Infants who are premature and underweight appear to be at particular risk for abuse, including sexual abuse, British researchers report. They looked at records on 119,771 infants born between 1983 and 2001 for whom certain information was available (maternal age, birth weight, and gestational age at delivery). They compared this information with data from a register that included children who were physically, emotionally, or sexually abused or neglected and were believed to be at risk for more abuse.
For all categories of abuse, they found a correlation between rates of registration and low levels of fetal growth. Similarly, they found a correlation between registration and shorter gestational duration (prematurity). These findings held true regardless of socioeconomic status or maternal age.
Researchers can't explain their findings, but speculate that premature infants may have characteristics that are more likely to provoke hostility in caregivers.
Source: Child abuse registration, fetal growth, and preterm birth: A population based study, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, N Spencer, et al., April 2006.