- April 2004
- Vol. 5, No. 3
Explaining the Decline in Cases of Child Sexual Abuse
In the January 2004 edition of the Juvenile Justice Bulletin, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) reviews six possible explanations for a 40 percent drop in substantiated sexual abuse cases between 1992 and 2000 (from 149,800 to 89,355). While it is likely that multiple factors are involved, the article concludes there is evidence indicating that a "real decline," as opposed to changes in reporting trends or data collection, is responsible for the trend.
Evidence cited includes:
- A decline in the number of self-reports of sexual abuse by victims
- Declines in related social problems (such as teen pregnancy)
- Declines in the most readily preventable sexual abuse cases
- An increase in incarceration of sexual abuse offenders
The article also explores five other possible explanations for the decline in substantiated child sexual abuse cases, including:
- Increasing conservatism within child protection agencies regarding the cases they investigate and substantiate
- Exclusion of cases that do not involve caretakers
- Changes in child protection services data collection methods or definitions
- Diminished reporting due to a sexual abuse backlash
- A reduction in the supply of older but previously undisclosed cases available for new disclosures
The authors did not find consistent evidence for any of these alternate explanations. While there is partial evidence in some areas of the country or during some time periods for some of these, the overall decline is so widespread and concerns so many age groups and types of abuse that the authors found the theory of "real decline" most plausible.
A full copy of this report can be accessed on the OJJDP website at http://www.ojjdp.gov/publications/PubAbstract.asp?pubi=199298&ti=&si=&sei=&kw=&PreviousPage=PubResults&strSortby=date&p=&strPubSearch=.
The OJJDP last reported on this topic in January 2001. Find a summary of that article in "Researchers Ponder Causes for Decline in Child Sexual Abuse Cases" in the May/June 2001 issue of Children's Bureau Express.