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In this Feb. 21, 2013 photo, this anti-bullying sign is prominently displayed in the hallway at Adams Elementary school in Janesville, Wis., as part of a coordinated effort to reduce the negative behaviors in schools. (AP Photo/The Janesville Gazette) ORG XMIT: WIJAN102 / AP

As the rate of violent crime in the USA declined over the past two decades, one of the often overlooked benefits has been the decrease in violence, crime and abuse that children are exposed to, a new study suggests.

Of 50 measures of direct and indirect violence experienced by children and teens - including assaults, bullying and sexual victimization - rates for 27 measures significantly declined between 2003 and 2011 while rates for the others either declined slightly or went unchanged, according to the study published Monday by JAMA Pediatrics.

Among the most dramatic declines found:

â?¢ Assault with a weapon dropped by 36%.

â?¢ Physical intimidation and bullying dropped by 43% and 22%, respectively

â?¢ Sexual assault and rape dropped by 30% and 38%, respectively

â?¢ Emotional abuse and neglect dropped by 27% and 33%, respectively

â?¢ Witnessing or indirect violence dropped by 28%

â?¢ Violent delinquent behavior, including hitting, slapping or pushing another child or adult dropped by 48%

"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," says David Finkelhor lead author of the study and director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.

And the declines were noted across the country and in all demographic groups.

Even the economic hardships caused by the latest recession did not reverse the downward trend in violence and crime exposure for children, although there were fewer significant declines during that period, according to the study.

"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 says. "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."

Perhaps this study can help put the reality in perspective and make the point, "that we are making some progress," he says.

A December report by The Pew Research Center, using data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed that although the rate of non-fatal violent gun crime victimization dropped 75% in the past two decades, and gun homicide rate dropped 49% in the same period, the majority of Americans think gun violence has worsened.

For the new study, researchers analyzed responses from three large national telephone surveys conducted in 2003, 2008 and 2011, representing more than 10,000 children. Parents of children ages 2 to 9 answered the survey questions about the child's violence exposure. Children ages 10 to 17 answered for themselves.

Because the trend identified in the study "is not obvious without careful and meticulous surveys," it may come as a surprise to many, says psychologist Ron Prinz,director of the Parenting & Family Research Center at the University of South Carolina, who was not involved in the study.

Although the study does not investigate what accounts for the decline that it documents, possible factors, it says, include the growth and spread of proven prevention and intervention programs, as well as greater mental health treatment resources. Even the growth of electronic technology and communication is cited as a potential factor because it allows teens to spend "less time in face-to-face contact situations where assault and violence can occur."

"We do need to make more of an effort to figure what the 'smoking wand' is, what is it that's contributing the most to this trend so we can double-down and be doing more of it," Finkelhor says.

In an accompanying editorial, John Lutzker of the Center for Healthy Development at Georgia State University and colleagues write that determining all of the factors behind the decline "is a daunting task," but what matters is that the trends are so strong: "Essentially, through the variety of concerted efforts, we are 'throwing the book' at these problems, and something seems to be working."



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Progress made in reducing violence in children's lives

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