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April 16, 2019
by Patricia Tomasi

Texting Helps Kids Talk About Abuse According To New Study

April 16, 2019 08:00 by Patricia Tomasi  [About the Author]

A new study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that children are able to communicate that they’ve been abused via text message, often within the very first message sent. 

“We were surprised,” study author Laura Schwab-Reese told us. “We didn’t expect kids to be willing to be so open about their experiences.”

According to the National Children’s Alliance, over 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. each year and neglect is the most common form of abuse followed by physical abuse and sexual abuse. Four times out of five, abusers are the parents. 

The current study concurred that the person most likely to commit the abuse of a child is their own parent and that the most common forms of abuse the kids texted about were physical abuse followed by psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Researchers looked at text conversations from kids communicating with crisis centers between October 2015 and July 2017. They then randomly selected 50 conversations and analyzed the content.

“We wanted to know how kids talked about child maltreatment,” Schwab-Reese, of the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Purdue University told us. “We suspected they would use euphemisms and we would have to carefully identify the types of language and stories they used to describe their experiences.  We were surprised to find many children used words like, abused, molested, raped, or told explicit stores about their experience.”

Schwab-Reese completed a scoping review in 2016 on technology-driven child maltreatment and found that many researchers were using social media or online sources to study health outcomes but very few were studying child maltreatment.  Through that work, she found the text-based service and became interested in how it could be used to help kids who were talking about their child abuse experiences.

For the current study, Schwab-Reese and colleagues read all the conversations that resulted in a report to child protective services.  Then they coded the conversations to find patterns in how kids talked about their abuse experience and what types of abuse they experienced.

“We found that kids talked about their maltreatment experiences early in the conversation and used explicit stories or language to describe their experiences,” Schwab-Reese told us. “Nearly half of kids brought up their abuse in the first message, meaning they were reaching out expressly about their abuse.”

Schwab-Reese believes the results suggest kids need ways to talk about child maltreatment using technology-facilitated methods. She says it’s possible that child protective services or other organizations serving at-risk children would benefit from having a text-based or online chat reporting option.”

Sadly, the most recent year of national data shows that over 1600 children died in the U.S. from abuse in 2015, the last year for which data was collected.

“We think it’s important to continue to develop ways to communicate with kids about sensitive topics,” Schwab-Reese told us, “in ways that they want to communicate.”

About the Author

Patricia Tomasi

Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog:

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