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Rethinking Child Maltreatment: Children’s Perceptions of Physical and Emotional Maltreatment—Initial Findings


The definition of child maltreatment (CM) has a direct impact on operationalization in research, on practice, and on policy formulation. While children are the main focus of the field of CM, it seems that their voices are rarely heard and that they have been excluded from the research and the process of formulating the definition of CM. The current study strives to bring to the forefront the general population of children’s perception of physical and emotional maltreatment and to gain an understanding regarding the differences and similarities of children’s perceptions and the current professional and academic perceptions of the phenomenon. Data was collected from 4 and 6th graders in 30 different schools in Israel: 21 Jewish schools and 9 Arab schools. In total, 2,536 children responded to a questionnaire composed of closed questions only and rated which parental behaviors are considered physical or emotional maltreatment. The research findings clearly indicate that children are reliable and important sources of knowledge regarding the phenomenon of CM. It seems that while they differentiate between parental discipline and CM in a similar way to the current professional view, they view the severity of CM—especially emotional maltreatment—in a way that differs from the common professional views. Moreover, the research shows that there are differences in the severity perceptions among different subgroups of children, for example, Arab and Jewish children and boys and girls.

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This study is part of the “Children’s Worlds” project and is funded by the Jacobs Foundation.

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Correspondence to Ayelet Rosenthal.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Rosenthal, A., Ben-Arieh, A. Rethinking Child Maltreatment: Children’s Perceptions of Physical and Emotional Maltreatment—Initial Findings. Int. Journal on Child Malt. 5, 215–229 (2022).

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  • Child maltreatment
  • Child perceptions
  • Child participation
  • Physical maltreatment
  • Emotional maltreatment