Child Sexual Abuse likely Higher than Reported

By Martha Jette

January 26, 2014

According to a study by Sorensen & Snow (1991), cases of child sexual abuse that were reported to authorities in the U.S. rose 322% from 1980 to 1990. Then from 1991 to 2000, the numbers were significantly lower.

A report entitled Explanations for the Decline in Child Sexual Abuse Cases written by David Finkelhor and Lisa M. Jones for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) notes, “The number of sexual abuse cases substantiated by Child Protective Service (CPS) agencies across the states dropped a remarkable 40 percent between 1992 and 2000, from an estimated 150,000 cases to 89,500 cases.”

The keyword within this statement could very well be “substantiated.” This means that while the reported cases were higher, CPS only accepted those deemed as worthy of investigation.

This report attempts to explain why there were so few reported cases over the course of those eight years. It states, “Identifying the source or sources of the decline in the number of substantiated sexual abuse cases is important,” and adds that a “real decline” would indicate “more effective strategies for prevention of all kinds of child maltreatment.” On the other hand… “if the decline is due solely to decreased reporting or changes in CPS procedures, it could mean that more children are failing to get the help and services they need.”

While the report cites a number of possibilities, it seems clear that child sexual abuse is now more prevalent than ever. According to a report posted on the Child Welfare Information Gateway entitled Child Maltreatment 2011, Summary of Key Findings, submissions by state child protective services (CPS) agencies, “an estimated 3.4 million referrals involving the alleged maltreatment of approximately 6.2 million children were made to CPS agencies” in 2011. Of those referrals, approximately 2 million reports related to more than 3.7 million children (duplicate count) were screened in as appropriate for CPS.”

Since only 9.1% of those cases involved sexual child abuse, the total amounts to 336,700 cases. This means that between 2000 when there were 89,500 cases and 2011 when there were 336,700, the numbers rose again by 376%. This indicates that somewhere along the way, the number of cases accepted by CPS agencies has fluctuated drastically. These were only the cases that CPS felt were substantial enough to investigate and, of course, did not include instances of child sexual abuse that went unreported.

A more recent 2011 report on the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System notes that there were a total of 3,082,000 incidents of child sexual NCANDS in 2011 and resulted in 267,750 investigations. This reveals a massive difference between the number of reports and the resulting number of investigations, which means that a large majority were deemed unsuitable for some reason for the CPS agencies to bother with.

Of those investigated, there were children 0-1 years of age (11.5%), age 1 (7.1%), age 2 (7.1%), age 3 (8.6%), 4-7 (23.8%), ages 8-11 (19.1%), ages 12-15 (17.7%) and ages 16-17 (6.6%)

Those found to be non-victims by age were as follows: 0-1 years of age (6.6%), 1 (6.1%) 2 (6.6%), 3 (6.8%), 4-7 (25.4%), 8-11 (20.7%), 12-15 (18.8%), 16-17 (7.6%).

Under a section entitled “Perpetrator Relationship,” the report notes the following breakdown of perpetrators:

Father: 130,670 (19%)

Mother: 253,107 (35.8%)

Father and other person(s): 6,150 (9%)

Mother and other person(s): 38,927 (5.7%)

Child day care provider: 2,474 (4%)

Male foster parent: 106 (0%)

Female foster parent: 369 (1%)

Foster parent, non-relative 919 (1%)

Foster parent, unknown relationship: 275 (0%)

Friend and neighbor: 1,596 (2%)

Female legal guardian: 868 (1%)

Male legal guardian: 303 (0%)

More than one non-parental perpetrator: 7,714 (1%)

Other professional: 873 (1%)

Partner of parent, female: 1,898 (3%)

Partner of parent, male: 16,734 (2.4%)

Female relative: 10,591 (1.5%)

Male relative: 19,095 (2.8%)

Group home and residential facility staff: 783 (0.1%)

Other: 23,256 (3.4%)

Unknown: 41,798 (6.1%)

Total: 688,299

Furthermore, a study by Burgess & Groth (1984) estimates that approximately “71% of child sex offenders are under 35 and knew the victim at least casually.”

The National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse referenced a study by Finkelhor & Williams (1988) that states, “An average of 5.5 children per 10,000 enrolled in daycare are sexually abused, an average of 8.9 children out of every 10,000 are abused in the home.” It notes that “1 of every 7 victims of sexual assault were under age 6” and “35% were under age 12.”


A most unsettling report by the National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse (1992) notes that children with disabilities are 4 to 10 times more vulnerable to sexual abuse than their non-disabled peers.

Again it should be noted that children often fail to report such incidents. Studies such as those by Berlinger & Barbiere (1984) and Swanson & Biaggio (1995) suggest that children “fear that disclosure will bring consequences even worse than being victimized again. The victim may fear consequences from the family, feel guilty for consequences to the perpetrator, and may fear subsequent retaliatory actions from the perpetrator.

According to The National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, “Somewhere between 2/3 and 90% of sexual abuse victims never tell.” That suggests a huge number of child sexual abuse incidents that are never reported!

But for those that do report, a study conducted at Children’s Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati (Amy Arszman Daso and Robert Shapiro, M.D) indicates, “Child sexual abuse allegations should be taken seriously” and that children’s testimony is “more reliable than physical exams in cases of sexual abuse.”

Dr. Shapiro noted, “Physical exams are an unreliable indicator of sexual abuse. We’re not saying that children never make things up, but the responsible reaction is to listen carefully to allegations of abuse so that abused children will be identified and false allegations recognized.”

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