Of all crimes against children, sexual abuse has arguably captured the greatest share of attention from child advocates, professionals, policymakers, and the general public. During the 1980’s, increasing numbers of victims were identified each year (American Association for the Protection of Children, 1988) and concerns about this crime intensified. However, a dramatic shift in child sexual abuse trends has occurred. Data from child protective services (CPS) agencies across the country indicate that the increases of the 1980’s were followed by an extensive period of marked declines in the 1990’s. Unfortunately, little effort has been expended to uncover the reasons why fewer cases of child sexual abuse have been identified each year. The decline in child sexual abuse cases is being highlighted as a part of OJJDP’s Crimes Against Children Series to illustrate the importance of tracking and investigating trends in child victimization. This Bulletin uses data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) and the Annual Fifty State Survey conducted by Prevent Child Abuse America to present evidence about the decline in reported and substantiated child sexual abuse cases since the early 1990’s. Several explanations for the decline are considered, and corresponding policy implications are discussed.


Crimes Against Children Research Center, Psychology

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Juvenile Justice Bulletin


United States Department of Justice

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