Declining Cases of Sexual Abuse: Information From State Child Protection Agencies

Lisa M. Jones, University of New Hampshire
David Finkelhor, University of New Hampshire

ABSTRACT
After a fifteen-year increase, national data show that identified sexual abuse cases have declined approximately 31% nationwide from 1992 to 1998, according to estimates from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS). There are several competing hypotheses for this decline. The decreasing trend may reflect a real decline in the incidence of sexual abuse. Increased prosecution and incarceration of sexual offenders, as well as prevention and public awareness campaigns, may have resulted in declining rates of sexual offenses against children. It is also possible, that without any real change in incidence, fewer cases are being reported to CPS agencies and/or fewer cases accepted for investigation. Evidence for and against these hypotheses will be explored through detailed analyses of CPS data from four states, Oregon, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. Differential trends in sexual abuse will be examined for children of different ages, for different types of perpetrators, and for different levels of abuse severity, among other variables. The information from the state data systems will be summarized and compared and implications for our understanding of the decline discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006