  Participants between 10 and 17 years old answered the survey questions themselves, but parents of children younger than 10 years old answered on the child's behalf, Reuters reported.

The findings were recently published in JAMA Pediatrics.

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