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Detecting, Measuring, and Preventing Child Abuse

Chapter 2
Detecting, Measuring, and Preventing Child Abuse

Incidence and Prevalence of Child Maltreatment
Collecting Child Maltreatment Data
Victims of Maltreatment
Perpetrators of Child Maltreatment
Reporting Child Abuse
Controversies Surrounding the CPS System

Incidence and Prevalence of Child Maltreatment

Statistics on child abuse are difficult to interpret and compare because there is little consistency in how information is collected. The definitions of abuse vary from study to study, as do the methods of counting incidents of abuse. Some methods count only reported cases of abuse. Some statistics are based on estimates projected from a small study, whereas others are based on interviews.

Researchers use two terms incidence and prevalence to describe the estimates of the number of victims of child abuse and neglect. Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, in the Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3 ; 1993,, define incidence as the number of new cases occurring in the population during a given period. The incidence of child maltreatment is measured in terms of incidence rate: the number of children per one thousand children in the U.S. population who are maltreated annually. Surveys based on official reports by child protective services (CPS) agencies and community professionals are a major source of incidence data. (The term child protective services refers to the services provided by an agency authorized to act on behalf of a child when his or her parents are unable or unwilling to do so. This term is also often used to refer to the agency itself.)

Prevalence, as defined by Sedlak and Broadhurst, refers to the total number of child maltreatment cases in the population at a given time. Some researchers use lifetime prevalence to denote the number of people who have experienced child maltreatment at least once in their life. To measure the prevalence of child maltreatment, researchers use self-reported surveys of parents and child victims. Examples of self-reported surveys are the landmark 1975 National Family Violence Survey and the 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey conducted by Murray A. Straus and Richard J. Gelles.

Studies based on official reports depend on a number of things happening before an incident of abuse is recorded. The victim must be seen by people outside the home, and these people must recognize that the child has been abused. Once they have recognized this fact, they must then decide to report the abuse and find out where to report it. Once CPS receives and screens the report for appropriateness, it can then take action.

For the data to become publicly available, CPS must keep records of its cases and then pass them on to a national group that collects these statistics. Consequently, final reported statistics are understated estimatesthey are valuable as indicators but not definitive findings. Because of the hidden nature of child abuse, it is unlikely that statistics that accurately reflect the true scope of maltreatment will ever be available.

Collecting Child Maltreatment Data

The 1974 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) to coordinate nationwide efforts to protect children from maltreatment. As part of the former U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, NCCAN commissioned the American Humane Association to collect data from the states.

In 1985 the federal government stopped funding data collection on child maltreatment. In 1986 the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse (NCPCA; now called Prevent Child Abuse America) picked up where the government left off. The NCPCA started collecting detailed information from the states on the number of children abused, the characteristics of child abuse, the number of child abuse deaths, and the changes in the funding and extent of child welfare services.

In 1988 the Child Abuse Prevention, Adoption, and Family Services Act replaced the 1974 CAPTA. The new law mandated that NCCAN, as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), establish a national data collection program on child maltreatment. In 1990 the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), which was designed to fulfill this mandate, began collecting and analyzing child maltreatment data from CPS agencies in the fifty states and the District of Columbia. NCANDS has since conducted the Child Maltreatment survey annually. The most recent survey as of August 2008 was Child Maltreatment 2006 (2008,, which was published by the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF).

The data collected from states are not completely reliable because each state has its own method of gathering and classifying the information. Most states collect data on an incident basis; that is, they count each time a child is reported for abuse or neglect. If the same child is reported several times in one year, each incident is counted. Consequently, the reported number of incidents of child maltreatment may be greater than the reported number of maltreated children that CPS is aware of.

As part of the 1974 CAPTA, Congress also mandated NCCAN to conduct a periodic National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS). Data on maltreated children are collected not only from CPS agencies but also from professionals in community agencies, such as law enforcement, public health, juvenile probation, mental health, and voluntary social services, as well as from hospitals, schools, and day care centers. The NIS is the single most comprehensive source of information about the incidence of child maltreatment in the United States, because it analyzes the characteristics of child abuse and neglect that are known to community-based professionals, including those characteristics not reported to CPS. The most recent study is NIS-3. This report is based on a nationally representative sample of more than 5,600 professionals in 842 agencies serving 42 counties. NIS-3 includes not only child victims investigated by CPS agencies but also children seen by community institutions (such as day care centers, schools, and hospitals) and other investigating agencies (such as public health departments, police, and courts). In addition, victim counts were unduplicated, which means that each child was counted only once. Data collection for NIS-4 began in 2004; reports were scheduled to be published beginning in late 2008.

Definition Standards

NIS-3 uses two standardized definitions of abuse and neglect:

  • Harm Standardrequires that an act or omission must have resulted in demonstrable harm to be considered as abuse or neglect
  • Endangerment Standardallows children who had not yet been harmed by maltreatment to be counted in the estimates of maltreated children if a non-CPS professional considered them to be at risk of harm or if their maltreatment was substantiated or indicated in a CPS investigation

Victims of Maltreatment

Rates of Victimization

CPS DATA. According to the ACYF, in Child Maltreatment 2006, in 2006 CPS agencies received an estimated 3.3 million referrals, or reports, alleging the maltreatment of about 6 million children, which may include some children who were reported and counted more than once. States may differ in the rates of child maltreatment reported. States differ not only in definitions of maltreatment but also in the methods of counting reports of abuse. Some states count reports based on the number of incidents or the number of families involved, rather than on the number of children allegedly abused. Other states count all reports to CPS, whereas others count only investigated reports.

NCANDS explains that in 2006 forty states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia submitted child-level data for each report of alleged maltreatment. Child-level data include, among other things, the demographics about the children and the perpetrators, types of maltreatment, and dispositions (findings after investigation or assessment of the case). Another nine states reported more general maltreatment data. CPS agencies screened in (accepted for further assessment or investigation) 2 million (61.7%) referrals out of a total of 3.3 million referrals. Overall, the rate of maltreatment referrals (whether accepted for further investigation or not) ranged from 20.9 per 1,000 children in Arizona to 128 per 1,000 children in West Virginia. (See Table 2.1.)

In 2006 an estimated 885,245 children were victims of maltreatment in the United States. (See Table 2.2.) Even though the rate of investigations (dispositions) per 1,000 children rose from 43.8 in 2002 to 47.8 in 2006, the rate of victimization actually fell from 12.3 per 1,000 children in 2002 to 12.1 in 2006. (See Figure 2.1.)

Table 2.2 shows the types of maltreatment children suffered in 2006. In that year, 567,787 of the 885,245 children found maltreated by CPS agencies had suffered neglect. Another 19,180 suffered medical neglect. In other words, 66.3% of all children found to be maltreated by CPS agencies in 2006 were victims of neglect or medical neglect. Another 142,041 (16%) children were victims of physical abuse, 78,120 (8.8%) children were victims of sexual abuse, 58,577 (6.6%) children were victims of emotional, or psychological, maltreatment, and another 133,978 (15.1%) children experienced other types of maltreatment,

TABLE 2.1 Screened-in and screened-out referrals, by state, 2006
SOURCE: Table 21. Screened-in and Screened-out Referrals, 2006, in Child Maltreatment 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
State Child population Screened-in referrals Screened-out referrals Total referrals
Number % Number % Number Rate
Alabama 1,114,301 18,651 61.0 11,923 39.0 30,574 27.4
Alaska 181,434 5,755 57.3 4,283 42.7 10,038 55.3
Arizona 1,628,198 33,743 98.9 359 1.1 34,102 20.9
Arkansas 691,186 25,524 66.0 13,163 34.0 38,687 56.0
California 9,532,614 225,911 67.1 110,684 32.9 336,595 35.3
Colorado 1,169,301 30,940 48.1 33,437 51.9 64,377 55.1
Connecticut 818,286 28,500 64.3 15,798 35.7 44,298 54.1
Delaware 203,366 5,781 80.1 1,434 19.9 7,215 35.5
District of Columbia 114,881 5,077 90.0 567 10.0 5,644 49.1
Florida 4,021,555 151,822 59.4 103,957 40.6 255,779 63.6
Georgia 2,455,020 60,277 80.1 14,938 19.9 75,215 30.6
Idaho 394,280 6,662 43.5 8,639 56.5 15,301 38.8
Indiana 1,577,629 44,051 65.5 23,239 34.5 67,290 42.7
Iowa 710,194 25,029 59.0 17,428 41.0 42,457 59.8
Kansas 695,837 15,164 49.9 15,206 50.1 30,370 43.6
Kentucky 999,531 48,649 76.0 15,404 24.0 64,053 64.1
Maine 280,994 5,949 32.3 12,485 67.7 18,434 65.6
Massachusetts 1,448,884 38,918 59.7 26,274 40.3 65,192 45.0
Minnesota 1,257,264 19,846 34.9 36,956 65.1 56,802 45.2
Mississippi 759,405 16,888 71.5 6,733 28.5 23,621 31.1
Missouri 1,416,592 47,491 51.0 45,563 49.0 93,054 65.7
Montana 217,848 8,737 69.2 3,883 30.8 12,620 57.9
Nebraska 445,033 13,109 53.3 11,507 46.7 24,616 55.3
Nevada 634,520 14,982 73.7 5,339 26.3 20,321 32.0
New Hampshire 297,625 6,640 41.5 9,359 58.5 15,999 53.8
New Jersey              
New Mexico 508,930 16,565 52.7 14,888 47.3 31,453 61.8
New York              
North Carolina              
North Dakota 144,934 3,791 50.2 3,763 49.8 7,554 52.1
Oklahoma 894,034 36,673 57.5 27,092 42.5 63,765 71.3
Oregon 856,259 25,598 42.1 35,140 57.9 60,738 70.9
Puerto Rico 1,018,651 13,797 48.0 14,964 52.0 28,761 28.2
Rhode Island 237,451 8,441 66.3 4,298 33.7 12,739 53.6
South Carolina 1,039,653 16,712 67.2 8,143 32.8 24,855 23.9
South Dakota 194,681 3,908 27.4 10,352 72.6 14,260 73.2
Tennessee 1,442,593 61,886 67.5 29,734 32.5 91,620 63.5
Texas 6,493,965 166,728 82.9 34,382 17.1 201,110 31.0
Utah 791,198 20,206 65.3 10,734 34.7 30,940 39.1
Vermont 133,389 2,315 18.9 9,916 81.1 12,231 91.7
Virginia 1,806,847 29,141 51.7 27,219 48.3 56,360 31.2
Washington 1,526,267 35,698 46.8 40,578 53.2 76,276 50.0
West Virginia 389,071 23,210 46.6 26,575 53.4 49,785 128.0
Wisconsin 1,312,530 29,029 57.2 21,751 42.8 50,780 38.7
Wyoming 121,794 2,437 46.2 2,842 53.8 5,279 43.3
Total 51,978,025 1,400,231   870,929   2,271,160  
Percent     61.7   38.3    
Weighted rate             43.7
Number reporting 42 42 42 42 42 42 42

including abandonment, congenital drug addiction, and threats to harm them. Some children were victims of more than one type of maltreatment.

CPS statistics indicate that child physical and sexual abuse declined in the 1990s. In Child Maltreatment Trends in the 1990s: Why Does Neglect Differ from Sexual and Physical Abuse? (Child Maltreatment, vol. 11, no. 2, 2006), Lisa M. Jones, David Finkelhor, and Stephanie Halter of the University of New Hampshire use corroborating evidence to argue that there is evidence for a real decline in child abuse, not only a decline in reported cases. For example, the National Crime Victimization Survey shows a large decline in sexual assaults against teenagers; the Minnesota Student Survey of Children shows a 22% decline in sexual abuse between 1992 and

TABLE 2.2 Types of maltreatment sustained by victims, by state, 2006
State Victims Neglect Physical abuse Medical neglect Sexual abuse
Number % Number % Number % Number %
Alabama 9,378 3,911 41.7 3,666 39.1 2,448 26.1    
Alaska 3,481 2,007 57.7 496 14.2 152 4.4 158 4.5
Arizona 4,469 3,156 70.6 1,063 23.8 319 7.1    
Arkansas 9,180 5,194 56.6 1,729 18.8 526 5.7 2,400 26.1
California 89,500 64,206 71.7 11,076 12.4 6,584 7.4    
Colorado 10,862 7,585 69.8 1,715 15.8 168 1.5 1,024 9.4
Connecticut 10,174 9,285 91.3 633 6.2 389 3.8 452 4.4
Delaware 1,933 842 43.6 372 19.2 49 2.5 165 8.5
District of Columbia 2,759 1,595 57.8 405 14.7 165 6.0 152 5.5
Florida 134,567 43,542 32.4 15,182 11.3 2,195 1.6 4,621 3.4
Georgia 39,802 28,365 71.3 4,124 10.4 1,998 5.0 1,642 4.1
Hawaii 2,045 323 15.8 233 11.4 27 1.3 93 4.5
Idaho 1,651 1,249 75.7 264 16.0 11 0.7 78 4.7
Illinois 27,756 18,876 68.0 6,857 24.7 746 2.7 4,974 17.9
Indiana 20,925 15,247 72.9 2,609 12.5 519 2.5 4,346 20.8
Iowa 14,589 11,581 79.4 1,888 12.9 146 1.0 789 5.4
Kansas 2,630 586 22.3 524 19.9 69 2.6 670 25.5
Kentucky 19,833 17,299 87.2 2,186 11.0     801 4.0
Louisiana 12,472 9,845 78.9 3,179 25.5     903 7.2
Maine 3,548 2,428 68.4 631 17.8     376 10.6
Massachusetts 36,151 33,096 91.5 4,677 12.9 981 2.7    
Michigan 27,148 20,637 76.0 4,728 17.4 463 1.7 1,227 4.5
Minnesota 7,623 5,779 75.8 1,194 15.7 112 1.5 920 12.1
Mississippi 6,272 3,725 59.4 1,249 19.9 196 3.1 934 14.9
Missouri 7,108 3,674 51.7 2,220 31.2 2,039 28.7    
Montana 1,775 1,248 70.3 214 12.1 30 1.7 149 8.4
Nebraska 6,160 5,239 85.0 799 13.0 5 0.1 607 9.9
Nevada 5,345 4,535 84.8 954 17.8 113 2.1 198 3.7
New Hampshire 822 565 68.7 138 16.8 23 2.8 161 19.6
New Jersey 11,680 6,759 57.9 3,392 29.0 717 6.1 1,026 8.8
New Mexico 5,926 4,404 74.3 791 13.3 144 2.4 269 4.5
New York 80,077 73,269 91.5 8,484 10.6 3,519 4.4 2,710 3.4
North Carolina 28,422 14,814 52.1 1,817 6.4 373 1.3 1,378 4.8
North Dakota 1,438 913 63.5 158 11.0 24 1.7 77 5.4
Ohio 41,449 22,507 54.3 9,214 22.2 8 0.0 7,283 17.6
Oklahoma 13,414 11,146 83.1 2,407 17.9 465 3.5 885 6.6
Oregon 12,927 4,770 36.9 983 7.6 260 2.0 1,230 9.5
Pennsylvania 4,177 146 3.5 1,420 34.0 102 2.4 2,525 60.5
Puerto Rico 15,066 8,539 56.7 3,529 23.4 1,553 10.3 584 3.9
Rhode Island 4,400 3,771 85.7 552 12.5 64 1.5 249 5.7
South Carolina 10,795 7,790 72.2 3,270 30.3 420 3.9 772 7.2
South Dakota 1,529 1,349 88.2 187 12.2 65 4.3    
Tennessee 19,182 10,187 53.1 6,549 34.1 416 2.2 3,914 20.4
Texas 69,065 51,073 73.9 15,409 22.3 2,649 3.8 7,406 10.7
Utah 13,043 2,754 21.1 1,949 14.9 43 0.3 2,322 17.8
Vermont 861 42 4.9 442 51.3 20 2.3 372 43.2
Virginia 6,828 4,204 61.6 1,904 27.9 170 2.5 950 13.9
Washington 7,294 5,971 81.9 1,264 17.3 441 6.0    
West Virginia 8,345 4,635 55.5 2,047 24.5 124 1.5 382 4.6
Wisconsin 8,583 2,567 29.9 1,218 14.2 3,007 35.0    
Wyoming 786 557 70.9 50 6.4 7 0.9 62 7.9
Total 885,245 567,787   142,041   19,180   78,120  
Percent     64.1   16.0   2.2   8.8
Number reporting 51 51 51 51 51 40 40 51 51

2001 and a 12% decline in physical abuse during the same period; and many social problems with recognized connections to child maltreatment have declined, including runaways, teen pregnancy, and adolescent suicide. Jones, Finkelhor, and Halter state that all these declines indicate a general improvement in the well-being of children across the United States. Rates of child neglect, however, did not decline over the period. Figure 2.1 shows that rates of child maltreatment fluctuated somewhat from year to year in the early 2000s, but remained fairly steady between 2002 and 2006.

NIS DATA. The NIS, while providing older data, gives a clearer picture of the incidence of child maltreatment because it collects data not just from CPS agencies but also from other community professionals. In 1996, under the Harm Standard, nearly 1.6 million children were victims of maltreatment, a 67% increase from the Second National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-2 ; 1986) estimate (931,000 children) and a 149% increase from the First National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (1980) estimate (625,100 children). (See Table 2.3.) Significant increases occurred for all types

TABLE 2.2 Types of maltreatment sustained by victims, by state, 2006 [CONTINUED]
SOURCE: Table 36. Maltreatment Types of Victims, 2006, in Child Maltreatment 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on
Children, Youth, and Families, 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
State Psychological maltreatment Other Unknown or missing Total maltreatments
Number % Number % Number % Number %
Alabama 80 0.9         10,105 107.8
Alaska 1,157 33.2         3,970 114.0
Arizona 34 0.8         4,572 102.3
Arkansas 109 1.2 6 0.1     9,964 108.5
California 15,774 17.6 150 0.2     97,790 109.3
Colorado 487 4.5     44.3 4.1 11,422 105.2
Connecticut 309 3.0         11,068 108.8
Delaware 529 27.4 160 8.3     2,117 109.5
District of Columbia 52 1.9 898 32.5     3,267 118.4
Florida 2,416 1.8 91,884 68.3     159,840 118.8
Georgia 8,727 21.9 183 0.5     45,039 113.2
Hawaii 26 1.3 1,860 91.0     2,562 125.3
Idaho 2 0.1 120 7.3     1,724 104.4
Illinois 56 0.2         31,509 113.5
Indiana             22,721 108.6
Iowa 97 0.7 1,524 10.4     16,025 109.8
Kansas 453 17.2 623 23.7 39 1.5 2,964 112.7
Kentucky 115 0.6         20,401 102.9
Louisiana 320 2.6 29 0.2     14,276 114.5
Maine 1,379 38.9         4,814 135.7
Massachusetts 70 0.2 6 0.0     38,830 107.4
Michigan 561 2.1 707 2.6     28,323 104.3
Minnesota 55 0.7         8,060 105.7
Mississippi 582 9.3 22 0.4     6,708 107.0
Missouri 478 6.7         8,411 118.3
Montana 352 19.8 4 0.2     1,997 112.5
Nebraska 387 6.3         7,037 114.2
Nevada 451 8.4         6,251 117.0
New Hampshire 15 1.8         902 109.7
New Jersey 96 0.8     14 0.1 12,004 102.8
New Mexico 1,100 18.6         6,708 113.2
New York 576 0.7 20,470 25.6     109,028 136.2
North Carolina 87 0.3 229 0.8 9,724 34.2 28,422 100.0
North Dakota 779 54.2         1,951 135.7
Ohio 4,136 10.0         43,148 104.1
Oklahoma 3,073 22.9       10.0 17,977 134.0
Oregon 317 2.5 7,666 59.3     15,226 117.8
Pennsylvania 56 1.3         4,249 101.7
Puerto Rico 4,076 27.1 1,846 12.3     20,127 133.6
Rhode Island 3 0.1 42 1.0     4,681 106.4
South Carolina 137 1.3 18 0.2     12,407 114.9
South Dakota 46 3.0         1,647 107.7
Tennessee 73 0.4         21,139 110.2
Texas 1,021 1.5         77,558 112.3
Utah 5,664 43.4 2,629 20.2     15,361 117.8
Vermont 8 0.9         884 102.7
Virginia 75 1.1 1 0.0     7,304 107.0
Washington             7,676 105.2
West Virginia 2,046 24.5 668 8.0     9,902 118.7
Wisconsin 41 0.5 2,176 25.4     9,009 105.0
Wyoming 94 12.0 57 7.3     827 105.2
Total 58,577   133,978   10,221   1,009,904  
Percent   6.6   15.1   1.2   114.1
Number reporting 49 49 26 26 5 5 51 51

of abuse and neglect, as compared to the two earlier NIS surveys. The 1.6 million child victims of maltreatment in 1993 reflected a yearly incidence rate of 23.1 per 1,000 children under age eighteen.

In 1993, under the Endangerment Standard, more than 2.8 million children experienced some type of maltreatment. (See Table 2.4.) This figure doubled the NIS-2 estimate of 1.4 million. As with the Harm Standard, marked increases occurred for all types of abuse and neglect. The incidence rate was 41.9 per 1,000 children under age eighteen.

Gender of Victims

CPS DATA. In 2006 CPS agencies found a higher rate of child maltreatment among girls (12.7 cases per 1,000 children) than among boys (11.4 cases per 1,000 children).

(See Table 2.5.) About 48.2% of maltreated children were boys and 51.5% were girls.

NIS DATA. NIS data allow comparisons of types of maltreatment suffered by boys and girls. Under both the Harm and Endangerment Standards of NIS-3, more females were subjected to maltreatment than males. Females were sexually abused about three times more often than males.

Males, however, were more likely to experience physical and emotional neglect under the Endangerment Standard. Under both standards, males suffered more physical and emotional neglect, whereas females suffered more educational neglect. (See Table 2.6 and Table 2.7.) Males were at a somewhat greater risk of serious injury and death than females.

Age of Victims

CPS DATA. Younger children represented most of the maltreated victims among CPS agencies in 2006. Older children are less likely to be victimized than younger children. The victimization rate for infants was 24.4 per 1,000 children. (See Figure 2.2.) The rate then dropped to 14.2 per 1,000 toddlers aged one to three and 13.5 per 1,000 children aged four to seven. The rate then dropped again to 10.8 per 1,000 children aged eight to eleven and 10.2 per 1,000 children aged twelve to fifteen. Teens aged sixteen and seventeen had the lowest rate, at 6.3 per 1,000.

Children of different ages suffered different types of maltreatment in 2006. Nearly three-quarters of the youngest children under age three suffered from neglect (72.2% of infants and 72.9% of children aged one to three), whereas only a little more than half (55%) of those aged sixteen and older did. (See Table 2.8.) By contrast, 14.3% of infants under age one and 10.8% of toddlers aged one to three suffered physical abuse and 0.4% of infants and 2.6% of toddlers suffered sexual abuse, whereas 22% of maltreated children aged sixteen and older suffered physical abuse and 16.1% suffered sexual abuse.

TABLE 2.3 Comparison of actual maltreatment incidence rates to estimates of maltreatment incidence rates, by Harm Standard guidelines, selected years 198093
SOURCE: Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane E. Broadhurst, National Incidence of Maltreatment under the Harm Standard in the NIS-3 (1993) and Comparison with the NIS-2 (1986) and the NIS-1 (1980) Harm Standard Estimates, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
      Comparisons with earlier studies
  NIS-3 estimates 1993 NIS-2: 1986 NIS-1: 1980
Harm Standard maltreatment category Total number of children Rate per 1,000 children Total number of children Rate per 1,000 children Total number of children Rate per 1,000 children
All maltreatment 1,553,800 23.1 931,000 14.8 625,100 9.8
All abuse 743,200 11.1 507,700 8.1 336,600 5.3
Physical abuse 381,700 5.7 269,700 4.3 199,100 3.1
Sexual abuse 217,700 3.2 119,200 1.9 42,900 0.7
Emotional abuse 204,500 3.0 155,200 2.5 132,700 2.1
All neglect 879,000 13.1 474,800 7.5 315,400 4.9
Physical neglect 338,900 5.0 167,800 2.7 103,600 1.6
Emotional neglect 212,800 3.2 49,200 0.8 56,900 0.9
Educational neglect 397,300 5.9 284,800 4.5 174,000 2.7
Note: Estimated totals are rounded to the nearest 100. NIS = National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect.
TABLE 2.4 Comparison of actual maltreatment incidence rates to estimates of maltreatment incidence rates, by Endangerment Standard
guidelines, 1986 and 1993
SOURCE: Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane E. Broadhurst, National Incidence of Maltreatment under the Endangerment Standard in the NIS3 (1993) and Comparison with the NIS2 (1986) Endangerment Standard Estimates, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
  NIS-3 estimates 1993 Comparison with NIS-2 1986
Endangerment Standard maltreatment category Total no. of children Rate per 1,000 children Total no. of children Rate per 1,000 children
All maltreatment 2,815,600 41.9 1,424,400 22.6
All abuse 1,221,800 18.2 590,800 9.4
Physical abuse 614,100 9.1 311,500 4.9
Sexual abuse 300,200 4.5 133,600 2.1
Emotional abuse 532,200 7.9 188,100 3.0
All neglect 1,961,300 29.2 917,200 14.6
Physical neglect 1,335,100 19.9 507,700 8.1
Emotional neglect 584,100 8.7 203,000 3.2
Educational neglect 397,300 5.9 284,800 4.5
Note: Estimated totals are rounded to the nearest 100. NIS = National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect.

