Increased public awareness of how child predators operate, along with better law enforcement and policies to protect children, may be helping to reduce child sex abuse despite this year’s headlines about cases connected to institutions like Penn State, the Boy Scouts and the BBC.
A recent report from the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center found incidents of child sexual abuse have been declining in the U.S. for 20 years, with some statistics showing decreases as steep as 60 percent.
The findings may be surprising given the high-profile cases in the news. But many of those incidents took place years, sometimes decades, ago. Ironically, experts say, publicity surrounding such scandals may help reduce the problem.
The October report from the Crimes Against Children Research Center showing a decrease in child sexual abuse since the early 1990s is based on information from government agencies, FBI crime reports and national surveys. It includes data from state child protective agencies showing a 62 percent decline in substantiated sex abuse claims between 1992 and 2010, and a national crime survey that found a 69 percent decline in sexual assaults against teens from 1993 to 2008.
David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center and a UNH sociology professor said that in decades past, pedophiles often behaved with impunity: “They thought nobody would ever detect them because they never heard of people getting caught, but nowadays they get caught, they get prosecuted, they get incarcerated,” which “has a big deterrent effect.”