• May/June 2001
  • Vol. 2, No. 3

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Researchers Ponder Causes for Decline in Child Sexual Abuse Cases

Both reported and substantiated child sexual abuse cases declined in the 1990s; now researchers are trying to understand why.

A new report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) proposes some answers and calls for further investigation. The report also explores policy implications that have emerged from this decline.

The report analyzes data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) and the annual 50-State survey conducted by Prevent Child Abuse America. The report finds:

  • Child sexual abuse reports also decreased by 26 percent from 1991 to 1998.
  • Substantiated cases of child sexual abuse declined 31 percent from 1992 to 1998.
  • A decline in substantiated cases occurred in the majority of States, with an average decline for all States of 37 percent.
  • For most States, the decline was gradual and occurred over several years.
  • Other types of child maltreatment also have declined in recent years but not as dramatically as child sexual abuse cases.

Possible explanations for the trend suggested in the report include one or both of the following factors:

  • A decline in the true incidence of child sexual abuse
  • Changes in attitudes, policies, and standards that have reduced the amount of child sexual abuse being reported and substantiated.

Identifying the exact causes of the decline could lead to policy interventions. For example, laws governing the liability of reporters could be revised if intimidation is a factor in the decline. In publicizing the dramatic decline of child sexual abuse cases, OJJDP hopes to gain "increased public attention that will result in better assessment of the progress made to date in protecting children."

The Decline in Child Sexual Abuse Cases is available online at: http://www.ncjrs.org/html/ojjdp/jjbul2001_1_1/contents.html or by calling the National Criminal Justice Reference Service at 1-800-851-3420.

Related Items

See the following related publication from the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information (http://nccanch.acf.hhs.gov):

  • Child Sexual Abuse resource listing

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