NIS DATA. Sedlak and Broadhurst find in NIS-3 alow incidence of maltreatment in younger children, particularly among those under age five. This may be because, before reaching school age, children are less observable to community professionals, especially educatorsthe group most likely to report suspected maltreatment. The researchers explain that there was a disproportionate increase in the incidence of maltreatment among children as they reached ages six through fourteen. (See Figure 2.3 and Figure 2.4.) Sedlak and Broadhurst note that the incidence of maltreatment among children older than age fourteen decreased. Older children are more likely to escape if the abuse becomes more prevalent or severe. They are also more able to defend themselves and/or fight back.

Under the Harm Standard only ten per one thousand children in the zero-to-two age group experienced overall maltreatment. (See Figure 2.3.) The numbers were significantly higher for children aged six to seventeen. Under the Endangerment Standard twenty-six per one thousand children aged zero to two were subjected to overall maltreatment. (See Figure 2.4.) A slightly higher number of children (thirty-three per one thousand children) in the oldest age group (fifteen- to seventeen-years-old) suffered maltreatment of some type. As with the Harm Standard, children between the ages of six and fourteen had a higher incidence of maltreatment.

TABLE 2.5 Sex of child abuse victims, by state, 2006
State Population Number Rate Percent
Alabama 569,693 3,868 6.8 41.2
Alaska 93,616 1,654 17.7 47.5
Arizona 833,054 2,114 2.5 47.3
Arkansas 353,375 3,990 11.3 43.5
California 4,881,203 42,760 8.8 47.8
Colorado 599,328 5,384 9.0 49.6
Connecticut 418,647 4,944 11.8 48.6
Delaware 103,967 931 9.0 48.2
District of Columbia 57,989 1,383 23.8 50.1
Florida 2,059,269 66,923 32.5 49.7
Georgia 1,253,307 19,863 15.8 49.9
Hawaii 154,398 978 6.3 47.8
Idaho 202,396 820 4.1 49.7
Illinois 1,644,077 13,522 8.2 48.7
Indiana 808,588 9,536 11.8 45.6
Iowa 364,353 7,280 20.0 49.9
Kansas 356,861 1,139 3.2 43.3
Kentucky 51 2,879 9,795 19.1 49.4
Louisiana 557,078 6,123 11.0 49.1
Maine 144,333 1,761 12.2 49.6
Massachusetts 740,637 17,534 23.7 48.5
Michigan 1,269,277 13,360 10.5 49.2
Minnesota 643,382 3,601 5.6 47.2
Mississippi 387,296 2,817 7.3 44.9
Missouri 724,624 3,033 4.2 42.7
Montana 111,707 844 7.6 47.5
Nebraska 227,697 2,998 13.2 48.7
Nevada 324,811 2,698 8.3 50.5
New Hampshire 152,152 381 2.5 46.4
New Jersey 1,068,295 5,610 5.3 48.0
New Mexico 259,161 2,946 11.4 49.7
New York 2,309,646 39,488 17.1 49.3
North Carolina 1,105,822 14,335 13.0 50.4
North Dakota 74,357 748 10.1 52.0
Ohio 1,415,611 19,419 13.7 46.9
Oklahoma 458,280 6,570 14.3 49.0
Oregon 438,459 6,173 14.1 47.8
Pennsylvania 1,435,343 1,475 1.0 35.3
Puerto Rico 520,558 7,140 13.7 47.4
Rhode Island 121,649 2,142 17.6 48.7
South Carolina 532,135 5,251 9.9 48.6
South Dakota 99,992 701 7.0 45.8
Tennessee 738,005 8,819 11.9 46.0
Texas 3,318,089 33,033 10.0 47.8
Utah 406,285 6,099 15.0 46.8
Vermont 68,396 351 5.1 40.8
Virginia 923,740 3,272 3.5 47.9
Washington 783,021 3,551 4.5 48.7
West Virginia 199,354 4,047 20.3 48.5
Wisconsin 671,960 3,436 5.1 40.0
Wyoming 62,559 387 6.2 49.2
Total 37,560,711 427,027    
Rate     11.4  
Percen t       48.2
Number reporting 51 51 51 51

Race and Ethnicity of Victims

CPS DATA. In 2006 rates of child maltreatment as recorded by CPS agencies were highest among African-American children (19.8 per 1,000 children) and lowest among Asian-American children (2.5 per 1,000 children). (See Figure 2.5.) Pacific Islanders had a rate of 14.3 per 1,000 children, Native American and Alaskan Native children had a rate of 15.9 per 1,000 children, Hispanics had a rate of 10.8 per 1,000 children, and whites had a rate of 10.7 per 1,000 children.

TABLE 2.5 Sex of child abuse victims, by state, 2006 [CONTINUED]
SOURCE: Table 38. Sex of Victims, 2006, in Child Maltreatment 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on
Children, Youth, and Families, 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
  Girls Unknown or missing
State Population Number Rate % Number %
Alabama 544,608 5,486 10.1 58.5 24 0.3
Alaska 87,818 1,775 20.2 51.0 52 1.5
Arizona 795,144 2,349 3.0 52.6 6 0.1
Arkansas 337,811 5,185 15.3 56.5 5 0.1
California 4,651,411 46,657 10.0 52.1 83 0.1
Colorado 569,973 5,478 9.6 50.4 0 0.0
Connecticut 399,639 5,204 13.0 51.1 26 0.3
Delaware 99,399 1,000 10.1 51.7 2 0.1
District of Columbia 56,892 1,374 24.2 49.8 2 0.1
Florida 1,962,286 67,512 34.4 50.2 132 0.1
Georgia 1,201,713 19,939 16.6 50.1 0 0.0
Hawaii 143,683 1,060 7.4 51.8 7 0.3
Idaho 191,884 831 4.3 50.3 0 0.0
Illinois 1,571,167 14,035 8.9 50.6 199 0.7
Indiana 769,041 11,338 14.7 54.2 51 0.2
Iowa 345,841 7,307 21.1 50.1 2 0.0
Kansas 338,976 1,491 4.4 56.7 0 0.0
Kentucky 486,652 9,917 20.4 50.0 121 0.6
Louisiana 532,923 6,349 11.9 50.9 0 0.0
Maine 136,661 1,779 13.0 50.1 8 0.2
Massachusetts 708,247 17,850 25.2 49.4 767 2.1
Michigan 1,209,079 13,788 11.4 50.8 0 0.0
Minnesota 613,882 4,022 6.6 52.8 0 0.0
Mississippi 372,109 3,451 9.3 55.0 4 0.1
Missouri 691,968 4,075 5.9 57.3 0 0.0
Montana 106,141 867 8.2 48.8 64 3.6
Nebraska 217,336 3,160 14.5 51.3 2 0.0
Nevada 309,709 2,635 8.5 49.3 12 0.2
New Hampshire 145,473 441 3.0 53.6 0 0.0
New Jersey 1,021,043 6,031 5.9 51.6 39 0.3
New Mexico 249,769 2,912 11.7 49.1 68 1.1
New York 2,204,696 40,330 18.3 50.4 259 0.3
North Carolina 1,049,565 14,087 13.4 49.6 0 0.0
North Dakota 70,577 688 9.7 47.8 2 0.1
Ohio 1,354,424 21,980 16.2 53.0 50 0.1
Oklahoma 435,754 6,842 15.7 51.0 2 0.0
Oregon 417,800 6,754 16.2 52.2 0 0.0
Pennsylvania 1,369,530 2,702 2.0 64.7 0 0.0
Puerto Rico 498,093 7,685 15.4 51.0 241 1.6
Rhode Island 115,802 2,253 19.5 51.2 5 0.1
South Carolina 507,518 5,403 10.6 50.1 141 1.3
South Dakota 94,689 813 8.6 53.2 15 1.0
Tennessee 704,588 10,354 14.7 54.0 9 0.0
Texas 3,175,876 35,879 11.3 51.9 153 0.2
Utah 384,913 6,879 17.9 52.7 65 0.5
Vermont 64,993 510 7.8 59.2 0 0.0
Virginia 883,107 3,555 4.0 52.1 1 0.0
Washington 74,246 3,741 5.0 51.3 2 0.0
West Virginia 189,717 4,266 22.5 51.1 32 0.4
Wisconsin 640,570 5,093 8.0 59.3 54 0.6
Wyoming 59,235 398 6.7 50.6 1 0.1
Total 35,832,971 455,510     2,708  
Rate     12.7      
Percent       51.5   0.3
Number reporting 51 51 51 51 51 51
TABLE 2.6 Maltreatment rates under the Harm Standard by gender, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Sex Differences in Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under
the Harm Standard in the NIS-3 (1993), in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
[Per 1,000 children]
Harm Standard maltreatment category Males Females
All maltreatment 21.7 24.5
All abuse 9.5 12.6
Physical abuse 5.8 5.6
Sexual abuse 1.6 4.9
Emotional abuse 2.9 3.1
All neglect 13.3 12.9
Physical neglect 5.5 4.5
Emotional neglect 3.5 2.8
Educational neglect 5.5 6.4
Severity of injury:    
Fatal 0.04 0.01
Serious 9.3 7.5
Moderate 11.3 13.3
Inferred 1.1 3.8
TABLE 2.7 Maltreatment rates under the Endangerment Standard by gender, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Sex Differences in Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under
the Endangerment Standard in the NIS-3 (1993), in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
Endangerment Standard maltreatment category Males Females
All maltreatment 40.0 42.3
All abuse 16.1 20.2
Physical abuse 9.3 9.0
Sexual abuse 2.3 6.8
Emotional abuse 8.0 7.7
All neglect 29.2 27.6
Physical neglect 19.7 18.6
Emotional neglect 9.2 7.8
Educational neglect 5.5 6.4
Severity of injury:    
Fatal 0.04 0.01
Serious 9.4 7.6
Moderate 14.1 15.3
Inferred 2.1 4.6
Endangered 14.5 14.8

WHY ARE MINORITY CHILDREN OVERREPRESENTED IN CPS DATA? In Children of Color in the Child Welfare System: Perspectives from the Child Welfare Community (2003,, Susan Chibnall et al. explore the attitudes and perceptions of CPS personnel regarding the overrepresentation of minority children, particularly African-American children, in the child welfare system. According to the researchers, even though African-American children make up 15% of all children in the United States, they represent 25% of substantiated maltreatment victims. In addition, these children account for 45% of all children in foster care.

Chibnall et al. studied nine child welfare agencies across the country. They interviewed agency administrators, supervisors, and caseworkers. The child welfare personnel gave a variety of reasons minority children are overrepresented in the child welfare system, including:

  • Poverty and poverty-related issueschild welfare personnel thought that African-American families are more likely than other ethnic and racial groups to be poor, leaving them more vulnerable to social problems such as child maltreatment, domestic violence, and substance abuse. Moreover, these families typically live in areas lacking resources where they can go for assistance.
  • Visibilitypoor families are more likely to use public services, such as public health care, making them more visible to mandated reporters when they are experiencing problems, including child abuse and neglect.
  • Overreportingmany study participants proposed that, because poor families are more visible to mandated reporters such as doctors and nurses, they are more likely to be reported to CPS.
  • Worker biaswhen investigating particular families, some caseworkers may not understand the cultural norms and practices of minorities; this may influence their decisions at different stages of child welfare services, including child maltreatment reporting, investigation, substantiation, and the child's removal from home and placement in foster care. A caseworker's bias may also make it more likely, for example, that he or she would remove an African-American child than a white child from a comparable home environment.
TABLE 2.8 Child abuse victims, by age group and maltreatment type, 2006
Note: Based on data from 51 states.
SOURCE: "Table 310. Victims by Age Group and Maltreatment Type, 2006," in Child Maltreatment 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
    Neglect Physical abuse Medical neglect Sexual abuse
Age group Victims Number % Number % Number % Number %
Age < 1 100,139 72,314 72.2 14,328 14.3 3,629 3.6 445 0.4
Age 1-3 172,940 125,997 72.9 18,731 10.8 3,948 2.3 4,558 2.6
Age 47 213,194 138,886 65.1 32,697 15.3 3,843 1.8 17,539 8.2
Age 811 170,944 103,964 60.8 29,312 17.1 3,233 1.9 18,314 10.7
Age 1215 170,635 94,910 55.6 34,348 20.1 3,447 2.0 28,138 16.5
Age 16 and older 54,564 29,989 55.0 11,998 22.0 1,030 1.9 8,798 16.1
Unknown or missing 2,829 1,727 61.0 627 22.2 50 1.8 328 11.6
Total 885,245 567,787   142,041   19,180   78,120  
Percent     64.1   16.0   2.2   8.8
  Psychological abuse Other abuse Unknown Total maltreatment
Age group Number % Number % Number % Number %
Age < 1 3,967 4.0 16,300 16.3 1,097 1.1 112,080 111.9
Age 13 10,262 5.9 29,016 16.8 2,114 1.2 194,626 112.5
Age 47 14,555 6.8 31,833 14.9 2,570 1.2 241,923 113.5
Age 811 13,647 8.0 25,406 14.9 1,947 1.1 195,823 114.6
Age 1215 12,372 7.3 23,465 13.8 1,950 1.1 198,630 116.4
Age 16 and older 3,524 6.5 7,832 14.4 541 1.0 63,712 116.8
Unknown or missing 250 8.8 126 4.5 2 0.1 3,110 109.9
Total 58,577   133,978   10,221   1,009,904  
Percent   6.6   15.1   1.2   114.1

In African American Children in Foster Care: Additional HHS Assistance Needed to Reduce the Proportion in Care (July 2007,, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) backs up Chibnall et al.'s study by finding several factors that contribute to the disproportionate number of African-American children in foster care. These factors include higher rates of poverty in the African-American community, the difficulty African-American families face in accessing support services to help prevent the removal of their children, and racial bias and misunderstandings among child welfare workers.

NIS DATA. Sedlak and Broadhurst find in NIS-3 no significant differences in race in the incidence of maltreatment. The researchers note that this finding may be somewhat surprising, considering the overrepresentation of African-American children in the child welfare population and in those served by public agencies. They attribute this lack of race-related difference in maltreatment incidence to the broader range of children identified by NIS-3, compared to the smaller number investigated by public agencies and the even smaller number receiving CPS and other welfare services. NIS-2 had also not found any disproportionate differences in race in relation to maltreatment incidence.

Children with Disabilities Are Particularly at Risk

According to the article Assessment of Maltreatment of Children with Disabilities (Pediatrics, vol. 108, no. 2, August 2001), children with disabilities are potentially at risk for maltreatment because society generally treats them as different and less valuable, thus possibly tolerating violence against them. Some parents may feel disappointment at not having a normal child. Others may expect too much and feel frustrated if the child does not live up to their expectations. These children require special care and attention, and parents may not have the social support to help ease stressful situations. Caring for children with disabilities can also be expensive, creating even more stress and with it risk of maltreatment. In addition, some disabled children may not be able to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate touching of their body, leaving them particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse.

In Violence against Children with Disabilities: Prevention, Public Policy, and Research Implications (Dorothy K. Marge, ed., A Call to Action: Ending Crimes of Violence against Children and Adults with DisabilitiesA Report to the Nation, 2003), Patricia M. Sullivan calls attention to the fact that the federal government does not collect specific data on children with disabilities in its crime statistics systems or in national incidence studies mandated by law. Even though CAPTA required that national incidence studies of child maltreatment include data on children with disabilities, the latest survey, the NIS-3, does not satisfy this mandate. Moreover, NCANDS, which releases annual state data on maltreated children, does not gather information relating to children's disability status.

Sullivan undertook two epidemiological studies on maltreated children with disabilities. (Epidemiological studies consider individuals sex, age, race, social class, and other demographics.) Both the incidence and prevalence of maltreatment were measured. The hospital-based study of six thousand children found a 64% prevalence rate of maltreatment among disabled children, twice the prevalence rate (32%) among nondisabled children. The school-based study included 4,954 children; 31% of disabled children had been maltreated, 3.4 times that of the nondisabled comparison group.

Family Characteristics of Victims

The only reliable information on family characteristics of victims come from NIS data, as the living arrangements data on children reported to CPS were incomplete. For example, in Child Maltreatment 2006, the ACYF states that in 2006 only twenty-eight states reported on living arrangements of children, and more than one-third of the reported cases had unknown or missing data and were excluded from the analysis. The following discussion comes from NIS-3.

FAMILY STRUCTURE. Under the Harm Standard, among children living with single parents, an estimated 27.3 per 1,000 under age eighteen suffered some type of maltreatment almost twice the incidence rate for children living with both parents (15.5 per 1,000). (See Table 2.9.) The same rate held true for all types of abuse and neglect. Children living with single parents also had a greater risk of suffering serious injury (10.5 per 1,000) than did those living with both parents (5.8 per 1,000).

Under the Endangerment Standard an estimated 52 per 1,000 children living with single parents suffered

TABLE 2.9 Maltreatment incidence rates under the Harm Standard by family structure, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under the Harm Standard in the
NIS-3 (1993) for Different Family Structures, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
[Per 1,000 children]
    Single parent  
Harm Standard maltreatment category Both parents Either mother or father Mother only Father only Neither parent
All maltreatment: 15.5 27.3 26.1 36.6 22.9
All abuse 8.4 11.4 10.5 17.7 13.7
Physical abuse 3.9 6.9 6.4 10.5 7.0
Sexual abuse 2.6 2.5 2.5 2.6 6.3
Emotional abuse 2.6 2.5 2.1 5.7 5.4
All neglect 7.9 17.3 16.7 21.9 10.3
Physical neglect 3.1 5.8 5.9 4.7 4.3
Emotional neglect 2.3 4.0 3.4 8.8 3.1
Educational neglect 3.0 9.6 9.5 10.8 3.1
Severity of injury:
Fatal 0.019 0.015 0.017 0.005 0.016
Serious 5.8 10.5 10.0 14.0 8.0
Moderate 8.1 15.4 14.7 20.5 10.1
Inferred 1.6 1.4 1.3 2.1 4.8

some type of maltreatment, compared to 26.9 per 1,000 living with both parents. (See Table 2.10.) Children in single-parent households were abused at a 45% higher rate than those in two-parent households (19.6 versus 13.5 per 1,000) and suffered more than twice as much neglect (38.9 versus 17.6 per 1,000).

FAMILY INCOME. Family income was significantly related to the incidence rates of child maltreatment. Under the Harm Standard children in families with annual incomes less than $15,000 had the highest rate of maltreatment (47 per 1,000). The figure is almost twice as high (95.9 per 1,000) using the Endangerment Standard. (See Table 2.11 and Table 2.12.) Children in families earning less than $15,000 annually also sustained more serious injuries than did children living in families earning more than that amount.

Perpetrators of Child Maltreatment

CPS Data

The law considers perpetrators of child abuse to be those people who abuse or neglect children under their care. They may be parents, foster parents, other relatives, or other caretakers. People who victimize children that are not under their care are not considered to have committed child abuse, but assault, battery, rape, or other crimes.

In Child Maltreatment 2006, the ACYF indicates that in 2006 abuse perpetrators were more likely to be women

TABLE 2.10 Maltreatment incidence rates under the Endangerment Standard by family structure, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under the Endangerment Standard
in the NIS-3 (1993) for Different Family Structures, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
[Per 1,000 children]
    Single parent  
Endangerment Standard maltreatment category Both parents Either mother or father Mother only Father only Neither parent
All maltreatment 26.9 52.0 50.1 65.6 39.3
All abuse 13.5 19.6 18.1 31.0 17.3
Physical abuse 6.5 10.6 9.8 16.5 9.2
Sexual abuse 3.2 4.2 4.3 3.1 6.6
Emotional abuse 6.2 8.6 7.7 14.6 7.1
All neglect 17.6 38.9 37.6 47.9 24.1
Physical neglect 10.8 28.6 27.5 36.4 17.1
Emotional neglect 6.4 10.5 9.7 16.2 8.3
Educational neglect 3.0 9.6 9.5 10.8 3.1
Severity of injury:
Fatal 0.02 0.015 0.017 0.005 0.016
Serious 5.9 10.5 10.0 14.0 8.0
Moderate 9.6 18.5 17.7 24.8 11.5
Inferred 2.1 2.5 2.0 6.0 4.7
Endangered 9.3 20.5 20.4 20.7 15.1
TABLE 2.11 Maltreatment incidence rates under the Harm Standard by family income, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under the Harm Standard in the
NIS-3 (1993) for Different Levels of Family Income, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
[Per 1,000 children]
Harm Standard maltreatment category <$l5K/year $1529K/year $30K+/year
All maltreatment 47.0 20.0 2.1
All abuse 22.2 9.7 1.6
Physical abuse 11.0 5.0 0.7
Sexual abuse 7.0 2.8 0.4
Emotional abuse 6.5 2.5 0.5
All neglect 27.2 11.3 0.6
Physical neglect 12.0 2.9 0.3
Emotional neglect 5.9 4.3 0.2
Educational neglect 11.1 4.8 0.2
Severity of injury:      
Fatal 0.060 0.002 0.001
Serious 17.9 7.8 0.8
Moderate 23.3 10.5 1.3
Inferred 5.7 1.6 0.1
TABLE 2.12 Maltreatment incidence rates under the Endangerment Standard by family income, 1993
SOURCE: Adapted from Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Incidence Rates per 1,000 Children for Maltreatment under the Endangerment
Standard in the NIS-3 (1993) for Different Levels of Family Income, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
[Per 1,000 children]
Endangerment Standard maltreatment category <$15K/year $1529K/year $30K=/year
All maltreatment 95.9 33.1 3.8
All abuse 37.4 17.5 2.5
Physical abuse 17.6 8.5 1.5
Sexual abuse 9.2 4.2 0.5
Emotional abuse 18.3 8.1 1.0
All neglect 72.3 21.6 1.6
Physical neglect 54.3 12.5 1.1
Emotional neglect 19.0 8.2 0.7
Educational neglect 11.1 4.8 0.2
Severity of injury:      
Fatal 0.060 0.002 0.003
Serious 17.9 7.9 0.8
Moderate 29.6 12.1 1.5
Inferred 7.8 2.7 0.2
Endangered 40.5 10.3 1.3

(57.9%) than men (42.1%). Concerning the victims, 39.9% were maltreated by their mother acting alone and 17.6% experienced maltreatment from their father acting alone. (See Figure 2.6.) Another 17.8% were maltreated by both parents. About 6.1% of the victims were maltreated by their mother and another person whose relationship with the mother was not known, and 1% were maltreated by their father and another person. One out of ten (10%) victims were maltreated by nonparental perpetrators, and another 7.6% were maltreated by unknown individuals. The ACYF indicates that 79.9% of the perpetrators were parents, whereas smaller numbers were other relatives (6.7%), unmarried partner of parents (3.8%), child day care providers (0.6%), or foster parents (0.4%). (See Figure 2.7.)

The ACYF explains that most perpetrators of child maltreatment are in their twenties and thirties. In 2006 the median age (half were older, half were younger) of female perpetrators was thirty-one years, and the median age of male perpetrators was thirty-four years. Almost half of the female perpetrators were younger than thirty (41.3% of twenty- to twenty-nine-year-olds, and 4% of those younger than twenty), whereas only about one-third of male perpetrators were (28.9% of twenty- to twenty-nine-year-olds, and 6.2% of those younger than twenty). (See Figure 2.8.)

NIS Data

In 1993 most (78%) child victims were maltreated by their birth parents. (See Table 2.13.) Parents perpetrated

72% of physical abuse and 81% of emotional abuse. However, almost half (46%) of sexually abused children were violated by someone other than a parent or parent substitute. More than a quarter (29%) were sexually abused by a birth parent, and 25% were sexually abused by a parent substitute, such as a stepparent or a mother's boyfriend. Sexually abused children were the most likely to sustain fatal or serious injuries or impairments when birth parents were the perpetrators.

Overall, children were somewhat more likely to be maltreated by female perpetrators (65%) than by males (54%) in 1993. (See Table 2.14.) Among children maltreated by their natural parents, most (75%) were maltreated by their mothers, and almost half (46%) were maltreated by their fatherswith some children being maltreated by both parents. Children who were maltreated by someone other than parents and parent substitutes were more likely to have been maltreated by a male (85%) than by a female (41%). Of the other adults who maltreated children, 80% were males and 14% were females.

Neglected children differed from abused children with regard to the gender of the perpetrators in 1993. Because mothers or other females tend to be the primary caretakers, children were more likely to suffer all forms of neglect by female perpetrators (87%, versus 43% by male perpetrators). (See Table 2.14.) In contrast, children were more often abused by males (67%) than by females (40%).

