Drop in Child Sexual Abuse
Confirmed by New Study
Contact: Erika Mantz
UNH Media Relations
February 11, 2004
DURHAM, N.H. - A new study funded and published by the U.S. Department
of Justice adds support to the notion that the United States has
experienced a true decline in the 1990s in the number of children
suffering sexual abuse.
Cases of sexual abuse substantiated by state child protection authorities
nationwide dropped a remarkable 40 percent between 1992 and 2000,
according to the report authored by David Finkelhor and Lisa Jones
of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes against Children Research
Center. But some skeptics have explained the decline as the result
of more conservative investigation practices or an increased reluctance
of the public and professionals to report offenses, not fewer sexually
The new study examined the experience of a number of states and
concluded that such explanations could not account for the breadth
and persistence of the decline.
In addition, the study found other evidence that fewer children
are being abused. In self-report surveys of the general population,
fewer youth said they had been sexually assaulted or abused in 2000
and 2001 than had said so a decade earlier.
According to the researchers, the study also points to other childhood
trends in the 1990s consistent with fewer children being victims
of sexual. Statistics show declines during the late 1990s in births
to teenage mothers, children running away and teenagers committing
suicide. All of these problems can be outcomes of children who experience
sexual abuse, and might be expected to drop if abuse did.
The study could not confirm any particular reason for the drop
in sexual abuse during the 1990s. It listed as possible causes the
increasing prosecution, incarceration and treatment of offenders,
the decline in unemployment, and the impact of public awareness
and prevention education efforts directed at families and children.
In the report, Finkelhor and Jones urged that new efforts need
to be undertaken to understand the actual reasons for the decline
in sexual abuse, so that the lessons could be applied to broaden
and extend the encouraging trend.
The report is available online at ojjdp.ncjrs.org.
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