Reporting Child Abuse

Mandatory Reporting

In 1974 Congress enacted the first CAPTA, which set guidelines for the reporting, investigation, and treatment

TABLE 2.13 Perpetrator's relationship to child and severity of harm, by type of maltreatment, 1993
SOURCE: Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Distribution of Perpetrator's Relationship to Child and Severity of Harm by the Type of Maltreatment, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
      Percent of children in row with injury/impairment...
Category Percent children in maltreatment category Total maltreated children Fatal or serious Moderate Inferred
Abuse: 100% 743,200 21% 63% 16%
Natural parents 62% 461,800 22% 73% 4%
Other parents and parent/substitutes 19% 144,900 12% 62% 27%
Others 18% 136,600 24% 30% 46%
Physical abuse 100% 381,700 13% 87% a
Natural parents 72% 273,200 13% 87% a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 21% 78,700 13% 87% a
Others 8% 29,700 b 82% a
Sexual abuse 100% 217,700 34% 12% 53%
Natural parents 29% 63,300 61% 10% 28%
Other parents and parent/substitutes 25% 53,800 19% 18% 63%
Others 46% 100,500 26% 11% 63%
Emotional abuse 100% 204,500 26% 68% 6%
Natural parents 81% 166,500 27% 70% 2%
Other parents and parent/substitutes 13% 27,400 b 57% 24%
Others 5% 10,600 b b b
Neglect: 100% 879,000 50% 44% 6%
Natural parents 91% 800,600 51% 43% 6%
Other parents and parent/substitutes 9% 78,400 35% 59% b
Others c c c c c
Physical neglect 100% 338,900 64% 15% 21%
Natural parents 95% 320,400 64% 16% 20%
Other parents and parent/substitutes 5% 18,400 b b b
Others c c c c c
Emotional neglect 100% 212,800 97% 3% a
Natural parents 91% 194,600 99% b a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 9% b b b a
Others c c c c a
Educational neglect 100% 397,300 7% 93% a
Natural parents 89% 354,300 8% 92% a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 11% 43,000 b 99% a
Others c c c c a
All maltreatment 100% 1,553,800 36% 53% 11%
Natural parents 78% 1,208,100 41% 54% 5%
Other parents and parent/substitutes 14% 211,200 20% 61% 19%
Others 9% 134,500 24% 30% 46%
a This severity level not applicable for this form of maltreatment.
b Fewer than 20 cases with which to calculate estimate; estimate too unreliable to be given.
c These perpetrators were not allowed by countability requirements for cases of neglect.

of child maltreatment. States had to meet these requirements to receive federal funding to assist child victims of abuse and neglect. Among its many provisions, CAPTA required the states to enact mandatory reporting laws and procedures so that CPS agencies could take action to protect children from further abuse. Each state now designates mandatory reporters, including health care workers, mental health professionals, social workers, school personnel, child care providers, and law enforcement officers. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, in Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect (January 2008,, in 2008 eighteen states and Puerto Rico mandated all people must report suspected abuse or neglect, not only designated professionals. Most states did not recognize the right for communications between certain professionals and their clients to remain confidentialcalled privileged communications in the case of suspected child abuse.

All states offer immunity to individuals who report incidents of child maltreatment in good faith or with sincerity. Besides physical injury and neglect, most states include mental injury, sexual abuse, and the sexual exploitation of minors as cases to be reported.

Who Reports Child Abuse?

In 2006 more than half of all reports of alleged child maltreatment came from professional sourceseducators (16.5%); legal, law enforcement, and criminal justice personnel (15.8%); social services personnel (10%); medical personnel (8.4%); mental health personnel (4.1%);

TABLE 2.14 Perpetrator's gender, by type of maltreatment and by relationship to child, 1993
SOURCE: Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst, Distribution of Perpetrator's Gender by Type of Maltreatment and Perpetrator's Relationship to Child, in The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1996
      Percent of children in row with perpetrator whose gender was...
Category Percent children in maltreatment category Total maltreated children Male Female Unknown
Abuse: 100% 743,200 67% 40% a
Natural parents 62% 461,800 56% 55% a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 19% 144,900 90% 15% a
Others 18% 136,600 80% 14% a
Physical abuse 100% 381,700 58% 50% a
Natural parents 72% 273,200 48% 60% a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 21% 78,700 90% 19% a
Others 8% 29,700 57% 39% a
Sexual abuse 100% 217,700 89% 12% a
Natural parents 29% 63,300 87% 28% a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 25% 53,800 97% a a
Others 46% 100,500 86% 8% a
Emotional abuse 100% 204,500 63% 50% a
Natural parents 81% 166,500 60% 55% a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 13% 27,400 74% a a
Others 5% 10,600 a a a
All neglect: 100% 879,000 43% 87% a
Natural parents 91% 800,600 40% 87% a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 9% 78,400 76% 88% a
Others b b b b b
Physical neglect 100% 338,900 35% 93% a
Natural parents 95% 320,400 34% 93% a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 5% 18,400 a 90% a
Others b b b b b
Emotional neglect 100% 212,800 47% 77% a
Natural parents 91% 194,600 44% 78% a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 9% 18,200 a a a
Others b b b b b
Educational neglect 100% 397,300 47% 88% a
Natural parents 89% 354,300 43% 86% a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 11% 43,000 82% 100% a
Others b b b b b
All maltreatment 100% 1,553,800 54% 65% 1%
Natural parents 78% 1,208,100 46% 75% a
Other parents and parent/substitutes 14% 211,200 85% 41% a
Others 9% 134,500 80% 14% 7%
a Fewer than 20 cases with which to calculate, estimate too unreliable to be given.
b These perpetrators were not allowed by countability requirements for cases of neglect.

child day care providers (0.9%); and foster care providers (0.6%). (See Figure 2.9.) Friends and neighbors (5.3%), parents (6%), and other relatives (7.8%) encompassed nearly one-fifth of the reporters, whereas alleged victims (0.6%) and self-identified perpetrators (0.1%) rarely reported abuse. Other reports came from anonymous (8.2%) and other (8%) sources.

The percentage of neglect and abuse reports from different sources varied by the type of abuse being reported. Educational personnel were responsible for 16.5% of reports in 2006; they reported 11.5% of sexual abuse cases and 10.8% of neglect cases, and 24.2% of all physical abuse cases. (See Table 2.15.) Legal personnel, who were responsible for 15.8% of overall reporting, reported over a quarter of all sexual abuse cases (28.1%) and neglect cases (27.1%), and nearly a quarter (23.1%) of physical abuse cases. Social service personnel were more likely to report sexual abuse than other forms of maltreatment, whereas medical personnel reported more medical neglect cases than any other source.

Failure to Report Child Maltreatment

Many states impose penalties, either a fine and/or imprisonment, for failure to report child maltreatment. A mandated reporter, such as a physician, may also be sued for negligence for failing to protect a child from harm. Even though all states have enacted legislation requiring, among other things, the mandatory reporting of child maltreatment by certain professionals, states vary in the standard for reporting. The standard to report child maltreatment varies from having reasonable cause to suspect, to having reason to believe, to having observed conditions that would reasonably result, to know or suspect.

The 1976 landmark California case Landeros v. Flood et al. (17 Cal.3d 399) illustrates a case involving a physician's failure to report child maltreatment. Eleven-month-old Gita Landeros was brought by her mother to the San Jose Hospital in California for treatment of injuries. Besides a fractured lower leg, the girl had bruises on her back and abrasions on other parts of her body. She also appeared scared when anyone approached her. At the time, Gita was also suffering from a fractured skull, but this was never diagnosed by A. J. Flood, the attending physician.

Gita returned home with her mother and subsequently suffered further serious abuse at the hands of her mother and the mother's boyfriend. Three months later Gita was brought to another hospital for medical treatment, where the doctor identified and reported the abuse to the proper authorities. After surgery for her injuries the child was placed with foster parents. The mother and boyfriend were eventually convicted of the crime of child abuse. The guardian ad litem (a court-appointed special advocate) for Gita filed a malpractice suit against Flood and the San Jose Hospital, citing painful permanent physical injury to the plaintiff as a result of the defendants negligence.

The trial court of Santa Clara County dismissed the Landeros complaint, and the case was appealed to the California Supreme Court. The court agreed that Flood should have identified Gita's abuse and ruled that the doctor's failure to do so contributed to the child's continued suffering. Flood and the hospital were found liable. Even though this case applied specifically to a medical doctor, the principles reached by the court are applicable to other professionals. Most professionals are familiar with the court's decision in Landeros.

In August 2002 two-year-old Dominic James was brought to Cox South Hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Paramedics told emergency nurse Leslie Ann Brown that the boy, who was having seizure-like symptoms, had bruises on his back and to report this to the attending physician. Dominic's foster parents explained that the child got bruised by leaning back on a booster seat, so Brown did not report the bruises to the physician, nor did she include the presence of bruises on her medical reports. Dominic was hospitalized again a week later and died soon after.

In February 2003 the state of Missouri charged Brown with failure to report child abuse. In September 2003 Calvin Holden, a Green County judge, dismissed the criminal charges, stating that the Missouri statute with the reasonable cause to suspect standard for reporting child abuse was unconstitutionally vague in violation of the U.S. and Missouri constitutions. The state appealed the case in May 2004. In August 2004 the Missouri Supreme Court reversed Judge Holden's ruling, allowing the case to proceed to trial. However, later that year charges were dismissed against Brown after an agreement was reached requiring Cox South Hospital to revise its training for mandated reporters and implement annual refresher courses.

Why Mandated Reporters Fail to Report Suspected Maltreatment

Gail L. Zellman and C. Christine Fair explain in Preventing and Reporting Abuse (John E. B. Myers et al., eds., The APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment, 2002) that they conducted a national survey to determine why mandated reporters may not report suspected maltreatment. The researchers surveyed 1,196 general and family practitioners, pediatricians, child psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, social workers, public school principals, and heads of child care centers. Nearly eight out of ten (77%) survey participants had made a child maltreatment report at some time in his or her professional career. More than nine out of ten (92%) elementary school principals reported child maltreatment at some time, followed closely by child psychiatrists (90%) and pediatricians (89%). A lesser proportion of secondary school principals (84%), social workers (70%), and clinical psychologists (63%) reported child maltreatment at some time in their career.

TABLE 2.15 Types of maltreatment, by report source, 2006
SOURCE: Table 37. Maltreatment Types of Victims by Report Source, 2006, in Child Maltreatment 2006, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
  Neglect Physical abuse Medical neglect Sexual abuse
Report source Number % Number % Number % Number %
Educational personnel 61,099 10.8 34,240 24.2 3,217 16.9 3,991 11.5
Legal, law enforcement, criminal
justice personnel 153,363 27.1 32,711 23.1 1,546 8.1 21,882 28.1
Social services personnel 71,115 12.6 14,940 10.6 2,745 14.4 11,525 14.8
Medical personnel 52,217 9.2 17,063 12.1 5,558 29.2 7,330 9.4
Mental health personnel 13,370 2.4 4,589 3.2 656 3.4 5,618 7.2
Child daycare providers 2,821 0.5 1,822 1.3 110 0.6 294 0.4
Foster care providers 1,979 0.3 622 0.4 83 0.4 804 1.0
Total professionals 355,964 62.9 105,987 74.9 13,915 73.1 56,444 72.4
Anonymous reporters 39,927 7.1 4,659 3.3 1,035 5.4 1,639 2.1
Other reporters 46,353 8.2 7,224 5.1 1,071 5.6 5,464 7.0
Other relatives 46,841 8.3 8,145 5.8 1,385 7.3 4,254 5.5
Parents 21,592 3.8 6,792 4.8 767 4.0 5,561 7.1
Friends or neighbors 29,081 5.1 3,593 2.5 634 3.3 1,673 2.1
Unknown reporters 23,317 4.1 3,873 2.7 141 0.7 2,064 2.6
Alleged victims 1,608 0.3 1,003 0.7 42 0.2 684 0.9
Alleged perpetrators 1,043 0.2 251 0.2 38 0.2 158 0.2
Total nonprofessionals 209,762 37.1 35,540 25.1 5,113 26.9 21,497 27.6
Total 565,726 141,527 19,028 77,941
Total percent 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Number reporting 50 50 50 50 39 39 50 50
  Psychological maltreatment Other abuse Unknown maltreatment Total  
Report source Number % Number % Number % Number  
Educational personnel 7,764 13.5 8,994 6.7 1,805 17.7 126,110  
Legal, law enforcement, criminal 18,720 32.6 50,645 37.8 1,981 19.4 280,848
justice personnel
Social services personnel 5,072 8.8 17,395 13.0 1,720 16.8 124,512
Medical personnel 2,132 3.7 8,139 6.1 1,039 10.2 93,478
Mental health personnel 3,468 6.0 2,376 1.8 22 0.2 30,099
Child daycare providers 200 0.3 424 0.3 86 0.8 5,757
Foster care providers 148 0.3 384 0.3 17 0.2 4,037
Total professionals 37,504 65.3 88,357 65.9 6,670 65.3 664,841
Anonymous reporters 3,866 6.7 10,411 7.8 819 8.0 62,356
Other reporters 4,718 8.2 9,433 7.0 27 0.3 74,290
Other relatives 5,017 8.7 10,532 7.9 1,155 11.3 77,329
Parents 2,609 4.5 7,599 5.7 588 5.8 45,508
Friends or neighbors 1,600 2.8 5,539 4.1 906 8.9 43,026
Unknown reporters 1,567 2.7 758 0.6 31,720
Alleged victims 440 0.8 604 0.5 56 0.5 4,437
Alleged perpetrators 92 0.2 743 0.6 2,325
Total nonprofessionals 19,909 34.7 45,619 34.1 3,551 34.7 340,991
Total 57,413 133,976 10,221 1,005,832
Total percent 100.0 100.0 100.0
Number reporting 48 48 26 26 5 5

However, nearly 40% of the mandated reporters indicated that at some time in their career they had failed to report even though they had suspected child maltreatment. Almost 60% failed to report child maltreatment because they did not have enough evidence that the child had been maltreated. One-third of the mandated reporters thought the abuse was not serious enough to warrant reporting. An equal proportion of mandated reporters did not report suspected abuse because they felt they were in a better position to help the child (19.3%) or they did not want to end the treatment (19%) they were giving the child. Almost 16% failed to report because they did not think CPS would respond appropriately.

In Confronting Chronic Neglect: The Education and Training of Health Professionals on Family Violence (2002), Felicia Cohn, Marla E. Salmon, and John D. Stobo examine the curricula on family violence for six groups of health professionals: physicians, physician assistants, nurses, psychologists, social workers, and dentists. They find that, in fact, even though child abuse is a well-documented social and public health problem in the United States, few medical schools and residency training programs include child abuse education and other family violence education in their curricula. What training there is consists of lectures and case discussions, and the training duration varies from program to program. Suzanne P. Starling and Stephen Boos suggest in Core Content for Residency Training in Child Abuse and Neglect (Child Maltreatment, vol. 8, no. 4, 2003) offering a core curriculum in residency programs that would enable primary care physicians (including pediatricians, family doctors, and emergency-medicine doctors) to recognize, evaluate, and manage cases of child abuse and neglect. In Pediatrician Characteristics Associated with Child Abuse Identification and Reporting: Results from a National Survey of Pediatricians (Child Maltreatment, vol. 11, no. 4, 2006), Emalee G. Flaherty et al. support the idea that physicians should receive training and find in a national survey that pediatricians who received recent child abuse education were more likely to suspect and report child abuse when it existed.

In Child Maltreatment Training in Doctoral Programs in Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychology: Where Do We Go from Here? (Child Maltreatment, vol. 8, no. 3, 2003), Kelly M. Champion et al. seek to gain information on the type and amount of training psychologists received regarding child maltreatment in American Psychological Associationaccredited doctoral programs. Their study examined surveys sent to training directors of doctoral programs in 1992 and 2001. Champion et al. find that doctoral programs had generally remained unchanged within these years. Few doctoral programs offered specific courses on child maltreatment in 1992 and 2001, just 13% and 11%, respectively. Even though 65% of programs in 1992 and 59% in 2001 covered child maltreatment in three or more courses, these courses were rarely required to complete a doctoral program. Twenty percent of programs in 1992 and 22% in 2001 offered training in child maltreatment in clinical settings; however, most programs reported that students completed just 1% to 10% of such training. Finally, research activities in child maltreatment decreased from 60% in 1992 to 47% in 2001.

What Happens after a Child Maltreatment Report?

CPS. On receipt of a report of suspected child maltreatment, CPS screens the case to determine its proper jurisdiction. For example, if it is determined that the alleged perpetrator of sexual abuse is the victim's parent or caretaker, CPS screens in the report and conducts further investigation. If the alleged perpetrator is a stranger or someone who is not the parent or caregiver of the victim, the case is screened out or referred elsewhere, in this case, to the police because it does not fall within CPS jurisdiction as outlined under federal law.

A state's child welfare system, under which CPS functions, consists of other components designed to ensure

a child's well-being and safety. These include foster care, juvenile and family courts, and other child welfare services. CPS also oversees family reunification, granting custody to a relative, termination of parental rights, and emancipation (releasing a subject from the system because he or she is now recognized by the court as an adult). Cases of reported child abuse or neglect typically undergo a series of steps through the child welfare system. (See Figure 2.10.)

DISPOSITIONS OF INVESTIGATED REPORTS. After a CPS agency screens in a report of child maltreatment, it initiates an investigation. Some states follow one time frame for responding to all reports, whereas others follow a priority system, investigating high-priority cases within one to twenty-four hours. According to the ACYF, in Child Maltreatment 2006, the thirty-six states that reported response time in 2006 showed an average response time of eighty-six hours, or approximately three and a half days.

Following investigation of the report of child maltreatment, the CPS agency assigns a disposition, or finding, to the report. Before 2000 reports of alleged child maltreatment received one of three dispositions: indicated, substantiated, or unsubstantiated. In 2000 several states began implementing an alternative response program to reports of alleged child maltreatment. If the child is at a serious and immediate risk of maltreatment, CPS responds with the traditional formal investigation, which may involve removing the child from the home. If it is determined, however, that the parent will not endanger the child, CPS workers use the more informal alternative response to help the family. Instead of removing the child from the home environment, CPS steps in to assist the whole family by, for example, helping reduce stress that may lead to child abuse through provision of child care, adequate housing, and education in parenting skills. The ACYF indicates that in 2006 twelve states used the alternative response program in such cases, rather than making a formal determination of maltreatment.

Other dispositions, used by all states, include:

  • A disposition of substantiated, which means that sufficient evidence existed to support the allegation of maltreatment or risk of maltreatment
  • A disposition of indicated or reason to suspect, which means that the abuse and/or neglect could not be confirmed, but there was reason to suspect that the child was maltreated or was at risk of maltreatment
  • A disposition of unsubstantiated, which means that no maltreatment occurred or sufficient evidence did not exist to conclude that the child was maltreated or was at risk of being maltreated

Of the two million investigated reports in 2006, the ACYF states that 60.4% were unsubstantiated. More than one-fourth (25.2%) were substantiated, and 3% were indicated. (See Figure 2.11.) Another 6.3% were alternative response cases. Dispositions that were identified closed with no finding referred to cases in which the investigation could not be completed because the family moved out of the jurisdiction, the family could not be found, or the needed reports were not filed within the required time limit. Such dispositions accounted for 1.7% of investigated cases.

COURT INVOLVEMENT. The juvenile or family court hears allegations of maltreatment and decides if a child has been abused and/or neglected. The court then determines what should be done to protect the child. The child may be left in the parents home under the supervision of the CPS agency, or the child may be placed in foster care. If the child is removed from the home and it is later determined that the child should never be returned to the parents, the court can begin proceedings to terminate parental rights so that the child can be put up for adoption. The state may also prosecute the abusive parent or caretaker when a crime has allegedly been committed.

Controversies Surrounding the CPS System

The Debate about Family Preservation

The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 mandated: In each case, reasonable efforts will be made (A) prior to the placement of a child in foster care, to prevent or eliminate the need for removal of the child from his home, and (B) to make it possible for the child to return to his home. However, because the law did not define the term reasonable efforts, states and courts interpreted the term in different ways. In many cases child welfare personnel took the reasonable efforts of providing family counseling, respite care, and substance abuse treatment, thus preventing the child from being removed from abusive parents.

The law was a reaction to what was seen as zealousness in the 1960s and 1970s, when children, especially African-American children, were taken from their home because their parents were poor. In the twentieth-first century, however, some feel that problems of drug or substance abuse can mean that returning the child to the home is likely a guarantee of further abuse. Others note that some situations exist where a parent's live-in partner, who has no emotional attachment to the child, may also present risks to the child.

Richard J. Gelles, a prominent family violence expert and once a vocal advocate of family preservation, had a change of heart after studying the case of fifteen-month-old David Edwards, who was suffocated by his mother after the child welfare system failed to come to his rescue. Even though David's parents had lost custody of their first child because of abuse, and despite reports of David's abuse, CPS made reasonable efforts to let the parents keep the child. In The Book of David: How Preserving Families Can Cost Children's Lives (1996), Gelles points out that CPS needed to abandon its blanket solution to child abuse in its attempt to use reasonable efforts to reunite the victims and their perpetrators. He contends that those parents who seriously abuse their children are incapable of changing their behavior.

By contrast, in Foster Care vs. Family Preservation: The Track Record on Safety and Well-Being (November 4, 2007,, the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR), a nonprofit organization of experts on child abuse and foster care who are committed to the reform of the child welfare system, contends that many allegedly maltreated children are unnecessarily removed from their homes and in fact that children are in more danger when placed in foster care than when given services to help preserve the family. The NCCPR recognizes that even though there are cases in which the only way to save a child is to remove him or her from an abusive home, in many cases providing support services to the family in crisis, while letting the child remain at home, helps ensure child safety.

Joseph J. Doyle studies in Child Protection and Child Outcomes: Measuring the Effects of Foster Care (American Economic Review, forthcoming) the outcomes of foster care placement on school-age children. His results suggest that children in foster care have higher delinquency rates, teen birth rates, and lower earnings compared to other children in comparable family situations. He argues that children on the margin of placementin other words, in cases of neglect or abuse where removal from the home was not a clear callwould do better if they remained at home.

Child Welfare Workforce

Child welfare caseworkers perform multiple tasks in the course of their job. Among other things, they investigate reports of child maltreatment, coordinate various services (mental health, substance abuse, etc.) to help keep families together, find foster care placements for children if needed, make regular visits to children and families, arrange placement of children in permanent homes when they cannot be safely returned to their parents or caretakers, and document all details pertaining to their cases. Caseworker supervisors monitor and support their caseworkers, sometimes taking on some of the cases when there is a staff shortage or heavy caseload.

The GAO examines in Child Welfare: HHS Could Play a Greater Role in Helping Child Welfare Agencies Recruit and Retain Staff (March 2003, the child welfare workforce and how challenges in recruiting and retaining caseworkers affect the children under their care. Among other things, the GAO focuses on exit interview documents of caseworkers who had left their jobs from seventeen states, forty counties, and nineteen private child welfare agencies. The GAO also interviewed child welfare officials and experts and conducted on-site visits to agencies in four states: California, Illinois, Kentucky, and Texas.

The GAO finds that as of 2003, CPS agencies continued to have difficulty attracting and retaining experienced caseworkers. The low pay not only made it difficult to attract qualified workers but also contributed to CPS employees leaving for better-paying jobs. Because the federal government has not set any national hiring policies, employees have college degrees that may not necessarily be related to social work. Workers whom the GAO interviewed in different states also mentioned risk to personal safety, increased paperwork, lack of supervisory support, and insufficient time to attend training as things that affected their job performance and influenced their decision to leave.

According to the GAO, in Child Welfare: Additional Federal Action Could Help States Address Challenges in Providing Services to Children and Families (May 2007,, the difficulties in recruiting and retaining caseworkers in 2007 had barely been addressed since the 2003 report. Child welfare officials in most states reported that caseloads per worker remained too high, caseworkers continued to have too many administrative responsibilities, and the effectiveness of caseworker supervision was poor.

SLIPPING THROUGH THE CRACKS. Some CPS workers at times fail to monitor the children they are supposed to protect. In Florida the Department of Children and Families could not account for the disappearance of a five-year-old foster child, Rilya Wilson, who had been missing for more than a year before the agency noticed her absence in April 2002. At around that time the agency had reportedly lost track of more than 530 children. Rilya's disappearance was only discovered after her case- worker was fired and the new caseworker could not locate the child. The former caseworker had reported that Rilya was fine, even though that caseworker had not visited the child at her foster home for months. Authorities discovered that her foster mother continued to receive welfare payments for the girl in her absence. Witnesses had also testified that the foster mother and her roommate abused the child before her disappearance. The women faced charges of aggravated child abuse, and her foster mother was convicted of fraud and sentenced to three years in jail. In March 2005 one of the caregivers was indicted on charges of murdering the girl. Rilya's foster mother eventually confessed to murdering Rilya, although her body has never been recovered.

New Jersey's child welfare system had also come to national attention because of its failure to protect adopted and foster children. In October 2003 four brothers of the Jackson family in Collingswood, New Jersey, aged nine, ten, fourteen, and nineteen, were removed from their adoptive parents home and the couple was arrested. Investigations later revealed the brothers were systematically starved over many years. They weighed no more than forty-five pounds and stood less than four feet tall. The children reportedly subsisted on peanut butter, pancake batter, and wallboard. Authorities admitted two of the boys had fetal alcohol syndrome and two had eating disorders, which were the reasons the adoptive parents gave to neighbors for the brothers emaciated appearance. The brothers, however, began putting on weight and height after living with other foster families.

Investigations also revealed that Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) workers visited the adoptive parents home thirty-eight times in the past to check on three other foster children but never asked about the brothers. In 1995, when DYFS was notified by the oldest boy's school that he seemed malnourished, DYFS did not require a medical examination and even agreed to the adoptive mother's decision to homeschool the brothers. DYFS policies regulating foster homes required an annual medical evaluation and interview of each household member, but these never took place. In May 2004 the adoptive parents were indicted on twenty-eight counts of aggravated assault and child endangerment.

Maureen O'Hagan reports in Judge Demands State Keep Foster-Care Promises (Seattle Times, July 1, 2008) that in June 2008 a judge gave the Washington Department of Social and Health Services thirty days to keep the promises the state had made four years previously in the settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of the state's foster children. The lead plaintiff in that case had been through thirty-four foster-care placements by the time she turned twelve. The June 2008 ruling required the state to immediately make progress in several areas, including reducing caseworker loads to enable workers to make monthly visits to foster children, ensure foster children are promptly screened for health problems, and facilitate regular visits between foster children and their siblings. Should the state not comply, the plaintiffs lawyers can bring the state back to court, where the state could face fines or the agency could be placed under court governance.

These cases and others like them serve to focus public and media attention on the failures of CPS. Even though many departments are conscientiously and effectively doing their jobs, there are sometimes mistakes that result in great harm and even death to the children under their care.

Holding States Accountable

In 2006 the HHS released Child Welfare Outcomes 2003: Annual ReportSafety, Permanency, Well-Being (, the sixth in a series of annual reports on states performances in meeting the needs of at-risk children who have entered the child welfare system. The HHS finds that states were succeeding in some areas and failing in others. However, there had been significant improvement in several areas between 2000 and 2003: the percentage of children who were mistreated by a foster parent declined, the percentage of children who reentered foster care within a twelve-month period declined, the percentage of adoptions of children within twenty-four-months of entering foster care increased, and the percentage of children aged twelve and younger placed in group homes or other institutions decreased. However, the percentage of children who had entered foster care at age twelve or younger who then aged out of the system actually increased during this period.

According to the HHS, in The AFGARS Report: Preliminary FY 2006 Estimates as of January 2008 (January 2008,, an estimated 303,000 children entered and 289,000 exited foster care in fiscal year 2006. Of those children who exited foster care, 53% were reunited with their parents or primary caretakers, 11% went to live with relatives, 17% were adopted, and 9% were emancipated (they became legal adults). (See Table 2.16.) Two percent were transferred to another CPS agency, and another 5% were put under guardianship. Two percent of foster children had run away. Another 509 children had died. As of September 30, 2006, an estimated 510,000 children remained in foster care; 129,000 of them were waiting to be adopted.

Lives Saved

Even though CPS agencies have had many problems and are often unable to perform as effectively as they should, many thousands of maltreated children have been identified, many lives have been saved, and many more

TABLE 2.16 Outcomes for children who exited foster care, fiscal year 2006
SOURCE: What Were the Outcomes for the Children Exiting Foster Care during FY 2006? in The AFCARS Report, U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, Children's Bureau, January 2008, (accessed May 20, 2008)
Reunification with parent(s) or primary caretaker(s) 53% 154,103
Living with other relative(s) 11% 30,751
Adoption 17% 50,379
Emancipation 9% 26,517
Guardianship 5% 15,010
Transfer to another agency 2% 6,683
Runaway 2% 5,049
Death of child 0% 509
Note: Deaths are attributable to a variety of causes including medical conditions, accidents and homicide.

have been taken out of dangerous environments. It is impossible to tally the number of child abuse cases that might have ended in death; these children have been saved by changes in the laws, by awareness and reporting, and by the efforts of the professionals who intervened on their behalf.

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Child Sexual Abuse

Chapter 4
Child Sexual Abuse

What is Child Sexual Abuse?
How Frequent is Child Sexual Abuse?
What Makes a Victim Disclose?
Sexual Predators on the Internet
Effects of Child Sexual Abuse
The Repressed Memory Controversy
False Memories

Many experts believe that sexual abuse is the most underreported type of child maltreatment. A victim, especially a young child, may not know what he or she is experiencing. In many cases the child was threatened to keep it secret. Adults who may be aware of the abuse sometimes get involved in a conspiracy of silence.

Child sexual abuse is the ultimate misuse of an adult's trust and power over a child. When the abuser is particularly close to the victim, the child feels betrayed and trapped in a situation in which an adult who claims to care for the child is assaulting him or her. Familial abuse, or incest, involves the use of a child for sexual satisfaction by a family membera blood relative who is too close to marry legally. Extrafamilial abuse involves a person outside the family. Extrafamilial predators may be strangers, but they may also be people in a position of trust, such as family friends, teachers, and spiritual advisers.

What is Child Sexual Abuse?

Federal Definition

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 1974 specifically identified parents and caretakers as the perpetrators of sexual abuse. Sexual molestation by other individuals was considered sexual assault. The 1996 amendments to this law, however, included a more comprehensive definition, one that also included sexually abusive behavior by individuals other than parents and caregivers.

The CAPTA Amendments of 1996 defined child sexual abuse as:

  • The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct
  • The rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children

State Definitions Vary

The federal government has established a broad definition of child sexual abuse, but it leaves it up to state child abuse laws to specify detailed provisions. All states have laws prohibiting child sexual molestation and generally consider incest illegal. States also specify the age of consent, or the age at which a person can consent to sexual activity with an adultgenerally between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Sexual activity with children below the age of consent is considered statutory rape and is against the law. Table 4.1 summarizes current state laws regulating the age of consent.

How Frequent is Child Sexual Abuse?

Each year the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) collects child maltreatment data from child protective services (CPS) agencies in the fifty states and the District of Columbia, and the compiled information is released by the Administration for Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) as Child Maltreatment. The federally mandated National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS) is another source that shows the extent of child sexual abuse. As of August 2008, three national incidence studies had been conducted: NIS-1 (1980), NIS-2 (1986), and NIS-3 (1993). In 2003 the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act reauthorized CAPTA and authorized an additional $285 million for child abuse and neglect prevention programs. The act also directed the collection of data for NIS-4, which was expected to be available by the end of 2008. A third source of sexual abuse data are retrospective studies, which are surveys of adults about their childhood experience of sexual abuse.

TABLE 4.1 Statutory rape laws by state, 2004
SOURCE: Asaph Glosser, Karen Gardiner, and Mike Fishman, Table 1. State Age Requirements, in Statutory Rape: A Guide to State Laws and Reporting
, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, December 15, 2004,
(accessed June 2, 2008)
State Age of consent Minimum age of victim Age differential between the victim and defendant (if victim is above minimum age) Minimum age of defendant in order to prosecute
Alabama 16 12 2 16
Alaska 16 N/A 3 N/A
Arizona 18 15 2 (defendant must be in high school and 19) N/A
Arkansas 16 N/A 3 (if victim is < 14) 20 (if victim is = 14)
California 18 18 N/A N/A
Colorado 17 N/A 4 (if victim is < 15), 10 (if victim is < 17) N/A
Connecticut 16 N/Aa 2 N/A
Delaware 18b 16 N/A N/A
District of Columbia 16 N/A 4 N/A
Florida 18 16 N/A 24 (if victim is = 16)
Georgia 16 16 N/A N/A
Hawaii 16 14 5 N/A
Idaho 18c 18 N/A N/A
Illinois 17 17 N/A N/A
Indiana 16 14 N/A 18 (if victim is = 14)
Iowa 16 14 4 N/A
Kansas 16 16 N/A N/A
Kentucky 16 16 N/A N/A
Louisiana 17 13 3 (if victim is < 15), 2 (if victim is < 17) N/A
Maine 16 14d 5 N/A
Maryland 16 N/A 4 N/A
Massachusetts 16 16 N/A N/A
Michigan 16 16e N/A N/A
Minnesota 16 N/A 3 (if victim is < 13), 2 (if victim is < 16) N/A
Mississippi 16 N/A 2 (if victim is < 14), 3 (if victim is < 16) N/A
Missouri 17 14 N/A 21 (if victim is = 14)
Montana 16 16f N/A N/A
Nebraska 16 16g N/A 19
Nevada 16 16 N/A 18
New Hampshire 16 16 N/A N/A
New Jersey 16 13h 4 N/A
New Mexico 16 13 4 18 (if victim is = 13)
New York 17 17 N/A N/A
North Carolina 16 N/A 4 12
North Dakota 18 15 N/A 18 (if victim is = 15)
Ohio 16 13 N/A 18 (if victim is = 13)
Oklahoma 16 14 N/A 18 (if victim is > 14)
Oregon 18 15 3 N/A
Pennsylvania 16 13 4 N/A
Rhode Island 16 14 N/A 18 (if victim is = 14)
South Carolina 16 14 Illegal if victim is 14 to 16 and defendant is older than victim N/A
South Dakota 16 10i 3 N/A
Tennessee 18 13 4 N/A
Texas 17 14 3 N/A
Utah 18 16 10 N/A
Vermont 16 16 N/A 16
Virginia 18 15 N/A 18 (if victim is = 15)
Washington 16 N/A 2 (if victim is < 12), 3 (if victim is < 14), 4 (if victim is < 16) N/A
West Virginia 16 N/A 4 (if victim is = 11) 16, 14 (if victim is < 11)
Wisconsin 18 18 N/A N/A
Wyoming 16 N/A 4 N/A
Note: Some states have marital exemptions. This table assumes the two parties are not married to one another.
a Engaging in sexual intercourse with someone who is less than 16 years of age is legal under certain circumstances. However, sexual contact with someone who is less than 15 years of age is illegal regardless of the age of the defendant.
b Sexual acts with individuals who are at least 16 years of age are only illegal if the defendant is 30 years of age or older.
c Intercourse with a female who is less than 18 years of age is illegal regardless of the age of the defendant. However, sexual acts not amounting to penetration are legal under certain circumstances in cases where the victim is at least 16 years of age.
d It is illegal to engage in a sexual act with someone who is less than 14 years of age regardless of the age of the defendant. However, sexual contact or sexual touching with someone who is less than 14 years of age is legal under certain circumstances.
eIt is illegal to engage in a sexual penetration with someone who is less than 16 years of age. However, sexual contact with someone who is at least 13 years of age is legal under certain circumstances.
f Sexual intercourse with someone who is less than 16 years of age is illegal regardless of the age of the defendant. However, sexual contact with someone who is at least 14 years of age is legal under certain circumstances
g Under the offense, Debauching a minor, it is illegal to debauch or deprave morals by lewdly inducing someone less than 17 years of age to carnally know any other person.
h It is illegal to engage in a sexual penetration with someone who is less than 13 years of age regardless of the age of the defendant. However, sexual contact with someone who is less than 13 years of age is legal under certain circumstances.
iEngaging in sexual penetration with someone who is at least 10 years of age and less than 16 years of age is legal under certain circumstances. However, sexual contact with someone who is less than 16 years of age is illegal regardless of the age of the defendant.

According to the ACYF, in Child Maltreatment 2006 (2008,, the number of sexual abuse cases reported by CPS agencies in the United States in 2006 was 78,120. (See Table 2.2 in Chapter 2.) It is important to note that these numbers represent only cases that were reported and substantiated (confirmed); unknown numbers of child sexual abuse cases are undiscovered. The secrecy surrounding child abuse makes it virtually impossible to count the cases perpetrated in the family. However, retrospective studies of adults are one attempt to get a true picture of the prevalence of child sexual abuse.

In The Victimization of Children and Youth: A Comprehensive, National Survey (Child Maltreatment, vol. 10, no. 1, February 2005), a study of a nationally representative sample of one thousand children and youth aged two to seventeen, David Finkelhor et al. find that more than half of the children had been victimized in the previous year, either by a physical assault, a property offense, a form of child maltreatment, a sexual victimization, or a form of indirect victimization, such as witnessing an act of violence. One youth out of twelve had been sexually victimized in the study year.

Determining the Extent of Child Sexual Abuse through Retrospective Studies

David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire is a national authority on child sexual abuse. In Current Information on the Scope and Nature of Child Sexual Abuse (The Future of Children: Sexual Abuse of Children, vol. 4, no. 2, summerfall 1994), Finkelhor notes that surveys of adults regarding their childhood experiences (called retrospective studies) probably give the most complete estimates of the actual extent of child sexual abuse. He reviews nineteen adult retrospective surveys and finds that the proportion of adults who indicated sexual abuse during childhood ranged widely, from 2% to 62% for females and from 3% to 16% for males.

Finkelhor observes that the surveys that reported higher levels of abuse were those that asked multiple questions about the possibility of abuse. Multiple questions are more effective because they provide respondents various cues about the different kinds of experiences the researchers are asking about. Multiple questions also give the respondents ample time to overcome their embarrassment. Many experts accept the estimate that one out of five (20%) American women and one out of ten (10%) American men have experienced some form of childhood sexual abuse (CSA).

One of the early landmark studies of child sexual abuse was conducted in 1978 by the sociologist Diana E. H. Russell of Mills College. Russell surveyed 930 adult women in San Francisco about their early sexual experiences and reported her findings in The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women (1986). Russell noted that 38% of the women had suffered incestuous and extrafamilial sexual abuse before their eighteenth birthday. About 16% had been abused by a family member.

Russell's study is still frequently cited by experts who believe that much more abuse occurs than is officially reported by government studies. They suggest the high results recorded in her study reflect the thoroughness of her preparation. Whereas other studies ask one question concerning CSA, she asked fourteen different questions, any one of which might have set off a memory of sexual abuse.

In The Epidemic of Rape and Child Sexual Abuse in the United States (2000), Diana E. H. Russell and Rebecca M. Bolen revisit the prevalence rates reported in Russell's 1978 survey. Russell and Bolen believe those rates are underestimated. The 1978 survey subjects did not include two groups regarded to be highly probable victims of child sexual abuse: females in institutions and those not living at home. Russell and Bolen also find that some women were reluctant to reveal experiences of abuse to survey interviewers, whereas others did not recall these experiences.

Are Child Sexual Abuse Cases Declining?

According to CPS agencies across the United States, reported and substantiated cases of child sexual abuse have declined since 1992. Substantiated cases of sexual abuse of children dropped from a peak of 150,000 in 1992 to less than 90,000 in 2000, a decrease of 40%. (See Figure 4.1.) The ACYF indicates that substantiated child abuse cases dropped even further to 78,120 victims in 2006.

Lisa M. Jones and David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire examine in The Decline in Child Sexual Abuse Cases (Juvenile Justice Bulletin, January 2001) the possible factors responsible for this decline. They find that between 1990 and 1992 just three states experienced a decrease in cases of substantiated child sexual abuse, compared to fourteen states reporting increases of 20% or more. The decreasing trend started between 1992 and 1994, with twenty-two states reporting a decline of 20% or more, followed by eighteen states reporting declines between 1994 and 1996. From 1996 to 1998 thirteen states showed decreases of substantiated child sexual abuse cases.

According to Jones and Finkelhor, several factors may have influenced the decline in substantiated cases of child sexual abuse. (See Figure 4.2.) Since the 1990s the incidence of child sexual abuse may have been reduced by factors such as child victimization prevention programs, incarceration of sexual offenders, treatment programs for sex offenders, and other variables. These variables include female victimization by intimate partners and poverty. In other words, declining trends in these causal variables may play a role in the decreasing cases of child sexual abuse. Experts such as Amy M. Smith Slep and Susan G. O'Leary, in Parent and Partner Violence in Families with Young Children: Rates, Patterns, and Connections (Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 73, no. 3, June 2005), and Emiko A Tajima of the University of Washington, in Correlates of the Co-occurrence of Wife Abuse and Child Abuse among a Representative Sample (Journal of Family Violence, vol. 19, no. 6, December 2004), show a 30% to 60% overlap in the victimization of children and the victimization of their mothers.

Jones and Finkelhor suggest several possible factors that could account for the drop in reports of child sexual abuse from 1991 to 1998. People might be reluctant to report their suspicions because of widely publicized cases of false accusations. The public and mandated reporters, such as health care professionals, may also have learned accurate identification of the signs of abuse. In addition, the large numbers of sexual abuse cases that had surfaced as a result of increased vigilance starting in the 1980s may have been exhausted. CPS agencies might have stopped screening certain cases, such as sexual abuse by nonfamily members, and agencies with large caseloads may have investigated only cases they deemed serious enough to warrant their time.

In Explanations for the Decline in Child Sexual Abuse Cases (Juvenile Justice Bulletin, January 2004),

Finkelhor and Jones revisit the factors possibly influencing the decline. They examine, among other things, four states (Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) with large decreases in substantiated child sexual abuse, as well as extensive information from the 1990s. Finkelhor and Jones find little or no evidence that the decline resulted from CPS agencies not investigating certain cases or the diminishing number of older cases. They cannot determine whether or not fear of repercussions, such as lawsuits, had contributed to the decline in mandated reporting by physicians because the states had mixed results in physician reports.

Even though Finkelhor and Jones find no solid and convincing explanation for the decline of child sexual abuse in the 1990s, they offer two pieces of evidence that show the decline in sexual abuse cases. One piece of evidence includes the results of two self-reports of sexual assault (by nonfamily members) and sexual abuse (by family members). The second piece of evidence consists of the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and the Minnesota Student Survey. The NCVS, an annual survey of eighty thousand people over age twelve, found an overall 56% decline in self-reported sexual assault against twelve- to seventeen-year-old juveniles between 1993 and 2000, with a 72% decline by family members. (See Figure 4.3.) The Minnesota Student Survey, which was administered five times between 1989 and 2001 to over one hundred thousand students in grades six, nine, and twelve, found a slight increase in the sexual abuse trend from 1989 to 1992, then a 22% decline for sexual abuse by family and nonfamily members. (See Figure 4.4.)

What Makes a Victim Disclose?

Rochelle F. Hanson et al. report in Correlates of Adolescent Reports of Sexual Assault: Findings from the National Survey of Adolescents (Child Maltreatment, vol. 8, no. 4, 2003) on the factors that contribute to the likelihood that an adolescent will disclose sexual abuse. The researchers also examine whether, among the different ethnic and racial groups, adolescents differ in the rates of disclosure and in the factors contributing to that disclosure.

Participants in the National Survey of Adolescents were a random sample of 4,023 U.S. adolescents aged twelve to seventeen. The sample was made up of 51.3% males and 48.7% females. A majority (70.2%) were white, non-Hispanics. The children were grouped into several age cohorts. Interviews were conducted by telephone, with the consent of the parent or guardian.

A total of 326 (8.1%) adolescents indicated that they had experienced child sexual abuse. Approximately four out of five (78.1%) of those reporting child sexual abuse were female, and one out of five (21.9%) were male. Most (58.2%) were white, 23.6% were African-American, and 9.4% were Hispanic. Other ethnic groups made up the remaining 8.8% of child sexual abuse victims.

Of the 326 victims, 30.7% had been raped, 26.8% reported fearing for their life during the assault, and 10% had suffered physical injuries. Alcohol or drugs were involved in 6.7% of the incidents. Single incidents were reported by about two-thirds (64.1%) of the victims. Three-quarters (76.4%) knew the perpetrator. Specifically, 4.3% identified their father or stepfather as the abuser, 17.5% named another relative, 52.8% reported an unrelated acquaintance, and 1.8% knew the perpetrator but did not identify the person. Nearly a quarter (23%) said the perpetrator was a stranger, and two victims did not name the perpetrator.

About two-thirds (68.1%) of the victims told interviewers they disclosed their sexual abuse to someone. Just 4.5% of those who disclosed first told a police officer or social worker. One-third (34.3%) told their mother or stepmother, and more than a third (39.3%) told a close friend. The other victims told another relative (6.1%), a teacher (1.8%), a father or stepfather (1.7%), or a doctor or other health professional (1.3%). About 3.4% indicated they disclosed the abuse to someone but did not say who it was. Another 3.9% would not say who they told of the abuse or could not remember who they first told. Overall, just 33.6% indicated they ever reported the abuse to police or other authorities.

More females (74%) than males (46.5%) disclosed to someone that they had been sexually abused. White victims (75.1%) were more likely than Hispanics (67.7%) and African-Americans (55.8%) to tell someone of their abuse. Those who feared for their life during the assault were especially likely to disclose the abuse (80.7%). Other factors that were related to high levels of disclosure were having experienced a penetration assault (72%), having suffered physical injury (70.6%), having used substances (68.2%), or having been assaulted once (67.9%). The likelihood of telling someone of the abuse was also influenced by the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. Nearly nine out of ten (87.7%) of the victims who were sexually abused by a relative disclosed the incident, compared to those abused by a stranger (70.7%), an unrelated acquaintance (62.2%), or a father (57.1%).

Hanson et al. note that for some groups the gender of the adolescent is related to disclosure of sexual abuse, with girls more likely to do so. In this study African-American females were seven times more likely than their male counterparts to tell someone they had experienced sexual abuse, though white adolescents did not differ in disclosure of abuse based on gender. The researchers reiterate previous findings that males might fear being thought of as gay if the abuser was male. They also note that other studies show that African-American females are reluctant to disclose sexual abuse because of fear of not being believed. Even though no similar studies have been done of their male counterparts, Hanson et al. think the same reason might keep African-American male adolescents from reporting child sexual abuse.


Who Is Sexually Abused?

Most studies indicate that girls are far more likely than boys to suffer sexual abuse. Under the Harm and Endangerment Standards discussed by Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst in NIS-3, girls were sexually abused about three times more often than boys. (See Chapter 2 for a definition of these standards.)

In Childhood Sexual Abuse among Black Women and White Women from Two-Parent Families (Child Maltreatment, vol. 11, no. 3, August 2006), a retrospective study, Maryann Amodeo et al. of Boston University examine 290 African-American and white women to determine differences in prevalence of child sexual abuse. Amodeo et al. used questionnaires and face-to-face interviews, as well as interviews with siblings, to determine whether child sexual abuse had occurred. African-American women showed a higher prevalence of child sexual abuse than did white women (34.1% and 22.8%, respectively).

Sarah E. Ullman and Henrietta Filipas of the University of Illinois find in Ethnicity and Child Sexual Abuse Experiences of Female College Students (Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, vol. 14, no. 3, 2005) racial and ethnic differences in their retrospective study using a sample of 461 female college students. Analysis of their survey reveals that African-Americans reported more sexual abuse than other groups, followed by Hispanics, whites, and Asian-Americans.

Is Sexual Abuse of Boys Underreported?

William C. Holmes and Gail B. Slap claim that sexual abuse of boys is not only common but also underreported and undertreated. In Sexual Abuse of Boys: Definition, Prevalence, Correlates, Sequelae, and Management (Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 280, no. 21, December 2, 1998), the researchers review 149 studies of male sexual abuse. These studies, conducted between 1985 and 1997, included face-to-face interviews, telephone surveys, medical chart reviews, and computerized and paper questionnaires. The respondents included adolescents (ninth through twelfth graders, runaways, non-sex-offending delinquents, and detainees), college students, psychiatric patients, Native Americans, sex offenders (including serial rapists), substance-abusing patients, and homeless men. The researchers find that, overall, one out of five boys had been sexually abused.

Holmes and Slap note that boys younger than thirteen years of age, nonwhite, of low socioeconomic status, and not living with their fathers were at a higher risk for sexual abuse. Boys whose parents had abused alcohol, had criminal records, and were divorced, separated, or remarried were more likely to experience sexual abuse. Sexually abused boys were fifteen times more likely than boys who had never been sexually abused to live in families in which some members had also been sexually abused.

Start and Duration of Abuse

In Sexual Assault of Young Children as Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics (July 2000,, Howard N. Snyder of the National Center for Juvenile Justice finds that 20.1% of all victims of sexual assault reported to law enforcement from 1991 to 1996 were under age twelve, with 14% under six years of age. (Some researchers distinguish between child sexual abuse as perpetrated by parents or caregivers and sexual assault as committed by other individuals. In this report the term sexual assault included child sexual abuse.)

Patricia Tjaden and Nancy Thoennes of the Center for Policy Research in Denver, Colorado, find in Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Rape Victimization: Findings from the National Violence against Women Survey (January 2006,, a study of rape using data from the National Violence against Women Survey, that 21.6% of female rape or sexual abuse victims and 48% of male rape or sexual abuse victims were under the age of twelve when they were first raped. (See Figure 4.5.) Another 32.4% of females and 23% of males were between ages twelve and seventeen. Therefore, more than half of all female rape victims and seven out of ten male rape victims had been raped while children.

In their research on male child victims, Holmes and Slap find that sexual abuse generally began before puberty. About 17% to 53% of the respondents reported repeated abuse, with some victimization continuing over periods of less than six months and some victimization enduring for eighteen to forty-eight months.


Snyder finds that the abusers of young victims were more likely than the abusers of older victims to be family members. Sexual abusers whose victims were children five years old and younger were family members nearly half the time (48.6%), a number that decreased for those aged six to eleven (42.4%), and further decreased for victims aged twelve to seventeen (24.3%). More female victims (51.1% of those aged five years and younger and 43.8% of those aged six to eleven) were abused by family members, compared to their male counterparts (42.4% of those aged five years and younger and 37.7% of those aged six to eleven). (See Table 4.2.)


Linda Meyer Williams and David Finkelhor indicate in The Characteristics of Incestuous Fathers (1992) that, generally, incestuous fathers had lonely childhoods (82%). Almost half (47%) had not lived with their own father and had changed living arrangements (43%), perhaps as a result of parental divorce or remarriage. However, their own parents alcohol problem was no different from that of the nonabused comparison group. Incestuous fathers were far more likely to have been juvenile delinquents

TABLE 4.2 Victim-offender relationship in sexual assault, by gender of victim, 1991 96
SOURCE: Howard N. Snyder, Table 7. Victim-Offender Relationship in Sexual Assault, by Victim Gender, in Sexual Assault of Young Children As Reported to Law Enforcement: Victim, Incident, and Offender Characteristics, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 2000, (accessed June 2, 2008)
Victim age Total Family member Acquaintance Stranger
Female victims 100.0% 25.7% 59.5% 14.70%
Juveniles 100.0% 33.9 58.7 7.5
0 to 5 100.0 51.1 45.9 3.0
6 to 11 100.0 43.8 51.4 4.8
12 to 17 100.0 24.3 65.7 10.0
Adults 100.0% 11.5 61.0 27.5
18 to 24 100.0 9.8 66.4 23.8
Above 24 100.0 12.9 56.9 30.2
Male victims 100.0% 32.8% 59.8% 7.3%
Juveniles 100.0% 35.8 59.2 5.0
0 to 5 100.0 42.4 54.1 3.5
6 to 11 100.0 37.7 57.7 4.6
12 to 17 100.0 23.7 68.7 7.6
Adults 100.0% 11.3 63.9 24.8
18 to 24 100.0 10.7 68.4 20.9
Above 24 100.0 11.8 60.3 27.9

and to have been rejected by their parents. Williams and Finkelhor also find that the sex education of incestuous fathers while growing up did not come from friends or peers, but from being victims of sexual abuse. About 70% had a history of sexual abuse, with 45% having multiple abusers. Nearly three out of five were sexually abused by nonfamily adults.

Women Who Abuse

For many years, experts thought female sex abusers were uncommon. According to Craig M. Allen, in A Comparative Analysis of Women Who Sexually Abuse Children (1990), when women were involved in abuse, it was thought to be a situation in which a either a man had forced the woman to commit the abuse or the woman had a severe psychiatric disturbance. Some experts postulate that women are more maternal and, therefore, less likely to abuse a child. Women are also thought to have different attitudes toward sex. While men tie their feelings of self-worth to their sexual experiences, women are supposedly less concerned with sexual prowess and tend to be more empathetic toward others.

Comparing male and female offenders, Allen finds that the women reported more severe incidents of physical and emotional abuse in their past, had run away from home more often, were more sexually promiscuous than male offenders, and had more frequent incidents of being paid for sex. Because they perceived child sexual abuse as a great social deviance, female offenders were less likely to admit guilt. They were less cooperative than men during the investigations and were angrier with informants and investigators. Following disclosure, they also appeared to experience less guilt and sorrow than male offenders.

MOTHERS. The organization Making Daughters Safe Again explains in Female-Perpetrated Sexual Abuse: Redefining the Construct of Sexual Abuse and Challenging Beliefs about Human Sexuality (2008, that sexual abuse by mothers may remain undetected because it occurs at home and is either denied or never reported. Mothers generally have more intimate contact with their children, and the lines between maternal love and care and sexual abuse are not as clear-cut as they are for fathers. Furthermore, society is reluctant to see a woman as a perpetrator of incest, portraying the woman as someone likely to turn her pain inward into depression, compared to the man who acts out his anger in sexually criminal behavior. Women's sexually abusive behavior toward their children may be disguised under the pretense of caretaking for their children.


Sibling incest is another form of abuse that has not been well studied. However, some experts believe sibling sexual abuse is more common than father-daughter incest. Vernon R. Wiehe indicates in Sibling Abuse (Understanding Family Violence: Treating and Preventing Partner, Child, Sibling, and Elder Abuse, 1998) that the problem of sibling incest has not received much attention because of the families reluctance to report to authorities that such abuse is happening at home, the parents playing down the fact that it is indeed a problem, and the perception that it is normal for brothers and sisters to explore their sexuality.

In Intrafamilial Sexual Abuse: Brother-Sister Incest Does Not Differ from Father-Daughter and Stepfather-Stepdaughter Incest (Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal, vol. 26, no. 9, September 2002), Mireille Cir et al. find that there were few differences between sexual abuse perpetrated by fathers, stepfathers, or brothers in their survey of seventy-two sexually abused girls between the ages of five and sixteen. They find that penetration was much more frequent in the brother-sister incest group (70.8%) than in the stepfather-stepdaughter incest group (27.3%) or the father-daughter incest group (34.8%). They also find that nine out of ten girls abused by their brothers showed clinically significant traumatic stress. These findings indicate that sexual abuse perpetrated by a sibling should be taken seriously.


Sex between educators and students is nothing new. However, except for sensational cases, such as that of the Washington teacher Mary Kay Letourneau (1962), who was charged with child rape of a twelve-year-old student and served a seven-and-a-half-year sentence, other cases have not received much attention. Some experts observe there seems to be a double standard in cases involving a female teacher and a male student. They point to an example in New Jersey. In 2002 the Superior Court judge Bruce A. Gaeta (19422008) refused to sentence Pamela Diehl-Moore (1959) to prison for pleading guilty to sexual assault and instead ordered probation. The teacher admitted having sex for six months with a thirteen-year-old student. The judge claimed he saw no harm done to the student and that the relationship might have been a way for the boy to satisfy his sexual needs. Gaeta received public reprimand for his comments. Diehl-Moore was sentenced to three years in prison on appeal.

In 2004 Charol S. Shakeshaft of Hofstra University reported that no national study of public school educators who have abused students had ever been done. In compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, the U.S. Department of Education commissioned Shakeshaft to conduct a national study of sexual abuse in schools. After identifying about nine hundred literature citations that discussed educator sexual misconduct and contacting over one thousand researchers, educators, and policy

TABLE 4.3 Perpetrators of sexual abuse of students in school by job title, 2000
SOURCE: Charol Shakeshaft, Table 7. Percent of Student Targets by Job Title of Offender, in Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing
, U.S. Department of Education, Office of the Under Secretary, June 2004,
report.pdf (accessed June 2, 2008). Data from C. Shakeshaft, Educator Sexual Abuse, Hofstra Horizons, Spring 2003, 10-13, and American
Association of University Women, 2001.
Job title Percent
Teacher 18
Coach 15
Substitute teachers 13
Bus driver 12
Teacher's aide 11
Other school employee 10
Security guard 10
Principal 6
Counselor 5
Total 100

makers on the issue, Shakeshaft found just fourteen U.S. and five Canadian/British empirical studies on educator sexual misconduct. (Empirical studies are based on practical observations and not theory.) With scant empirical studies on hand, she based her conclusion on two American Association of University Women Hostile Hallways surveys conducted in 1993 and 2001 involving 3,695 public school students in eighth and eleventh grades. Both were Shakeshaft's own work. In addition, Shake-shaft used her 2003 reanalysis of the surveys for additional data on educator sexual misconduct.

In Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature (2004, pubs/misconductreview/report.pdf), Shakeshaft projects the numbers in her surveys to the whole public school system. She concludes that 9.6% of public school children, accounting for 4.5 million students, have experienced sexual misconductranging from being told sexual jokes, to being shown pictures of a sexual nature, to sexual intercourseby educators. Educators included teachers and other school officials, such as principals, coaches, counselors, substitute teachers, teacher's aides, security guards, bus drivers, and other employees.

The studies Shakeshaft analyzes do not reveal the number or proportion of educators who were perpetrators of sexual misconduct. However, Shakeshaft's surveys show that perpetrators of sexual misconduct against students in schools were 18% teachers, 15% coaches, and 13% substitute teachers. (See Table 4.3.) Principals accounted for 6%, and school counselors made up 5%. Shakeshaft observes that teachers whose jobs involve dealing with individual students, such as coaches and music teachers, are more likely than other educators to sexually abuse students. With regard to the gender of the perpetrators, the different studies Shakeshaft surveys show a range of 4% to 42.8% for female educators and a range of 57.2% to 96% for male educators.

Sexual Abusers of Boys

Holmes and Slap find that more than 90% of the abusers of boys and young male adolescents in their study were male. Male abusers of older male teenagers and young male adults, however, made up 22% to 73% of perpetrators. This older age group also experienced abuse by females, ranging from 27% to 78%. Adolescent babysitters accounted for up to half of female sexual abusers of younger boys.

More than half of those who sexually abused male children were not family members but were known to the victims. Boys younger than six years old were more likely to be sexually abused by family and acquaintances, whereas those older than twelve were more likely to be victims of strangers. Whereas male perpetrators used physical force, with threats of physical harm increasing with victim age, female perpetrators used persuasion and promises of special favors.


Public concern about sexual abuse by priests skyrocketed in the early twenty-first century as a result of a scandal surrounding abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic Church. Thomas F. Reilly (1942), the attorney general of Massachusetts, explains in The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston: A Report by the Attorney General (July 23, 2003, the culture of secrecy involving the sexual abuse of an estimated one thousand minors in the archdiocese of Boston since 1940. Reilly's eighteen-month investigation finds that there is overwhelming evidence that for many years Cardinal [Bernard] Law and his senior managers had direct, actual knowledge that substantial numbers of children in the Archdiocese had been sexually abused by substantial numbers of its priests.

Reilly started the investigation in March 2002, soon after John Geoghan (19352003), a former priest in the archdiocese of Boston, was sentenced to nine to ten years in prison for sexually abusing a ten-year-old boy. Reilly's investigators found that starting in 1979 the archdiocese had received complaints of child sexual abuse against Geoghan. Church documents, which had previously been sealed, revealed that the church not only moved Geoghan from parish to parish but had also paid settlements amounting to $15 million to the victims families. Reilly reported that the archdiocese's own files showed that 789 people had brought sexual complaints against the Boston clergy. However, Reilly believes the actual number of victims is higher. There were 237 priests and church workers who had been accused of rape and sexual assault.

EXTENT OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE BY PRIESTS. Responding to emerging allegations of sexual abuse by priests, in June 2002 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned a study of the nature and scope of the problem of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York conducted the study based on information provided by 195 dioceses, representing 98% of all diocesan priests in the United States. The researchers also collected data from 140 religious communities, accounting for about 60% of religious communities and 80% of all priests in the religious communities.

The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States (2004, covers the period from 1950 to 2002. Of the 109,694 priests and deacons (collectively referred to as priests) who served during this period, 4,392 (4%) allegedly abused children under age eighteen. Most (55.7%) of these priests had a single allegation of abuse. Nearly 27% had two to three allegations, 13.9% had four to nine allegations, and 3.5% had ten or more allegations.

The report shows that 10,667 individuals made allegations of child sexual abuse by priests between 1950 and 2002. About 81% of the victims were male and 19% were female. About half (50.7%) were between the ages of eleven and fourteen. More than a quarter (26.7%) were fifteen to seventeen years old, 16.5% were aged eight to ten, and 6.1% were aged seven or younger. (See Table 4.4.) The number of allegations rose steadily between 1950 and 1980 before dropping off sharply. (See Figure 4.6.)

At the time of the allegations, most of the priests were serving in the capacity of associate pastor (42.3%) or pastor (25.1%). One out of ten (10.4%) were serving as

TABLE 4.4 Victim's age at first instance of abuse by priests, 19502002
SOURCE: Table 4.3.2. Victim's Age at First Instance of Abuse, in The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic
Priests and Deacons in the United States
, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004, (accessed June 2, 2008)
Age in years Count % of total
1 4 .0%
2 11 .1%
3 22 .2%
4 41 .5%
5 82 1.0%
6 158 1.8%
7 220 2.5%
8 369 4.1%
9 362 4.0%
10 752 8.4%
11 895 10.0%
12 1,323 14.7%
13 1,141 12.8%
14 1,188 13.2%
15 1,042 11.6%
16 769 8.6%
17 577 6.5%
Total 8,956 100%
TABLE 4.5 Location of abuse by priests, 19502002
SOURCE: Table 4.5.3. Location of Abuse, in The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the
United States
, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004, (accessed June 2, 2008)
Place Count Percent of cases  
In school 939 10.3%  
In a hotel room 675 7.4%  
Retreat house 133 1.5%  
Priest's home/Parish residence 3730 40.9%  
Vacation house 941 10.3%  
Other residences (friends, family, etc.) 49 .5%  
Congregate residences 51 .6%  
In victim's home 1131 12.4%  
Priest's office 685 7.5%  
In church 1483 16.3%  
In the hospital 75 0.8%  
In a car 897 9.8%  
Outings (camp, park, pool, etc.) 757 8.3%  
Other location 571 6.3%
No record of location 2109 23.1%
Note: This is a multiple response table. The categories are not mutually exclusive since an incident of abuse may have taken place over time and in more than one place.

resident priests. Most of the abuse occurred in the priest's home or parish residence (40.9%), in church (16.3%), and in the victim's home (12.4%). (See Table 4.5.) Nearly half (49.6%) of the priests socialized with the alleged victim's family, mostly (79.6%) in the family's home.

In Stained Glass: The Nature and Scope of Child Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church (Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 35, no. 5, May 2008), a follow-up study, Karen J. Terry of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice finds that many victims of abuse by priests were groomed for the abuse7.8% of children were given gifts and 17% of children were given other enticements, such as alcohol, drugs, money, or trips. Only 7.8% of victims were threatened, usually psychologically rather than physically.

Sexual Predators on the Internet

The Internet gives pedophiles easy access to children. According to the U.S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime, in Internet Crimes against Children (May 2001, bulletins/internet_2_2001/welcome.html), child predators who look for victims in places where children typically congregate, such as schoolyards, playgrounds, and shopping malls, now have cyberspace to commit their criminal acts. The Internet presents an even more attractive venue because predators can commit their crime anonymously and are able to contact the same child regularly. They may groom children online for the production of child pornography. Predators have been known to prey on vulnerable children, gaining their confidence online, and then meeting up with them for the purpose of engaging them in sex acts.

In Computer and Internet Use in the United States: 2003 (October 2005, pubs/p23-208.pdf, Jennifer Cheeseman Day, Alex Janus, and Jessica Davis of the U.S. Census Bureau explain that in 2003, 80% of adolescents aged fifteen to seventeen used the Internet at some location. More than two-thirds (68.9%) of children aged ten to fourteen, 44.8% of children aged six to nine, and 23.4% of children aged three to five used the Internet. Females were slightly more likely than males to use the Internet (57% and 55.1%, respectively).

Julian Fantino notes in Child Pornography on the Internet: New Challenges Require New Ideas (Police Chief, vol. 70, no. 12, December 2003) that more and more younger children are being used in child pornography, with a large proportion being infants and preschool children. Offenders form secret clubs, sharing modes of operation and protecting one another's identity. According to Fantino, in 2003 more than one hundred thousand Web sites contained child pornography.

National Survey on the Online Victimization of Children

In Online Victimization of Youth: Five Years Later (2006,, a national survey on the risks children face on the Internet, Janis Wolak, Kimberly Mitchell, and David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire find that nearly one out of seven (13%) youths using the Internet in the last year had received an unwanted sexual solicitation or approach. Sexual solicitations involved requests to do sexual things the children did not want to do, and sexual approaches involved incidents in which people tried to get children to talk about sex when they did not want to or asked them intimate questions. In addition, 34% reported at least one unwanted exposure to sexual material (pictures of naked people or people having sex) while surfing the Internet the past year. Michele L. Ybarra and Kimberly J. Mitchell of the University of New Hampshire indicate in Exposure to Internet Pornography among Children and Adolescents: A National Survey (CyberPsychology and Behavior, vol. 8, no. 5, 2005) that 20% of youth between the ages of fourteen and seventeen and 8% of youth between the ages of ten and thirteen, primarily male, intentionally sought out pornographic materials on the Internet.

In a follow-up study, Kimberly J. Mitchell, Janis Wolak, and David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire state in Trends in Youth Reports of Sexual Solicitations, Harassment, and Unwanted Exposure to Pornography on the Internet (Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 40, 2007) that the proportion of youth who reported online sexual solicitations declined between 2000 and

2005, although online harassment and unwanted exposure to pornography actually rose. The researchers find that in 2005 approximately 13% of youth were sexually solicited online, meaning that they were requested online to talk about sexalthough many of these requests probably came from other youth. (See Figure 4.7.) Many of these solicitations were not intended to lure children into sexual activity. Mitchell, Wolak, and Finkelhor's best guess is that about 4% of youth were aggressively sexually solicited online, including attempts to contact the youth offlineup from 3% in 2000. (See Figure 4.8.)

However, according to Kimberly J. Mitchell, David Finkelhor, and Janis Wolak of the University of New Hampshire, in The Internet and Family and Acquaintance Sexual Abuse (Child Maltreatment, vol. 10, no. 1, 2005), nearly as many acquaintances and family members used the Internet to commit sex crimes against children as did adults who used the Internet to actually meet children. The follow-up study actually found that even though the percentage of youth who used the Internet rose between 2000 and 2006, the percentage of youth who spoke to people they knew only online dropped from 40% to 34%. (See Table 4.6.) This decline might be due to a heightened awareness of pedophiles on the Internet.

When youth were sexually solicited online, most were able to deal with the problem by blocking solicitors

or leaving sites. Most did not report feeling distressed by the experience, but about 4% of youth did report feeling upset or distressed as a result of the online solicitation. (See Figure 4.7.) In Online Predators and Their Victims: Myths, Realities, and Implications for Prevention and Treatment (American Psychologist, vol. 63, 2008), Janis Wolak et al. of the University of New Hampshire indicate that when predatory offenders were charged with a crime, the pattern most often involved nonforcible sexual activity between young victims and adult men.

However, in 2006 parents, educators, and law enforcement officials sent out a warning about, a huge Web site designed to be an Internet chat room and hangout for teens and young adults, but which police say is attracting sexual predators. As many as fifty-eight million users post personal information on the site, including photos and Web logs (so-called blogs, containing journal-like postings from the user), sometimes with home addresses and phone numbers included. According to Jane Gordon, in MySpace Draws a Questionable Crowd (New York Times, February 26, 2006), in Connecticut police investigated several reports of sexual assaults of young girls between the ages of thirteen and fifteen that occurred after they met adult male suspects on the site. Anick Jesdanun reports in MySpace Plans Adult Restrictions to Protect Teen Users (Washington Post ,June 21,

TABLE 4.6 Youth Internet use patterns, 2000 and 2005
SOURCE: Adapted from Janis Wolak, Kimberly Mitchell, and David Finkelhor, Table 2. Youth Internet Use Patterns, in Online Victimization of
Youth: Five Years Later
, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 2006, (accessed June 23,
[N 3,001]
Description 2000
All youth
(N = 1,501)
All youth
(N = 1,500)
Location(s) youth spent time on Internet in past yeara
Home 74% 91%
School 73% 90%
Friend's homeb 68% 69%
Cellular telephone 17%
Other place (includes library) 37% 43%
Last time youth used lnternet
Past week 76% 86%
Past weeks 10% 6%
Past month or longer 14% 8%
Number of hours youth spent on lnternet on a typical day when online
1 hour or less 61% 45%
More than l hour to 2 hours 26% 13%
More 2 hours 13% 23%
Number of days youth went on lnternet in a typical weekc    
1 day or less 29% 8%
2 to 4 days 40% 42%
5 to 7 days 31% 49%
How youth used lnterneta
Went to web sites 94% 99%
Used e-mail 76% 79%
Used instant messaging 55% 68%
Went to chat rooms 56% 30%
Played games 67% 83%
Did school assignments 85% 92%
Downloaded music 38%
Kept online journal or blog 16%
Used online dating or romance sites 1%
Who youth talked to onlined
People youth knew in person offline 73% 79%
People youth knew only online 40% 34%
a Multiple responses possible.
bIn Youth Internet Safety Survey-1 (YISS-1) we asked if youth used the Internet in other households, which included friends homes. In YISS-2 we specifically asked all youth if they used the Internet at friends homes.
cBased on youth who used the Internet in the past week or past 2 weeks.
dAnswers not mutually exclusive.
Note: Some categories do not add to 100% because of rounding and/or missing data.

2006) that by June 2006 MySpace planned new restrictions on the interactions of adults over age eighteen and children under age sixteen on the site in response to criticisms.

In The Relative Importance of Online Victimization in Understanding Depression, Delinquency, and Substance Use (Child Maltreatment, vol. 12, no. 4, November 2007), Kimberly J. Mitchell, Michele L. Ybarra, and David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire find that 23% of 1,501 youth surveyed reported being the victim of either sexual solicitation or harassment online. Nearly three-quarters of these youth reported an offline victimization as well. However, youth who had been sexually solicited online were nearly twice as likely as others to report depression and substance use, indicating the serious nature of this type of victimization.

Effects of Child Sexual Abuse

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), in What Are the Effects of Child Sexual Abuse? (October 31, 2006,, children who have been sexually abused exhibit a range of symptoms. A child may show inappropriate sexual knowledge or exhibit sexual acting out behaviors. Other immediate effects may include regressive behaviors, such as thumb sucking and/or bed wetting; sleep disturbances; eating problems; and school problems, including misconduct, problems with performing schoolwork, and failure to participate in activities.

The APA also details long-term effects of child sexual abuse. Adult victims may suffer from depression, sexual dysfunction, and anxiety. Anxiety may manifest itself in behaviors such as anxiety attacks, insomnia, and alcohol and drug abuse. Adult survivors of CSA also report revictimization as rape victims or as victims of intimate physical abuse.

High-Risk Sexual Behaviors in Adolescent Girls

In Sexual At-Risk Behaviors of Sexually Abused Adolescent Girls (Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, vol. 12, no. 2, 2003), a study of sexual at-risk behaviors of 125 female adolescents aged twelve to seventeen who had experienced sexual abuse, Caroline Cinq-Mars et al. administered a self-report questionnaire that asked about the subjects sexual activities, not including sexual abuse experiences. Afterward, the subjects were interviewed regarding their sexual abuse experiences, including information about the perpetrator (both family and nonfamily members), frequency and duration of abuse, severity of the abuse, and whether or not they told someone of the abuse.

Among offending family members, fathers were the perpetrators in 30.4% of incidents. Stepfathers and extended family members each were responsible for 28.8% of the sexual abuse, and brothers accounted for another 9.6% of abuse. The victims experienced more than one incident of sexual abuse, with the mean (average) number of perpetrators per victim being 1.8. The mean age for the start of abuse was 9.3 years. More than one-third (36.8%) of the victims experienced sexual abuse before age eleven.

Over half (55.3%) of the participants reported being sexually active. More than half (54.5%) had their first consensual intercourse before the age of fifteen. The rate of pregnancy was 15%. Cinq-Mars et al. find three sexual abuse characteristics that were associated with the adolescents sexual at-risk behavior. Adolescents who experienced abuse involving penetration were more than thirteen times as likely to have been pregnant and twice as likely to have more than one consensual partner in the past year. Having been abused by more than one perpetrator (in one or more incidents) was also closely associated with at-risk behaviors: pregnancy (eight times as likely), more than one consensual sexual partner (four times as likely), and irregular condom use (three times as likely). Finally, physical coercion during abuse increased the odds of pregnancy (four times as likely), more than one consensual sexual partner (five times as likely), and irregular condom use (three times as likely).

Substance Abuse

A number of studies, such as Christiane Brems et al.'s Childhood Abuse History and Substance Use among Men and Women Receiving Detoxification Services (American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, vol. 30, no. 4, November 2004), Patricia B. Moran, Sam Vuchinich, and Nancy K. Hall's Associations between Types of Maltreatment and Substance Use during Adolescence (Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal, vol. 28, no. 5, May 2004), and Cathy Spatz Widom et al.'s Long-Term Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect on Alcohol Use and Excessive Drinking in Middle Adulthood (Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, vol. 68, no. 3, May 2007), show that child sexual abuse increases the risk for substance abuse later in life. In Abnormal T2 Relaxation Time in the Cerebellar Vermis of Adults Sexually Abused in Childhood: Potential Role of the Vermis in Stress-Enhanced Risk for Drug Abuse (Psychoneuroen-docrinology, vol. 27, no. 12, January 2002), Carl M. Anderson et al. of Harvard Medical School uncover how this occurs. They find that the vermis, the region flanked by the cerebellar hemispheres of the brain, may play a key role in the risk for substance abuse among adults who have experienced child abuse. The vermis develops gradually and continues to produce neurons, or nerve cells, after birth. It is known to be sensitive to stress, so that stress can influence its development.

Anderson et al. compared young adults aged eighteen to twenty-two, including eight with a history of repeated sexual abuse in childhood and sixteen others as the control group. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging technology, they measured the resting blood flow in the vermis. They find that the subjects who had been victims of sexual abuse had diminished blood flow. Anderson et al. suggest the stress experienced with repeated sexual abuse may have caused damage to the vermis, which in turn could not perform its job of controlling irritability in the limbic system. The limbic system in the center of the brain, a collection of connected clusters of nerve cells, is responsible for, among other things, regulating emotions and memory. Therefore, the damaged vermis induces a person to use drugs or alcohol to suppress the irritability.

Because the child sexual abuse subjects had no history of alcohol or substance abuse, Anderson et al. wanted to confirm their findings, which linked an impaired cerebellar vermis and the potential for substance abuse in sexual abuse survivors. After analyzing test data collected from the 537 college students recruited for the study, they find that students who reported frequent substance abuse showed higher irritability in the limbic system. They also exhibited symptoms usually associated with drug use, including depression and anger.

Robert C. Freeman, Karyn Collier, and Kathleen M. Parillo of NOVA Research Company of Bethesda, Maryland, examine in Early Life Sexual Abuse as a Risk Factor for Crack Cocaine Use in a Sample of Community-Recruited Women at High Risk for Illicit Drug Use (American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, vol. 28, no. 1, February 2002) a total of 1,478 noninjecting female sexual partners of male intravenous drug users. Nearly two-thirds (63.7%) of the women reported having used crack cocaine. The researchers find that an equal proportion of the women had suffered sexual abuse before age twelve (39.5%) and during adolescence (38.8%). Overall, nearly 22% were sexually abused during both childhood and adolescence.

While Freeman, Collier, and Parillo find a relationship between child sexual abuse and lifetime crack use, they find no direct link between sexual abuse during adolescence and lifetime crack use. However, they do find some indirect connections between the two. Female teens who were victims of sexual abuse were more likely to run away, and these runaways were more likely to use crack because of the type of people with whom they associated.

Sexual Revictimization and Self-Harming Behaviors

In Revictimization and Self-Harm in Females Who Experienced Childhood Sexual Abuse: Results from a Prospective Study (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 18, no. 12, December 2003), Jennie G. Noll et al. report on a longitudinal study (a study of the same group over a period of time) that examines the effects of child sexual abuse on female development. This was the first prospective study that followed children from the time sexual abuse was reported through adolescence and into early adulthood. Referred by CPS agencies, the participants experienced sexual abuse by a family member before the age of fourteen. The median age at the start of sexual abuse was seven to eight years, and the median duration of abuse was two years. The study consisted of eighty-four abused children and a comparison group of eighty-two nonabused children. Two yearly interviews followed the first assessment of the group. A fourth interview was conducted four to five years after the third interview.

Noll et al. note that this study was the first to provide information about the revictimization of child sexual abuse survivors not long after their abuse (seven years after the abuse when the participants were in their adolescence and early adulthood). The researchers find that participants who had been sexually abused during childhood were twice as likely as the comparison group to have experienced sexual revictimization, such as rape or sexual assault, and almost four times as likely to harm themselves through suicide attempts or self-mutilation. They also suffered 1.6 times more physical victimization, such as domestic violence. Compared to the nonabused group, the abused group reported 20% more significant lifetime traumas subsequent to being sexually abused. Significant lifetime traumas reported by the participants included separation and losses (e.g., having family or friends move away or die), emotional abuse and/or rejection by family, natural disasters, and witnessing violence.

Henrietta H. Filipas and Sarah E. Ullman of the University of Illinois, Chicago, explore in Child Sexual Abuse, Coping Responses, Self-Blame, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Adult Sexual Revictimization (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 21, no. 5, 2006) what factors make child sexual abuse survivors more vulnerable to revictimization as adults. They hypothesize that self-blame, maladaptive coping responses, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would all make survivors more likely to be revictimized. However, Filipas and Ullman find that only the extent to which adult female victims of child sexual abuse used maladaptive coping responses such as alcohol and drug use, withdrawal from people, and sexual acting out was correlated with their vulnerability to revictimization as adults.

In Substance Use and PTSD Symptoms Impact the Likelihood of Rape and Revictimization in College Women (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, May 2008), Terri L. Messman-Moore, Rose Marie Ward, and Amy L. Brown find that substance use and PTSD increase the likelihood that college women will be raped or otherwise revictimized. They argue that PTSD sufferers use drugs and alcohol or maladaptive sexual behavior to cope with PTSD symptoms and that these coping behaviors increase their risk of further victimization.

Noll et al. observe that child sexual abuse is the strongest predictor of self-harm, even when other types of abuse are present. They surmise that the victims may have negative feelings toward their own body and want to hurt it. Noll et al. write that some researchers believe victims may want to reveal internal pains through outward manifestation of self-harm. Others wish to re-experience feelings of shame in an attempt to resolve it.

Effects of Sexual Abuse by Women

In The Long-Term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse by Female Perpetrators: A Qualitative Study of Male and Female Victims (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 19, no. 10, October 2004), Myriam S. Denov of the University of Ottawa conducted a qualitative study on the long-term effects of child sexual abuse by women. Unlike quantitative research, which involves collecting samples of quantitative data and performing some form of statistical analysis, qualitative research is based on a smaller sample of individuals and does not represent the general population. However, according to Denov, the qualitative approach is particularly appropriate for a study of this nature as it can give depth and detail of phenomena that are difficult to convey with quantitative methods.

The study sample consisted of seven males and seven females, who ranged in age from twenty-three to fifty-nine years. The sexual abuse occurred when they were fourteen years old or younger. All participants reported at least one incident of sexual abuse by a lone female perpetrator. Five participants reported having been sexually abused by more than one lone perpetrator. Nine participants were abused by a female relativesix by their mother, two by their mother and grandmother, and one by his mother and sister. Four participants were abused by an unrelated personthree by a babysitter and one by a nun at a local church. While the study concerns abuse perpetrated by women, half (or seven) of the participants reported having also been sexually abused by a man (in a separate incident from the abuse by women) four by their father, two by an unrelated male babysitter, and one by his older half-brother.

The sexual abuse started, on average, at age five and ended, on average, at age twelve. It lasted about six years. Five participants were abused more than once per week, three were abused once per week, and four were abused once per month. Two participants reported a single episode of abuse. All participants reported mild abuse (e.g., kissing in a sexual way and sexual invitations). In addition, ten reported moderate abuse (genital contact or fondling [without penetration] and simulated intercourse). Nine participants experienced severe abuse (such as intercourse and penetration with fingers or objects).

Denov observes that while many effects of sexual abuse by females seem similar to that by males, female sexual abuse has long-term effects that are unique. Of the fourteen study participants, just one (a male) indicated he did not feel damaged by the sexual abuse by a woman. The other thirteen said they felt damaged by the abuse. All seven participants who were also abused by males reported that the sexual abuse by women was more damaging. The effects of child sexual abuse included substance abuse (used to silence their rage and numb the pain), self-injury, thoughts of suicide, depression, and rage. All victims reported a great mistrust of women and a discomfort with sexual intimacy. Most of the female victims were confused about their sense of identity and self-concept. Five out of seven said that, as young girls, they did not want to grow up to be women. Four women confessed that they continued to deny their femininity, one victim admitting that she dressed in an unwomanly fashion because she would be safest to herself and to others. Twelve participants feared they might sexually abuse their own children. In fact, two men and two women reported having sexually abused children. One man and three women decided not to have children.

Effects on Boys

MALE VICTIMS PERCEPTION OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE AND CLINICAL FINDINGS. In their review of nearly 150 studies of male sexual abuse, Holmes and Slap find that only 15% to 39% of victims who responded to the studies thought that they were adversely affected by the sexual abuse. The victims stressed that the adverse effects were linked to the use of force, to cases in which the perpetrator was much older than the victim, or to cases where the victim was very young. Holmes and Slap note, however, that negative clinical results (in contrast to what the studies subjects reported) included PTSD, major depression, paranoia, aggressive behavior, poor self-image, poor school performance, substance abuse, and running away from home. They surmise that the discrepancy between the respondents perceptions of the negative consequences of their sexual victimization and those discovered in clinical outcomes may be because of several factors: abused males may believe they have failed to protect themselves as society expects them to do, or, if they had experienced pleasure while being abused, they may be confused by their feelings about it.

Sharon M. Valente of the Research and Education Department of Veteran Affairs in Los Angeles, California, finds in Sexual Abuse of Boys (Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing,vol. 18, no. 1, JanuaryMarch 2005) that boys who have been sexually abused display a range of psychological consequences to the traumatic experience. She finds that common responses include anxiety, denial, dissociation, and self-mutilation. Boys who have been sexually abused are at risk for running away. According to Susan Rick of Louisiana State University Health Science Center, in Sexually Abused Boys: A Vulnerable Population (Journal of Multicultural Nursing and Health, winter 2003), sexually abused boys have prominent symptoms such as fear, depression, guilt, self destructive behavior and hypersexuality.

A Longitudinal Study of the Effects of Child Sexual Abuse

In The Effects of Child Sexual Abuse in Later Family Life: Mental Health, Parenting, and Adjustment of Offspring (Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal, vol. 28, no. 5, May 2004), Ron Roberts et al. seek to determine the effects of child sexual abuse on adult mental health, parenting relationships, and the adjustment of the children of mothers who had been victims of child sexual abuse. They investigated 8,292 families, a subsample of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which is a continuing study of women and their families in Avon, England. The participating women had self-reported experiences of sexual assault before adolescence. Four family groups were included:

  • Single-mother families (9% of the study sample) consist of a nonmarried woman with no partner and her children
  • Biological families (79.5%) consist of two parents and their biological children with no other children from previous relationships
  • Stepmother/complex stepfamilies (4.6%) consist of a father with at least one biological child (living in the household or visiting regularly) who is not the biological offspring of the mother
  • Stepfather families (6.9%) consist of a mother and at least one biological child (living in the household or visiting regularly) who is not the biological offspring of the father

The study reveals that more than a quarter (26%) of survivors of child sexual abuse had teen pregnancies. These women were disproportionately likely to be currently living in a nontraditional familysingle-mother families (3%) and stepfather families (2.9%) than to be living in biological families (1.3%). Roberts et al. did not have a similar finding when it came to stepmother/complex stepfamilies. In this group just 0.8% reported child sexual abuse. They surmise that a woman who has experienced child sexual abuse tends to choose a partner without children because she might feel inadequate to take care of more children.

Child sexual abuse also has consequences on the adult survivors mental health. Mothers who reported child sexual abuse were likely to report more depression and anxiety and lower self-esteem. These mental problems in turn affect the mothers relationship with their children and the children's adjustment. Mothers with a history of child sexual abuse reported less self-confidence and less positive relationships with their children. The children were hyperactive and had emotional, peer, and conduct problems.

The Repressed Memory Controversy

In the early 1900s the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (18561939) first proposed the theory of repression, which hypothesizes that the mind can reject unpleasant ideas, desires, and memories by banishing them into the unconscious. Some clinicians believe memory repression explains why a victim of a traumatic experience, such as CSA, may forget the horrible incident. Some also believe forgotten traumatic experiences can be eventually recovered.

In 1988 Ellen Bass and Laura Davis published The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. This book became controversial because it suggested that some women may not remember incidences of childhood abuse. Bass and Davis explain that in situations of overwhelming pain and betrayal, a child might dissociate, or separate, the memory of the experiences from conscious knowledge.

Some memory researchers do not agree, explaining that children who have suffered serious psychological trauma do not repress the memory; rather, they can never forget it. They cite the examples of survivors of concentration camps or children who have witnessed the murder of a parent who never forget. Their explanation for recovered memories is that they are inaccurate. They point to studies that have demonstrated that memory is unreliable, and that it can be manipulated to remember events that never happened.

In the middle of this controversy are clinicians and memory researchers who believe that the workings of the mind have yet to be fully understood. They agree that, while it is possible for a trauma victim to forget and then remember a horrible experience, it is also possible for a person to have false memories.

Dissociative Amnesia for Childhood Abuse Memories

The earliest psychiatrists recognized that memory of child sexual abuse could be split off from consciousness. In the late 1900s Pierre Marie Felix Janet (18591947) connected the new diagnosis of hysteria with traumatic experiences that were separated from consciousness. Freud also studied lost traumatic memories in relation to female patients diagnosed with hysteria. In 1896 Freud theorized in The Aetiology of Hysteria that sexual abuse was the cause of hysteria. Under pressure from his psychiatric colleagues, he later recanted his theory, instead arguing that women were fantasizing rather than remembering sexual abuse. However, all of these early psychiatrists recognized that memory of traumatic experience in childhood could be lost to conscious awareness.

According to James A. Chu et al. of the Harvard Medical School, in Memories of Childhood Abuse: Dissociation, Amnesia, and Corroboration (American Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 156, no. 5, May 1999), even though research shows that memories can be inaccurate and influenced by outside factors such as overt suggestions, most studies show that memory tends to be accurate when it comes to remembering the core elements of important events. Chu et al. conducted a study of ninety female patients aged eighteen to sixty undergoing treatment in a psychiatric hospital.

A large proportion of patients reported childhood abuse: 83% experienced physical abuse, 82% were victims of sexual abuse, and 71% witnessed domestic violence. Those who had a history of any kind of abuse reported experiencing partial or complete dissociative amnesia (a type of dissociative disorder). The occurrence of physical and sexual abuse at an early age accounted for a higher level of amnesia.

Chu et al. note that contrary to the popular belief that recovered memory of childhood abuse typically occurs under psychotherapy or hypnosis, most of the patients who suffered complete amnesia for their physical and sexual abuse indicated first recalling the abuse when they were at home and alone. Most patients did not recover memory of childhood abuse as a result of suggestions during therapy. Just one or two participants (for each of the three types of abuse) reported first memory of abuse while in a therapy session. Nearly half (48% for physical abuse and 45% for sexual abuse) were not undergoing psychological counseling or treatment when they first remembered the abuse.

Critics of recovered memory note the lack of corroboration (confirmation that the abuse really occurred) in many instances of recovered memories. In this study, Chu et al. find that, among patients who tried to corroborate their abuse, more than half found physical evidence such as medical records. Nearly nine out of ten of those who suffered sexual abuse found verbal validation of such abuse.

Some studies look at participants with documented history of child sexual abuse to see whether any individuals have lost conscious awareness of the abuse for any period of time. In one such study, Robin S. Edelstein et al. find in Individual Differences in Emotional Memory: Adult Attachment and Long-Term Memory for Child Sexual Abuse (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 31, no. 11, 2005) that whether and how well an individual remembered sexual abuse was mediated by the extent to which he or she was attached to others. In fact, the more severe the abuse, the less accurately individuals who were insecurely attached to others could recall its details. Therefore, children who had received emotional support from their mother in the aftermath of child sexual abuse were better able to remember the experience in their adult life. By contrast, children who were insecurely attached to their parents because their parents were the abusers would be more likely to lose conscious awareness of the abuse.

In True and False Child Sexual Abuse Memories and Casey's Phenomenological View of Remembering (American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 48, no. 10, 2005), Joanne M. Hall and Lori L. Kondora review the literature on dissociative memory and find ample evidence that it is common for sexually abused children to lose conscious awareness of the abuse. The researchers point out, as have other researchers, that studies of soldiers returning from combat and World War II (19391945) concentration camp survivors show that people can and do fragment traumatic memory, splitting it off from daily life. They connect the debate about the authenticity of delayed sexual abuse memories with a cultural denial that sexual abuse of children occurs, because its existence fractures cultural values about family. Hall and Kondora argue that false memories of child sexual abuse are rare, but not impossible.

Betrayal Trauma Theory

Jennifer J. Freyd proposes in Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse (1996) the betrayal trauma theory to explain how children who had experienced abuse may process that betrayal of trust by mentally blocking information about it. Freyd explains that people typically respond to betrayal by distancing themselves from the betrayer. However, children who have suffered abuse at the hands of a parent or a caregiver might not be able to distance themselves from the betrayer. Children need the caregiver for their survival so they cannot afford not to trust the betrayer. Consequently, the children develop a blindness to the betrayal.

Jennifer J. Freyd, Anne P. Deprince, and Eileen L. Zurbriggen report in Self-Reported Memory for Abuse Depends upon Victim-Perpetrator Relationship (Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, vol. 2, no. 3, 2001) on their preliminary findings relating to the betrayal trauma theory. They find that people who had been abused by a trusted caregiver reported greater amnesia, compared to those whose abusers were not their caregivers. Greater amnesia was also more likely to be associated with the fact that the perpetrator was a caregiver than with the repeated trauma of abuse.

A Longitudinal Study of Memory and CSA

In Resolving Childhood Trauma: A Long-Term Study of Abuse Survivors (2000), Catherine Cameron discusses a long-term study of child sexual abuse survivors she conducted between 1986 and 1998. Cameron interviewed seventy-two women, aged twenty-five to sixty-four, during a twelve-year period. The women consisted of a group of sexual abuse survivors who sought therapy for the first time in the 1980s. On average, it had been thirty years since their first abuse occurred (thirty-six years for those who suffered amnesia). The women were in private therapy, were better educated, and were more financially well off than most survivors. Twelve imprisoned women were included in the survey. They came from a low socioeconomic background, were serving long sentences, and had participated only in brief group therapy sessions that lasted less than a year.

Cameron sought to study amnesia as both an effect and a causewhat was it about the abuse that resulted in amnesia and how did the amnesia affect the victim later in life? Twenty-five women were amnesic and had no awareness of the abuse until recently, twenty-one were nonamnesic and unable to forget their abuse, and fourteen were partially amnesic about their abuse. The imprisoned women were not assigned a specific category because they were part of a therapy group.

About eight out of ten of the amnesic and partially amnesic women believed they did not remember the sexual abuse because the memories were too painful to live with (82%) and they felt a sense of guilt or shame (79%). More than half of each group believed the amnesia served as a defense mechanism resulting from their desire to protect the family (58%) and love for, or dependence on, the perpetrator (53%). About three-quarters (74%) thought the amnesia occurred because they felt no one would believe them or help them. More than one-third (37%) thought the amnesia had come about because they needed to believe in a safe world.

During the years between the abuse and the recall of the abuse, the amnesics reported experiencing the same problems as the nonamnesics, including problems with relationships, revictimization, self-abuse, and dependency on alcohol. Because the amnesics, however, had no conscious knowledge of their childhood abuse, they could not find an explanation for their problems. Cameron theorizes that the conflict between the amnesia and memories that needed release left the amnesic victims depressed and confused.

Cameron addresses the allegations that some therapists implant false memories of sexual abuse in their clients. She notes that 72% of the amnesic women in her study had begun to recall their abuse before seeking therapy. Once the survivors in her study confronted their traumatic past, they took charge of how they wanted their therapy handled. Cameron also observes that, because it is evident that recovered memories of childhood abuse are common, they should not be labeled as false memories nor accepted as flawless truth, but should instead be explored by proponents of the opposing views.

Research Supporting the Repression of Memory

As of August 2008, the best study on amnesia for childhood abuse was conducted by Linda Meyer Williams. The strength of this study lies in the fact that she interviewed adults whose sexual abuse in childhood had been documented at the time that it happened. In Recall of Childhood Trauma: A Prospective Study of Women's Memories of Child Sexual Abuse (Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, vol. 62, no. 6, 1994), Williams reports on detailed interviews she conducted with 129 women who, seventeen years previously, had been taken to the emergency room after being sexually abused. Williams finds that more than one out of three women did not report the sexual abuse during the interview. She concludes that most or all of these women did not remember the documented abuse. She also finds that the younger the child was at the time of the abuse, and the closer the relationship the child had with the perpetrator, the greater the likelihood that the abuse would not be remembered.

False Memories

In The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (1994), Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham claim that repression is not normal memory and that it is empirically unproven. The researchers do not believe that the mind can block out experiences of recurrent traumas, with the person unaware of them, and then recover them years later. Their explanation for recovered memories is that they are false memories. Loftus and Ketcham and other critics of recovered memories believe therapy to recover repressed memories can lead people to believe they remember things that never actually happened.

Loftus and Ketcham show that false memories can be implanted fairly easily in the laboratory. Loftus recounts assigning a term project to students in her cognitive psychology class. The project involved implanting a false memory in someone's mind. One of the students chose his fourteen-year-old brother as his test subject. The student wrote about four events his brother had suppos-edly experienced. Three of the experiences really happened, but the fourth one was a fake event of his brother getting lost at the mall at age five. For the next five days the younger brother was asked to read about his experiences (written by his older brother) and then write down details that he could remember about them. The younger brother remembered his shopping mall experience quite well, describing details elaborately.

In Make-Believe Memories (American Psychologist, vol. 58, no. 11, November 2003), Loftus notes that memories can be influenced by people's imagination. She states that imagination can not only make people believe they have done simple things that they have not done but can also lead people to believe that they have experienced more complex events. She describes a study in which participants were told to imagine performing a common task with certain objects, such as flipping a coin. The second meeting consisted of imagining doing a task without using any object. In a subsequent meeting, participants were tested on their memory of the first day's task performance. Some participants remembered not only tasks they had not done but also unusual ones they had not performed.

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation was founded in 1992. It is a network of people who have been accused of CSA by their adult children. They claim the accusations of abuse, and their children's recovered memories, are false. The group coined the term false memory syndrome (not a recognized psychological disorder) and has worked to publicize the concept of false memories of childhood abuse.

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Domestic Violence, Law Enforcement, and Court Responses to Domestic Violence

Chapter 9
Domestic Violence, Law Enforcement, and Court Responses to Domestic Violence

Police Response to Domestic Violence
Reporting Domestic Violence to the Police
Outcome of Police Intervention
Not All Victims who Seek Police Attention are the Same
Protection Orders
Landmark Legal Decisions
Key Domestic Violence Legislation
Difficulties in the Court System
Treatment for Male Batterers

Police Response to Domestic Violence

Family disturbance calls constitute most of the calls received by police departments throughout the country. Historically, such calls were not been taken seriously, which reflects society's attitude about domestic violence at the time. For instance, in the mid-1960s Detroit police dispatchers were instructed to screen out family disturbance calls unless they suspected excessive violence. A 1975 police guide, The Function of the Police in Crisis Intervention and Conflict Management, taught officers to avoid arrest at all costs and to discourage the victim from pressing charges by emphasizing the consequences of testifying in court, the potential lost income, and other detrimental aspects of prosecution.

Changes in society's tolerance for domestic violence mean that these approaches to domestic violence no longer enjoy official support (although they may still influence the actions of individual officers). By 2008 every state had moved to authorize probable cause arrests (arrest before the completion of the investigation of the alleged violation or crime) without a warrant in domestic violence cases. (A warrant is a written legal document authorizing a police officer to make a search, seizure, or arrest.) Many police departments have adopted pro-arrest or mandatory arrest policies. Pro-arrest strategies include a range of sanctions from issuing a warning, to mandated treatment, to prison time.

The police are often an abuse victim's initial contact with the judicial system, making the police response particularly important. The manner in which the police handle a domestic violence complaint will likely color the way the victim views the entire judicial system. Not surprisingly, when police project the blame for intimate partner violence on victims, the victims may be reluctant to report further abuse.

In Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables (December 2006,, which analyzes data from the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reports that in 2005, 47.4% of all violent crimes were reported to the police. Out of violent crimes reported to the police, the police came to the aid of victims in 78.2% of cases, the victim went to the police 3.2% of the time, and the police did not come 11% of the time. (See Table 9.1.) Police came to the aid of more victims of robbery (84.8%) and aggravated assault (79%), while coming less often to the aid of victims of purse snatching or pocket picking (64.2%).

The BJS notes that in 2005, 54.6% of female victims of violence had reported the crime to the police. (See Table 9.2.) However, only 38.5% of female victims of rape or sexual assault reported the crime.

Reporting Domestic Violence to the Police

It is well established that a significant amount of intimate partner violence is unreported or underreported. In the past most women did not report incidents of abuse to the police. In the 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey, Murray A. Straus and Richard J. Gelles find that only 6.7% of all husband-to-wife assaults were reported to police. When the assaults are categorized by severity as measured on a Conflict Tactics Scale, only 3.2% of minor violence cases and 14.4% of severe violence cases were reported.

The women who chose not to report their abuse cited a variety of reasons, including fear of retaliation, loss of income, or loss of their children to child protection authorities. When abuse is reported to law enforcement agencies, it is often by health care professionals from whom the woman has sought treatment for her injuries. In many states health professionals are mandated by law to report all instances of domestic violence to law enforcement authorities.

TABLE 9.1 Police response to a reported incident, by type of crime, 2005
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
aIncludes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault
SOURCE: Table 106. Personal and Property Crimes, 2005: Percent Distribution of Police Response to a Reported Incident, by Type of Crime, in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2006, (accessed June 26, 2008)
  Percent of incidents
>Type of crime >Number of incidents >Total >Police came to victim >Victim went to police >contact with policedon't know how >Police did not come >Not known if police came >Police were at the secne
Crimes of violence 2,100,200 100.0% 78.2% 3.2% 0.0%* 11.0% 2.9% 4.7%
Rape/sexual assaulta 70,700 100.0% 74.7 13.3* 0.0* 8.0* 0.0* 3.9*
Robbery 287,260 100.0% 84.8 1.1* 0.0* 8.0* 5.1* 1.1*
Aggravated assault 522,910 100.0% 79.0 3.5* 0.0* 12.0 3.8* 1.7*
Simple assault 1,219,320 100.0% 76.5 2.9* 0.0* 11.4 2.2* 6.9
Purse snatching/pocket picking 79,970 100 64.2 9.2* 0.0* 26.6* 0.0* 0.0*
Property crimes 6,998,740 100.0% 66.5% 4.6% 0.1%* 24.7% 2.6% 1.5%
Household burglary 1,906,390 100.0% 81.4 2.3 0.3* 13.4 1.6* 1.0*
Motor vehicle theft 786,800 100.0% 70.2 2.6* 0.0* 21.1 4.0* 2.0*
Theft 4,305,550 100.0% 59.2 5.9 0.0* 30.3 2.8 1.7
TABLE 9.2 Violent victimizations reported to police by type of crime, victim-offender relationship, and gender of victims, 2005
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
aIncludes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault
SOURCE: "Table 93. Violent Crimes, 2005: Percent of Victimizations Reported to the Police, by Type of Crime, Victim-Offender Relationship and Gender of Victims," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2006, (accessed June 26, 2008)
>  Percent of all victimizations reported to the police
>  All victimizations Involving strangers Involving nonstrangers
Type of crime Both genders Male Female Both genders Male Female Both genders Male Female
Crimes of violence 47.4% 42.4% 54.6% 45.9% 39.7% 59.3% 49.2% 46.8% 51.4%
Completed violence 61.5 59.0 64.9 61.7 56.3 74.8 61.2 63.8 59.1
Attempted/threatened violence 40.8 34.5 49.7 38.6 31.7 52.9 43.4 39.2 47.4
Rape/sexual assaulta 38.3 35.8* 38.5 56.1 35.8* 61.9* 28.3* 0.0* 28.3*
Robbery 52.4 45.9 69.6 47.7 42.9 66.1 70.7 65.8 74.8
Completed/property taken 60.5 55.5 70.6 57.5 53.8 68.2 70.3 65.0* 74.1
With injury 73.8 67.7 84.9 70.4 64.2 82.4* 100.0* 100.0* 100.0*
Without injury 53.6 49.3 62.4 49.0 48.2 52.3* 64.3 54.9* 70.2*
Attempted to take property 36.4 30.9 65.2* 30.4 26.6 58.0* 71.8* 67.6* 78.3*
With injury 39.6* 36.9* 100.0* 35.2* 35.2* 0.0* 65.9* 51.7* 100.0*
Without injury 35.0 27.7* 62.2* 28.2* 21.9* 58.0* 74.3* 76.0* 72.0*
Assault 47.1 41.8 54.7 45.1 38.9 58.2 49.1 45.8 52.5
Aggravated 62.4 59.4 67.5 58.3 55.4 65.1 67.6 66.1 69.5
With injury 76.2 75.0 78.4 80.2 77.0 90.6* 72.1 71.7 72.4
Threatened with weapon 56.0 52.2 62.5 49.7 45.6 58.0 65.2 63.3 67.6
Simple 42.3 35.6 51.2 40.2 32.5 55.8 44.2 39.6 48.5
With minor injury 59.0 54.4 66.0 54.8 48.4 69.3 62.4 60.8 64.2
Attempted threat without weapon 37.0 29.2 47.0 35.9 27.6 52.2 38.0 31.5 43.8

Table 9.2 shows that in 2005 women who were victims of violent crime at the hands of strangers were more likely to report the crime than were women who were victimized by nonstrangers (59.3% and 51.4%, respectively). People who reported crimes of violence to the police reported various reasons for doing so, including to prevent further crimes by offender against the victim (19.6%) or anyone else (10.4%), to stop or prevent that incident (20.1%), to punish the offender (8.1%), to catch or find the offender (7.4%), or simply because it was a crime (15.1%). (See Table 9.3.)

People who did not report violent crime to the police often said it was a personal matter (20.3%), the police

TABLE 9.3 Reasons for reporting victimizations to the police, by type of crime, 2005
>Type of crime >Numbers of reasons for reporting >Total >Stop or prevent this incident >Needed help due to injury >To recover property >To collect insurance To prevent further crimes by offender against victims
All personal crimes 2,399,330 100.0% 19.7% 2.3% 3.5% 0.0%* 19.4%
Crimes of violence 2,292,200 100.0% 20.1 2.4 2.6 0.0* 19.6
Completed violence 797,780 100.0% 15.4 4.9 6.0 0.0* 20.1
Attempted/threatened violence 1,494,410 100.0% 22.7 1.0* 0.7* 0.0* 19.4
Rape/sexual assaulta 88,740 100.0% 16.6* 3.4* 3.4* 0.0* 17.2*
Robbery 381,620 100.0% 7.9* 0.8* 12.6 0.0* 11.8
Completed/property taken 260,590 100.0% 7.8* 1.1* 17.3 0.0* 11.0*
With injury 67,940 100.0% 12.5* 0.0* 4.1* 0.0* 4.8*
Without injury 192,650 100.0% 6.1* 1.5* 21.9 0.0* 13.2*
Attempted to take property 121,040 100.0% 8.3* 0.0* 2.6* 0.0* 13.5*
With injury 44,810 100.0% 8.7* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 8.7*
Without injury 76,220 100.0% 8.0* 0.0* 4.1* 0.0* 16.2*
Assault 1,821,840 100.0% 22.9 2.7 0.4* 0.0* 21.4
Aggravated 596,840 100.0% 17.4 2.6* 0.8* 0.0* 19.5
Simple 1,225,000 100.0% 25.6 2.7* 0.2* 0.0* 22.3
Purse snatching/pocket picking 107,130 100.0% 9.7* 0.0* 23.5* 0.0* 13.8*
All property crimes 9,314,820 100.0% 9.0% 0.3%* 21.8% 4.4% 10.6%
Household burglary 2,897,810 100.0% 12.4 0.2* 17.9 3.5 14.3
Completed 2,621,910 100.0% 11.6 0.2* 19.8 3.7 14.4
Forcible entry 1,309,190 100.0% 11.8 0.2* 18.5 4.1 15.3
Unlawful entry without force 1,312,720 100.0% 11.3 0.2* 21.1 3.4 13.5
Attempted forcible entry 275,900 100.0% 20.1 0.0* 0.0* 0.8* 13.7
Motor vehicle theft 1,080,350 100.0% 5.7 0.5* 34.1 8.4 7.1
Completed 945,560 100.0% 4.3 0.6* 38.4 8.9 5.9
Attempted 134,790 100.0% 15.8* 0.0* 4.0* 4.8* 15.7*
Theft 5,336,660 100.0% 7.8 0.3* 21.4 4.2 9.4
Completed 5,090,700 100.0% 7.5 0.4* 22.4 4.2 8.9
Attempted 245,970 100.0% 14.4* 0.0* 2.1* 2.5* 18.9
  Percent of reasons for reporting
>Type of crime >To prevent crime by offender >To punish offender >To catch or find offender >To improve police surveillance >Duty to notify police >Because it was a crime >Some other Reasons >Not Available
All personal crimes 10.5% 7.7% 7.1% 3.0% 6.2% 15.3% 3.7% 1.7%
Crimes of violence 10.4 8.1 7.4 3.1 6.2 15.1 3.3 1.6*
Completed violence 8.1 10.9 9.4 1.9* 3.6* 16.1 2.1* 1.6*
Attempted/threatened violence 11.6 6.6 6.4 3.8 7.5 14.6 4.0 1.6*
Rape/sexual assaulta 17.6* 9.0* 5.6* 0.0* 5.8* 18.1* 3.3* 0.0*
Robbery 10.3 6.0* 14.1 2.7* 6.0* 23.4 2.4* 2.1*
Completed/property taken 5.2* 6.4* 12.0* 2.8* 4.3* 27.8 1.2* 3.0*
With injury 0.0* 0.0* 22.2* 5.0* 0.0* 39.8* 0.0* 11.6*
Without injury 7.0* 8.7* 8.4* 2.1* 5.8* 23.6 1.7* 0.0*
Attempted to take property 21.2* 5.0* 18.6* 2.6* 9.5* 13.8* 5.0* 0.0*
With injury 16.9* 0.0* 16.9* 0.0* 18.7* 16.6* 13.4* 0.0*
Without injury 23.7* 8.0* 19.6* 4.1* 4.1* 12.2* 0.0* 0.0*
Assault 10.1 8.5 6.1 3.4 6.2 13.3 3.5 1.6*
Aggravated 11.4 9.8 10.2 5.6* 6.8 13.8 1.3* 0.7*
Simple 9.4 7.8 4.1 2.3* 5.9 13.0 4.6 2.0*
Purse snatching/pocket picking 13.1* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 6.7* 19.0* 10.5* 3.7*

would not want to be bothered (5.5%) or would be ineffective or biased (4%), and fear of reprisal (3.8%). (See Table 9.4.) Reasons varied according to whether the crime was perpetrated by a stranger or a nonstranger. For example, 31.1% of rape and sexual assault victims who were violated by a nonstranger and who did not report the crime to police said they did not report the victimization because it was a private or personal matter; no one raped by a stranger gave this reason. (See Table 9.5.) Similarly, 27% of people assaulted by a nonstranger and who did not report the crime said it was because it was a private or personal matter, whereas only 15.3% of nonreporters who were assaulted by a stranger gave this reason.

Shannan Catalano of the BJS reports in Intimate Partner Violence in the United States (December 2007, that in 200405, 62.1% of female victims of intimate partner violence and 64.3% of male victims reported the violence to police. The percentage of both men and women who reported the violence to the police had risen since 199495.

TABLE 9.3 Reasons for reporting victimizations to the police, by type of crime, 2005 [CONTINUED]
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
Some respondents may have cited more than one reason for reporting victimizations to the police.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
aIncludes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault
SOURCE: "Table 101. Personal and Property Crimes, 2005: Percent of Reasons for Reporting Victimizations to the Police, by Type of Crime," in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2006, (accessed June 26, 2008)
>Type of crime >To prevent crime by offender against anyone >To punish offender >To catch or find offender >To improve police surveillance >Duty to notify police >Because it was a crime >some other reasons >Not Available
All personal crimes 10.5% 7.7% 7.1% 3.0% 6.2% 15.3% 3.7% 1.7%
Household burglary 7.2 5.0 9.1 7.9 6.2 12.7 2.3 1.2*
Completed 7.3 5.6 9.2 7.6 6.3 11.4 1.9 1.1*
Forcible entry 7.0 6.2 8.5 8.9 5.7 10.8 1.3* 1.7*
Unlawful entry without force 7.6 5.0 9.8 6.3 6.9 12.0 2.5* 0.4*
Attempted forcible entry 6.6* 0.0* 8.0* 10.8* 5.5* 25.4 6.2* 2.8*
Motor vehicle theft 5.0 4.6 8.5 7.1 6.3 10.6 0.6* 1.4*
Completed 4.1 4.3 9.0 5.6 6.4 10.4 0.7* 1.6*
Attempted 11.1* 7.4* 5.4* 18.1* 5.6* 12.1* 0.0* 0.0*
Theft 6.7 4.2 6.7 6.8 6.8 20.6 3.2 2.0
Completed 6.5 4.1 6.7 6.8 6.8 20.3 3.4 2.0
Attempted 9.4* 5.3* 6.4* 6.1* 6.9* 26.9 0.0* 1.0*

Between 2001 and 2005 African-American females were the most likely to report intimate partner violence to police (70.2%), whereas African-American males were the least likely (46.5%). (See Figure 9.1.). Hispanic males were much more likely than non-Hispanic males to report intimate partner violence (86.2% and 53.2%, respectively), whereas Hispanic females were slightly more likely than non-Hispanic females to report (66.3% and 58.6%, respectively). (See Figure 9.2.)

Male and female victims of intimate partner violence who did not report the violence to police differed in the reasons they did not report. Nearly four out of ten (39.2%) male victims said they did not report because it was a private matter, compared to 21.8% of female victims. (See Table 9.6.) By contrast, female victims were much more likely to state they feared reprisal (12.4% and 5.3%, respectively). Other reasons reported included to protect the offender, because victims viewed it as a minor crime, or because victims believed the police were ineffective or would not do anything.

In The Reporting of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault by Nonstrangers to the Police (March 2005,, Richard Felson and Paul-Philippe Pare´ use data from the NCVS to examine the effects of the gender of the victim and the relationship between victim and offender on the victim's decision to report or not report a physical or sexual assault to the police. They find that victims are just as likely to report assaults by intimate partners as they are to report assaults by other people they know. Sexual assaults are less likely to be reported than are physical assaults.

Marsha E. Wolf et al., in Barriers to Seeking Police Help for Intimate Partner Violence (Journal of Family Violence, vol. 18, no. 2, April 2003), interviewed forty-one battered women to find out what kept them from calling police. The factors cited included the idea that they must have physical proof that battering had occurred, the desire to avoid a humiliating physical examination in the case of rape or sexual abuse, cultural attitudes about domestic violence, poor self-esteem, being physically prevented from calling the police by the batterer, poor police response when battering was previously reported, and fears of possible retaliation by the batterer or removal of children from the home by child protective services. These women also came up with a wish list for how they wanted police to treat them when they called about domestic violence. This list, in the words of Wolf et al., reflects the women's desires to have responsive police who treat victims with dignity, listen to them, and send appropriate messages to victims and batterers.

Outcome of Police Intervention

In the early 1970s it was legal for the police to make probable cause arrests without a warrant for felonies, but only fourteen states permitted it for misdemeanors. Because the crime of simple assault and battery is a misdemeanor in most states, family violence victims were forced to initiate their own criminal charges against a batterer. By 2008, however, all states authorized warrantless probable cause misdemeanor arrests in domestic violence cases. However, more than half of the states have added qualifiers, such as visible signs of injury or

TABLE 9.4 Reasons for not reporting victimizations to the police, by type of crime, 2005
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
Some respondents may have cited more than one reason for not reporting victimizations to the police.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
aIncludes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault.
SOURCE: Table 102. Personal and Property Crimes, 2005: Percent of Reasons for Not Reporting Victimizations to the Police, by Type of Crime, in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2006.
  Percent of reasons for not reporting Percent of reasons for not reporting
>Type of crime >Number of reasons for not reporting >Total >Reported to another official >Private or personal matter >Object recovered; offender unsuccessful >Not important enough >Insurance would not cover >Not aware crime occurred until later >Unable to recover property; no ID no. >Lack of proof >Police would not want to be bothered >Police inefficient, ineffective, or biased >Fear of reprisal >Too inconvenient or time consuming >Other reasons
All personal crimes 3,447,480 100.0 % 13.0 % 19.8 % 20.1 % 6.4 % 0.1 %* 0.8%* 0.8 %* 5.2 % 5.8 % 3.9 % 3.7 % 4.0 % 16.3%
Crimes of violence 3,271,670 100.0 13.2 20.3 20.1 6.4 0.1* 0.5* 0.6* 4.7 5.5 4.0 3.8 4.2 16.7
Completed violence 828,580 100.0 11.4 15.7 11.9 3.8* 0.0* 0.8* 1.7* 6.9 8.2 6.9 5.0 3.3* 24.2
Attempted/threatened 2,443,100 100.0 13.8 21.9 22.8 7.3 0.1* 0.3* 0.2* 3.9 4.6 3.0 3.4 4.6 14.1
Rape/sexual assaulta 142,410 100.0 18.2* 22.0* 3.7* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 13.5* 4.0* 3.2* 1.7* 33.7
Robbery 392,510 100.0 2.3* 13.3 21.1 0.0* 0.0* 1.7* 4.6* 17.5 9.9 7.7* 1.2* 6.4* 14.2
Completed/property taken 229,230 100.0 1.4* 9.8* 18.5 0.0* 0.0* 3.0* 6.3* 15.3* 14.1* 9.6* 2.0* 6.9* 13.1*
With injury 60,390 100.0 0.0* 0.0* 11.3* 0.0* 0.0* 11.3* 6.3* 26.9* 8.1* 6.8* 0.0 * 8.1* 21.2*
Without injury 168,840 100.0 1.9* 13.4* 21.1* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 6.2* 11.2* 16.2* 10.6* 2.7* 6.4* 10.2*
Attempted to take property 163,280 100.0 3.6* 18.2* 24.8 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 2.3* 20.6* 4.1* 5.0* 0.0* 5.7* 15.6*
With injury 38,960 100.0 7.7* 27.5* 9.7* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 9.7* 29.0* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 8.5* 8.0*
Without injury 124,320 100.0 2.3* 15.3* 29.5 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 18.0* 5.3* 6.6* 0.0* 4.9* 18.0*
Assault 2,736,760 100.0 14.5 21.3 20.8 7.6 0.1* 0.3* 0.0* 3.1 4.4 3.5 4.2 4.1 16.2
Aggravated 497,490 100.0 7.5 23.9 24.9 7.3* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 7.0* 1.9* 4.4* 4.2* 6.5* 12.5
Simple 2,239,270 100.0 16.1 20.7 19.9 7.7 0.1* 0.4* 0.0* 2.2 5.0 3.3 4.2 3.5 17.0
Purse snatching/pocket picking 175,810 100.0 9.6* 10.6* 21.5 6.1* 0.0* 7.8* 5.1* 16.2* 11.1* 1.8* 1.7* 0.0* 8.4*
All property crimes 14,073,950 100.0 % 8.6 % 5.1 % 26.7 % 3.9 % 3.0 % 5.6% 7.4 % 13.0 % 8.7 % 2.9 % 0.6 % 3.9 % 10.4%
Household burglary 2,023,280 100.0 4.2 4.2 20.2 5.5 4.6 7.6 7.9 16.4 7.8 4.5 0.9* 3.9 12.2
Completed 1,710,040 100.0 3.9 5.0 18.2 3.9 4.9 7.8 9.4 16.7 7.9 4.2 1.0* 4.4 12.7
Forcible entry 381,430 100.0 2.7* 4.1* 9.5* 2.3* 6.6* 5.3* 9.5* 15.9 9.5* 6.6 * 2.2* 7.0* 18.8
Unlawful entry 1,328,610 100.0 4.3 5.3 20.7 4.3 4.4 8.5 9.4 17.0 7.5 3.5 0.7* 3.7 10.9
without force               6.4* 0.0* 14.8 7.4* 6.7* 0.0* 0.9* 9.2*
Attempted forcible entry 313,240 100.0 5.8* 0.0* 31.5 14.5 2.9*                
Motor vehicle theft 211,600 100.0 1.3* 9.5* 31.2 0.0* 5.5* 4.8* 2.3* 9.0* 7.9* 6.2* 4.4* 4.1* 13.8*
Completed 81,870 100.0 0.0* 20.0* 6.3* 0.0* 6.8* 0.0* 6.0* 7.1* 3.7* 9.5* 11.3* 8.0* 21.4*
Attempted 129,730 100.0 2.2* 2.9* 46.9 0.0* 4.6* 7.8* 0.0 * 10.2* 10.5* 4.2* 0.0* 1.7* 9.0*
Theft 11,839,070 100.0 9.5 5.2 27.8 3.7 2.7 5.3 7.5 12.5 8.9 2.6 0.5 3.9 10.0
Completed 11,455,860 100.0 9.7 5.2 27.3 3.7 2.7 5.3 7.7 12.7 8.9 2.5 0.5 3.9 9.9
Attempted 383,210 100.0 4.9* 3.4* 42.6 5.7* 2.8* 5.3* 0.0* 7.4* 9.3* 3.2* 0.7* 2.8* 12.0
TABLE 9.5 Reasons for not reporting violent victimizations to the police, by victim-offender relationship and type of crime, 2005
Note: Detail may not add to total shown because of rounding.
Some respondents may have cited more than one reason for not reporting victimizations to the police.
*Estimate is based on about 10 or fewer sample cases.
aIncludes verbal threats of rape and threats of sexual assault.
SOURCE: Table 104. Personal Crimes of Violence, 2005: Percent of Reasons for Not Reporting Victimizations to the Police, by Victim-Offender Relationship and Type of Crime, in Criminal Victimization in the United States, 2005 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2006, (accessed June 26, 2008)
  Percent of reasons for not reporting Percent of reasons for not reporting
Relationship and type of crime Number of reasons for not reporting Total Reported to another official Private or personal matter Object recovered; offender unsuccessful Not important enough Insurance would not cover Not aware crime occurred until later Unable to recover property; no ID no. Lack of proof Police would not want to be bothered Police inefficient, ineffective, or biased Fear of reprisal Too inconvenient or time consuming Other reasons
Involving strangers
Crimes of violence 1,689,490 100.0% 10.4% 13.7% 24.6% 6.5% 0.2%* 0.5%* 1.1%* 7.6% 6.5% 5.4% 4.6% 5.6% 13.3%
Rape/sexual assaulta 41,910 100.0% 49.6* 0.0* 12.7* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 19.9* 6.9* 11.0* 0.0* 0.0*
Robbery 302,810 100.0% 3.0* 8.5* 18.1 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 6.0* 19.0 11.7* 10.0* 1.5* 8.3* 13.9
Assault 1,344,770 100.0% 10.8 15.3 26.4 8.2 0.2* 0.6* 0.0* 5.3 5.0 4.3 5.0 5.2 13.6
Involving nonstrangers
Crimes of violence 1,582,190 100.0% 16.2 27.4 15.3 6.3 0.0* 0.4* 0.0* 1.5* 4.4 2.6 3 2.8 20.3
Rape/sexual assaulta 100,500 100.0% 5.1* 31.1* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 10.8* 2.8* 0.0* 2.4* 47.7
Robbery 89,700 100.0% 0.0* 29.7* 31.4* 0.0* 0.0* 7.6* 0.0* 12.5* 3.9* 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 14.9*
Assault 1,391,980 100.0% 18.1 27.0 15.3 7.1 0.0* 0.0* 0.0* 0.9* 3.9 2.7 3.4 3.0 18.7

a report of the violence within eight hours of the incident. Most state codes authorizing warrantless arrests require

TABLE 9.6 Intimate partner violence victims who failed to report their victimization to the police, by reasons for not reporting and by gender, 200105
SOURCE: Information is not provided because the small number of cases is insufficient for reliable estimates. *Based on 10 or fewer sample cases. Note: Detail may not add to 100% because victims may report more than one reason and because of values not shown in instances when the small number of cases in category is insufficient for reliable estimates.
Shannan Catalano, Reasons for Not Reporting, in Intimate Partner Violence in the United States, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 2007, (accessed May 20, 2008)
>  Percent of victims who did not report the victimization
>Reason victimizations not reported >Female victims >Male victims
Private or personal matter 22.8% 39.2%
Afraid of reprisal 12.4 5.3*
Protect offender 14.4 15.6
Minor crime 8.4 8.5*
Police will not do anything 7.9
Police ineffectiveness 2.7 2*
Inconvenient 3.4 1.4*
Reported to another official 3.1 *
Police biased 1.3* 1.2*
Not clear a crime occurred 1.9* 8.6*
Don't know why I did not report it 0.6* 1.2*
Other reason given 22 17.1

police to inform victims of their rights, which include the acquisition of protection orders and referral to emergency and shelter facilities and transportation.

In Determining Police Response to Domestic Violence Victims (American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 36, no. 5, MayJune 1993), a landmark study of four precincts of the Detroit Police Department and their responses to domestic violence in 1993, Eve S. Buzawa and Thomas Austin document several factors that affected police decisions to arrest offenders:

  • The presence of bystanders or children during the abuse
  • The presence of guns and sharp objects as weapons
  • An injury resulting from the assault
  • The offender and victim sharing the same residence whether they were married or not
  • The victim's desire to have the offender arrested (of the victims who expressed such a desire, arrests were made in 44% of the cases; when the victim did not want the offender arrested, arrests were made in only 21% of the cases)

Mandatory Arrests

Arrest gained popularity as a tactic after the publication of the first in a series of six studies funded by the National Institute of Justice known as the Spouse Assault Replication Program. All the studies were designed to explain how arrest in domestic violence cases could serve as a deterrent to future violence. Lawrence W. Sherman and Richard A. Berk, the authors of the influential first study in the series, The Specific Deterrent Effects of Arrest for Domestic Assault (American Sociological Review, vol. 49, 1984), find that the arrest intervention certainly did not make things worse and may well have made things better.

Even though Sherman and Berk caution about generalizing the results of a small study dealing with a single police department in which few police officers properly followed the test procedure, they conclude that in instances of domestic violence, an arrest is advisable except in cases where it would be clearly counterproductive. At the same time, Sherman and Berk recommend allowing police a certain amount of flexibility when making decisions about individual situations, on the premise that police officers must be permitted to rely on professional judgment based on experience.

Sherman and Berk's study had a tremendous impact on police practices, although J. David Hirschel, Ira W. Hutchison III, and Charles W. Dean explain in The Failure of Arrest to Deter Spouse Abuse (Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, vol. 29, no. 1, 1992) that the five other Spouse Assault Replication Program studies found arrest had little or no effect on domestic violence recurrence. Some police departments have adopted a presumptive arrest policy. This policy means that an arrest should be made unless clear and compelling reasons exist not to arrest. Presumptive arrest provisions forbid officers from basing the decision to arrest on the victim's preference or on a perception of the victim's willingness to testify or participate in the proceedings. Proponents point out that arresting an offender gives the victim a respite from fear and an opportunity to look for help. Furthermore, they claim it prevents bias in arrests.

By the 1990s as many as one out of three police precincts had adopted a mandatory arrest policy in domestic abuse cases. In The Influence of Mandatory Arrest Policies, Police Organizational Characteristics, and Situational Variables on the Probability of Arrest in Domestic Violence Cases (Crime and Delinquency, vol. 51, no. 4, 2005), David Eitle of the Florida International University finds that mandatory police arrest policies do result in more arrests when called to the scene of a domestic assault. In addition, he notes that these policies reduce somewhat the overrepresentation of African-Americans among those arrested. However, do these arrests reduce violence against women?

Some studies suggest that mandatory arrest policies have positive effects. For example, Jacquelyn C. Campbell et al. explain in Risk Factors for Femicide in Abusive Relationships: Results from a Multisite Case Control Study (American Journal of Public Health, vol. 93, no. 7, July 2003) that previous arrest for battering actually decreased women's risk of being subsequently killed by the batterer. According to Christopher D. Maxwell, Joel H. Garner, and Jeffrey A. Fagan, in The Effects of Arrest on Intimate Partner Violence: New Evidence from the Spouse Assault Replication Program (July 2001,, arrest of batterers is consistently related to subsequent reduced aggression against their intimate partner.

However, Debra Houry, Sudha Reddy, and Constance Parramore of Emory University suggest in Characteristics of Victims Coarrested for Intimate Partner Violence (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 21, no. 11, 2006) that some battered women's advocates do not support mandatory arrest. They fear that poor and minority families are treated more harshly than middle-class families and that if the police arrive and both spouses are bloodied by the fight, both will be arrested, forcing the children into foster care. In fact, Mary A. Finn and Pamela Bettis of Georgia State University state in Punitive Action or Gentle Persuasion (Violence against Women, vol. 12, no. 3, 2006) that mandatory and preferred arrest policies may be resulting in a backlash for victims who are arrested along with their batterers. Officers justified arrest of both parties, citing that such was required by law and the desire to force both parties to obtain counseling for their relationship.

In The Voices of Domestic Violence Victims: Predictors of Victim Preference for Arrest and the Relationship between Preference for Arrest and Revictimization (Crime and Delinquency, vol. 49, no. 2, April 2003), David Hirschel and Ira W. Hutchinson find support for a police policy of taking victim preferences into account in the decision to arrest. Victims based their preferences for arrest on the seriousness of the violence and the perpetrator's previous abusive behavior; in fact, victims proved to be good judges of the seriousness of the violence and the likelihood of it recurring. The researchers indicate that victims who wanted their abuser arrested were more likely to suffer subsequent abuse than were victims who did not want their batterer arrested. Hirschel and Hutchinson state that based on these data, victim desire for arrest of the offender would appear to be a factor that police should take into account in determining subsequent action.

DO MANDATORY ARREST POLICIES DISEMPOWER THE VICTIM? Paula C. Barata and Frank Schneider examine in Battered Women Add Their Voices to the Debate about the Merits of Mandatory Arrest (Women's Studies Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 34, 2004) the debate about mandatory arrest policies from a different angle: from the victim's viewpoint. They find that a large proportion of battered women actually support a mandatory arrest policy, although they were more likely to see the benefits of mandatory arrest for other victims/survivors than for themselves. Barata and Schneider hypothesize that battered women's support for mandatory arrest policies in their own situations was influenced by factors such as love for their battering partner, their fear of retaliatory abuse, or their worries about money.

Battered women whose partner had been arrested generally described a pattern of initial decreased violence when the batterer was removed from the home, but an increase in violence when the abuser, who was potentially angry about being arrested, returned home. Nearly four out of ten (38.5%) of the women interviewed believed the threat of another arrest would decrease the violence in the long run.

However, despite their disbelief in deterrence, a majority of women still thought that domestic violence was a crime, not a family problem, and several participants liked mandatory arrest policies because they proved to the abuser that assault is wrong and will be punished by the legal system. In fact, most of the battered women interviewed by Barata and Schneider did not view mandatory arrest policies as disempowering. The researchers argue that this is for two reasons: first, victims do not want the responsibility for deciding if their battering partner will be arrested and were relieved when the decision was taken out of their hands, and second, victims of battering do not believe they have much influence over the decision to arrest, even without a mandatory arrest policy in place. Also, the vast majority of women believed mandatory arrest policies made police take their abuse more seriously.

JoAnn Miller of Purdue University also studied victims perceptions of empowerment or disempowerment as a result of arrest. In An Arresting Experiment: Domestic Violence Victim Experiences and Perceptions (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 18, no. 7, July 2003), she examined two concepts of power: personal power (control of economic and social resources) and legal power (perceived empowerment in response to police intervention). Miller finds that women did not use their sense of personal power (derived from an independent income) to end domestic violence. However, she notes that victims perception of legal power (derived from their satisfaction with the police action taken) could be used to feel safer and to control interactions with a violent partner in the future. In Miller's view, mandatory arrest policies tend to undermine victims personal power because they do not take into account victims needs.

Victims Attitudes toward Police Response

In Perceptions of the Police by Female Victims of Domestic Partner Violence (Violence against Women, vol. 9, no. 11, November 2003), Robert Apsler, Michele R. Cummins, and Steven Carl investigate what female victims of domestic violence wanted from the police, the extent to which they perceived they obtained what they wanted, and how helpful they found the actions of the police. They find that women in the study were satisfied with the police response to their call. The women believed the police had been helpful, and more than 80% of them said they would definitely call the police for help in the future. Apsler, Cummins, and Carl emphasize that the particular police department involved in the study had recently instituted policies specifically designed to help battered women.

Not All Victims who Seek Police Attention are the Same

Another study by Apsler, Cummins, and Carl points out the need for a police response tailored to individual victims needs. In Fear and Expectations: Differences among Female Victims of Domestic Violence Who Come to the Attention of Police (Violence and Victims, vol. 17, no. 4, August 2002), Apsler, Cummins, and Carl report that one-quarter of women who had come to a police department requesting intervention in a violent intimate partner dispute said they were afraid of their abuser. Another 6% were fairly afraid, 12% said they were slightly afraid, and 36% claimed they were not at all afraid of their abuser. Taken together, these latter two groups accounted for nearly half of participants reporting little or no fear of their abuser.

The results were similar in terms of participants expectations of future abuse. Apsler, Cummins, and Carl find that just 21% of victims thought future abuse was likely, and well over half of women surveyed said future abuse was not at all likely or only slightly likely. These findings challenge long-standing beliefs that the victims who tend to come to the attention of the police are those who most fear future abuse.

Interestingly, there were no statistically significant relationships found between victims expectations of future violence and whether they lived with their abuser, had children under eighteen years old, or were able to support themselves financially. A less surprising result was that victims expectations of future abuse strongly influenced their desired future relationship with their offender. A strong majority (90%) of the participants who thought future abuse was fairly likely or likely wanted to permanently separate from the offenders. In contrast, only about half of the women who thought further abuse was not at all likely wanted permanent separation.

Apsler, Cummins, and Carl conclude that the differences between victims of domestic violence and their varied expectations when seeking police attention point to a need for law enforcement agencies to offer a variety of police responses tailored to victims needs. For example, they suggest that mandatory arrest of victims aggressors might not help as a universally applicable strategy for all victims, especially women who do not fear further abuse. By contrast, fearful victims might be reassured and experience greater security if police maintained regular, ongoing contact with them following the incident. Apsler, Cummins, and Carl add that police follow-up might also send a powerful message to perpetratorsthat they are under surveillance and that future violations will not be tolerated.

Protection Orders

What Are They?

An abuse victim in any state may go to court to obtain a protection order. Also referred to as restraining orders or injunctions, civil orders of protection are legally binding court orders that prohibit an individual who has committed an act of domestic violence from further abusing the victim. Even though the terms are often used interchangeably, restraining orders usually refer to short-term or temporary sanctions, whereas protection orders have longer duration and may be permanent. These orders generally prohibit harassment, contact, communication, and physical proximity to the victim. Protection orders are common and readily obtained, but they are not always effective.

All states and the District of Columbia have laws that allow an abused adult to petition the court for an order of protection. States also have laws to permit people variously related to the abuser to file for protection orders. Relatives of the victim, children of either partner, couples in dating relationships, same-sex couples, and former spouses are among those who can file for a protection order in a majority of the states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. In Hawaii and Illinois, those who shelter an abused person can also obtain a protective order against the abuser.

Petitioners may file for protection orders in circumstances other than violent physical abuse, including sexual assault, marital rape, harassment, emotional abuse, and stalking. Protection orders are valid for varying lengths of time depending on the state. In thirty states the orders are in force for six months to a year. In Illinois and Wisconsin the orders last two years, and in California and Hawaii they are in effect for three years. Furthermore, some states have extended the time during which a general or incident-specific protective order is effective. For example, a no-contact order issued against a stalker convicted in California remains in effect for ten years. In Iowa five-year protection orders are issued and additional five-year extensions may be obtained. New Jersey offers permanent protective orders, and a conviction for stalking serves as an application for a permanent restraining order. Judges in Connecticut may issue standing criminal restraining orders that remain in effect until they are altered or revoked by the court.

Protection orders give victims an option other than filing a criminal complaint. Issued quickly, usually within twenty-four hours, they provide safety for the victim by barring or evicting the abuser from the household. Statutes in most states make violating a protection order a matter of criminal contempt, a misdemeanor, or even a felony. However, this judicial protection has little meaning if the police do not maintain records and follow through with arrest should the abuser violate the order.

The full faith and credit provision of the Violence against Women Act was passed to establish nationwide enforcement of protection orders in courts throughout the country. States, territories, and tribal lands were ordered to honor protection orders issued in other jurisdictions although the act did not mandate how these orders were to be enforced. According to Christina DeJong and Amanda Burgess-Proctor of Michigan State University, in A Summary of Personal Protection Order Statutes in the United States (Violence against Women, vol. 12, no. 1, January 2006), most states have amended their state domestic violence codes or statutes to reflect the new requirement, although the states vary widely on how easy it is for battered women to get their protection orders enforced. Courts and law enforcement agencies in most states have access to electronic registries of protection orders, both to verify the existence of an order and to assess whether violations have occurred.

Effects of Protection Orders

In Protection Orders and Intimate Partner Violence: An 18-Month Study of 150 Black, Hispanic, and White Women (American Journal of Public Health, vol. 94, no. 4, April 2004), Judith McFarlane et al. report on their study of the effects on intimate partner violence of the application for and receipt of a two-year protection order against abusers. The researchers interviewed 150 women over an eighteen-month period to determine whether protection orders diminished violence. Even though almost half (44%) of the women reported at least one violation of the order, McFarlane et al. find significant reductions in physical assaults, stalking, and threats of assault over time among all women who applied for a protection order, even if they had not been granted the order. McFarlane et al. hypothesize that it was not the protection order itself that led to the diminished violence but the contact with the criminal justice system that exposed the battering to public view.

Victoria L. Holt et al. come to a similar conclusion in Do Protection Orders Affect the Likelihood of Future Partner Violence and Injury? (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol. 24, no. 1, January 2003), a study of 448 female victims of intimate partner violence. The researchers measured the number of unwelcome calls or visits, threats, threats with weapons, psychological, sexual, or physical abuse, and abuse-related medical care among women who had obtained a civil protection order and those who had not. Holt et al. find that women who obtained a protection order following an abusive incident had a significantly decreased risk of contact by the abuser, threats by weapons, injury, and abuse-related medical care.

Enforcement of Orders of Protection

Robert J. Kane of the American University examines in Police Responses to Restraining Orders in Domestic Violence Incidents (Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 27, no. 5, 2000) arrest patterns of batterers who violate restraining orders. Even though all the violators in his study were required by Massachusetts state law to be immediately arrested, in reality only between 20% and 40% of violators of restraining orders were taken into custody. Kane finds that restraining orders had no significant effect on arrest rate; instead, police perception of imminent danger to the victim was the strongest predictor of arrest. He also finds that as the number of domestic violence calls from one victim to police increased, the rate of arrest decreased, regardless of whether a restraining order was in place. Kane suggests that further studies should be done into variations in arrest rates that include personal characteristics of police officers and the social contexts of the couples involved in domestic violence incidents.

The U.S. Department of Justice observes in Enforcement of Protective Orders (January 2002, that even though all the states have passed some form of legislation to benefit victims of domestic violence, and thirty-two states have integrated these rights at the constitutional level, the scope and enforcement of these rights varies. The Department of Justice calls for law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and judges to be completely informed about the existence and specific terms and requirements of orders and to act to enforce them. Furthermore, it asserts that unequivocal standardized enforcement of court orders is imperative if protective orders are to be taken seriously by the offenders they attempt to restrain.

Landmark Legal Decisions

Before the 1962 landmark case Self v. Self (58 Cal. 2d 683), when the California Supreme Court ruled that one spouse may maintain an action against the other for battering, women had no legal recourse against abusive partners. The judicial system had tended to view wife abuse as a matter to be resolved within the family. Maintaining that a man's home is his castle, the federal government traditionally had been reluctant to violate the sanctity of the home. Furthermore, many legal authorities persisted in blaming the victim, maintaining that the wife was, to some degree, responsible for her own beating by somehow inciting her husband to lose his temper.

Yet even after Self v. Self, turning to the judicial system for help was still unlikely to bring assistance to or result in justice for victims of spousal abuse. Jurisdictions throughout the United States continued to ignore the complaints of battered women until the late 1970s.

Many victims of domestic violence have sought legal protection from their abusive partner. This section summarizes the outcomes of several landmark cases that not only helped define judicial responsibility but also shaped the policies and practices aimed at protecting victimized women.

Baker v. The City of New York

Sandra Baker was estranged from her husband. In 1955 the local domestic relations court issued a protective order directing her husband, who had a history of serious mental illness, not to strike, molest, threaten, or annoy his wife. Baker called the police when her husband created a disturbance at the family home. When a police officer arrived, she showed him the court order. The officer told her it was no good and only a piece of paper and refused to take any action.

Baker went to the domestic relations court and told her story to a probation officer. While making a phone call, she saw her husband in the corridor. She went to the probation officer and told him her husband was in the corridor. She asked if she could wait in his office because she was afraid to stand in the room with him. The probation officer told her to go to the waiting room. Minutes later, her husband shot and wounded her.

Baker sued the city of New York, claiming that the city owed her more protection than she was given. The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, in Baker v. The City of New York (1966), agreed that the city of New York failed to fulfill its obligation. The court found that she was a person recognized by order of protection as one to whom a special duty was owed . . . and peace officers had a duty to supply protection to her. Neither the police officer nor the probation officer had fulfilled this duty, and both were found guilty of negligence. Because the officers were representatives of the city of New York, Baker had the right to sue the city.

Equal Protection

Another option desperate women have used in response to unchecked violence and abuse is to sue the police for failing to offer protection, alleging that the police violated their constitutional rights to liberty and equal protection under the law. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This clause prohibits states from arbitrarily classifying individuals by group membership. If a woman can prove that a police department has a gender-based policy of refusing to arrest men who abuse their wives, she can claim that the policy is based on gender stereotypes and therefore violates the equal protection law.

THURMAN V. CITY OF TORRINGTON. Between October 1982 and June 1983 Tracey Thurman repeatedly called the Torrington, Connecticut, police to report that her estranged husband was threatening her life and that of her child. The police ignored her requests for help no matter how often she called or how serious the situation became. At one point her husband attacked her in view of the police and was arrested. Thurman obtained protection and restraining orders against him after this incident. However, when her husband later came to her home and threatened her again, in violation of his probation and the court orders, police refused to intervene.

On June 10, 1983, Thurman's husband came to her home. She called the police. He then stabbed her repeatedly around the chest, neck, and throat. A police officer arrived twenty-five minutes later but did not arrest her husband, despite the attack. Three more police officers arrived. The husband went into the house and brought out their child and threw him down on his bleeding mother. The officers still did not arrest him. Even though his wife was on the stretcher waiting to be placed in the ambulance, he came at her again. Only at that point did police take him into custody. Thurman later sued the city of Torrington, claiming she was denied equal protection under the law.

In Thurman v. City of Torrington (595 F. Supp. 1521 [D. Conn. 1984]), the U.S. District Court for Downstate Connecticut agreed, stating:

City officials and police officers are under an affirmative duty to preserve law and order, and to protect the personal safety of people in the community. This duty applies equally to women whose personal safety is threatened by individuals with whom they have or have had a domestic relationship as well as to all other people whose personal safety is threatened. . . . A police officer may not . . . automatically decline to make an arrest simply because the assailant and his victim are married to each other. Such inaction on the part of the officer is a denial of the equal protection of the laws.

There could be no question, the court concluded, that the city of Torrington, through its police department, had condoned a pattern or practice of affording inadequate protection or no protection at all, to women who complained of having been abused by their husbands or others with whom they have had close relations. Therefore, the police had failed in their duty to protect Tracey Thurman and deserved to be sued.

Due Process

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state can deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. It does not, however, obligate the state to protect the public from harm or provide services that would protect them. Rather, a state may create special conditions in which that state has constitutional obligations to particular citizens because of a special relationship between the state and the individual. Abused women have used this argument to claim that being under a protection order puts them in a special relationship.

MACIAS V. HIDE. During the eighteen months before her estranged husband, Avelino Macias, murdered her at her place of work, Maria Teresa Macias had filed twenty-two police complaints. In the months before her death, Avelino Macias sexually abused his wife, broke into her home, terrorized, and stalked her. The victim's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department in California, accusing the department of failing to provide Macias equal protection under the law and of discriminating against her as a Hispanic and a woman.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California dismissed the case because Judge D. Lowell Jensen (1928) said there was no connection between Macias's murder and how the sheriff's department had responded to her complaints. In Macias v. Hide (No. 99-15662 [2000]), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the earlier decision and ruled that the lawsuit could proceed with the discovery phase and pretrial motions. Judge Arthur L. Alarcon (1935) of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit conveyed the unanimous opinion of the court when he wrote, It is well established that there is no constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen. There is a constitutional right, however, to have police services administered in a nondiscriminatory mannera right that is violated when a state actor denies such protection to disfavored persons.

After this decision the case proceeded to trial. In June 2002 Sonoma County agreed to pay $1 million to the Macias family to settle the case. The settlement agreement did not include an admission of any wrongdoing by the county. Nevertheless, domestic violence activists lauded the result.

TOWN OF CASTLE ROCK V. GONZALES. The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed in 2005 that governments are not required to offer citizens protection from violent abusers. According to the case Town of Castle Rock, Colorado v. Gonzales (000 U.S. 04-278 [2005]), Jessica Gonzales's three children were taken from her home by her estranged husband in violation of an order of protection. When she alerted the police and repeatedly asked them for assistance, they made no effort to find the children or enforce the state's mandatory arrest law. The children were killed later that night. Gonzales sued the town, arguing that by failing to respond to her calls the police had violated her right to due process of law, and the case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In its review, the Court found in June 2005 that Colorado law has not created a personal entitlement to enforcement of restraining orders and that the state's law did not really require arrest in all cases, but actually left considerable discretion in the hands of the police. So even though the Castle Rock police made a tragically incorrect decision in this case, they did not do so in violation of Gonzales's due process rights. The American Civil Liberties Union subsequently filed the case with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, arguing that domestic violence victims have the right to be protected by the state from their abuser. The commission heard the case in March 2007. In October 2007 the commission decided to admit the case. In the next phase, the commission will decide whether the human rights of Gonzales and her children were violated.

Key Domestic Violence Legislation

Even though appealing to the judicial system for help will not solve all the problems an abused woman faces, the reception a battered woman can expect from the system police, prosecutors, and courtsimproved markedly in the late twentieth century. The Violence against Women Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton (1946) in September 1994, did much to help. The act simultaneously strengthened prevention and prosecution of violent crimes against women and provided law enforcement officials with the tools they needed to prosecute batterers. Even though the system is far from perfect, legal authorities are far more likely to view abuse complaints as legitimate and serious than they had in the past.

The Violence against Women Act

A key provision in the Violence against Women Act, the civil rights provisions of Title III, declares that violent crimes against women motivated by gender violate victims federal civil rightsgiving victims access to federal courts for redress. In 2000 the civil rights section of the act was tested in the U.S. Supreme Court. Christy Brzonkala, an eighteen-year-old freshman at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, was violently attacked and raped by two men, Antonio Morrison and James Crawford, on September 21, 1994. Brzonkala did not immediately report the rape, and no physical evidence of the rape was preserved. Two months later, she filed a complaint with the school; after learning that the college took limited action against the two men, she withdrew from the school and sued her assailants for damages in federal court.

Brzonkala's case reached the Supreme Court in 2000. Briefs in favor of giving victims of gender-based violence access to federal courts were filed by dozens of groups (such as the American Medical Women's Association, the National Association of Human Rights Workers, the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, and the National Women's Health Network) as well as by law scholars and human rights experts. However, in May 2000 five of the Supreme Court justices decided in United States v. Morrison et al. (529 U.S. 598) that Congress could not enact a law giving victims of gender-motivated violence access to federal civil rights remedies. The majority opinion emphasized that the Constitution requires a distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local and it ruled that the violent assault of Christy Brzonkala was local.

In October 2000 Congress responded to the Supreme Court decision by passing new legislation, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. The new statute included these titles: Strengthening Law Enforcement to Reduce Violence against Women, Strengthening Services to Victims of Violence, Limiting the Effects of Violence on Children, and Strengthening Education and Training to Combat Violence against Women. The act allocated $3.3 billion over five years to fund traditional support services along with prevention and education about dating violence, rape, and stalking via the Internet, as well as new programs for transitional housing and expanded protection for immigrant women. The new act did not mention women's civil rights. The Violence against Women Act was reauthorized in 2005, providing funding to programs through 2009.

Domestic Violence Gun Ban

Federal law includes batterers convicted of domestic violence crimes or those with domestic violence protection orders filed against them among the people who are prohibited from owning or carrying guns. Since 1994, most people attempting to purchase guns in the United States have had to pass a background check first. In Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2006 Statistical Tables (March 19, 2008,, the BJS states that between 1994 and 2006, 78.5 million applications for firearm permits or transfers were subjected to background investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and state and local agencies. (See Table 9.7.) Of these applications, close to 1.5 million (1.9%) were rejected. A substantial proportion of these rejections were because of previous domestic violence convictions. In 2006, 12.4% of applications rejected by the FBI, 10.4% of applications rejected by the state, and 11.1% of applications rejected by local authorities were rejected because of a domestic violence misdemeanor conviction. (See Table 9.8.) After prior felony convictions and other criminal history, domestic violence was the third-leading reason for rejecting applicants gun permit requests.

Loopholes in state and federal laws allow batterers to purchase guns despite the federal ban. In many states private gun owners can sell their firearms without back-

TABLE 9.7 Number of applications and estimates of denials for firearm transfers or permits, 19942006
Note: Counts are rounded to the nearest 1,000.
aFrom March 1, 1994 to November 29, 1998, background checks on applicants were conducted by state and local agencies, mainly on handgun transfers.
bThe National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) began operations. Checks on handgun and long gun transfers are conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and by state and local agencies. Totals combine Firearm Inquiry Statistics (FIST) estimates for state and local agencies with actual transactions and denials reported by the FBI.
cNovember 30 to December 31, 1998. Counts are from the NICS Operations Report for the period and may include multiple transactions for the same application.
SOURCE: "Table 1. Number of Applications and Estimates of Denials for Firearm Transfers or Permits since the Inception of the Brady Act, 19942006," in Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2006 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 2008, bcft06st/table/bcft06st01.htm (accessed July 3, 2008)
  Number of applications  
>Received >Denied >Percent denied
Total 78,522,000 1,495,000 1.9%
Brady interim perioda
19941998 12,740,000 312,000 2.4
Permanent Bradyb 65,782,000 1,182,000 1.8
1998c 893,000 20,000 2.2
1999 8,621,000 204,000 2.4
2000 7,699,000 153,000 2
2001 7,958,000 151,000 1.9
2002 7,806,000 136,000 1.7
2003 7,831,000 126,000 1.6
2004 8,084,000 126,000 1.6
2005 8,278,000 132,000 1.6
2006 8,612,000 134,000 1.6

ground checks. In addition, many states keep incomplete records of domestic violence offenders and orders of protection. Still other evidence suggests that some gun dealers knowingly allow people who are not legally eligible to purchase firearms to buy them through a third party. However, Elizabeth Richardson Vigdor and James A. Mercy report in Do Laws Restricting Access to Firearms by Domestic Violence Offenders Prevent Intimate Partner Homicide? (Evaluation Review, vol. 30, no. 3, June 2006) that female intimate partner homicide declines by 7% after a state passes a law restricting access to firearms by individuals subject to a restraining order, although they see no decline in homicides resulting from restricting access of those convicted of a misdemeanor to firearms.

Difficulties in the Court System

An appeal to the U.S. judicial system should be an effective method of obtaining justice. For battered women, however, this has not always been the case. In the past ignorance, social prejudices, and uneven attention from the criminal justice system all tended to underestimate the severity and importance of battering crimes against women. Even though society has become significantly less tolerant of domestic violence, and laws in many states criminalize behavior previously considered acceptable, old attitudes and biases continue to plague intimate partner violence and spouse abuse cases in the courts.

Intimate partner abuse cases are often complicated by evidence problems, because domestic violence usually takes place behind closed doors. The volatile and unpredictable emotions and motivations influencing the behav-

TABLE 9.8 Reasons for rejection of firearm transfer applications, 19992006
aIncludes state prohibitions, multiple DUI's, non-NCIC (National Crime Information Center) warrants, and other unspecified criminal history disqualifiers.
bIncludes juveniles, persons dishonorably discharged from the Armed Services, persons who have renounced their U.S. citizenship, and other unspecified persons.
SOURCE: Table 4. Reasons for Denial of Firearm Transfer Applications by Checking Agencies, 19992006, in Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, 2006 Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 2008, (accessed July 3, 2008)
  2006 19992006
>Reason for denial >FBI >State >Local >FBI >State >Local
Total 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%
Felony indictment/conviction 36.1 44.7 26.2 48 56.7 27.3
Other criminal historya 28.5 19.4
State law prohibition 6.1 1.3 6.9 14.2
Domestic violence            
Misdemeanor conviction 9.8 10.8 14.1 12.4 10.4 11.1
Restraining order 4.3 3.7 1.3 4.5 3.4 1.8
Fugitive 6.1 9.3 10 4.1 6.7 1.2
Illegal alien 1.6 0.4 0.6 1.3 0.5 0.5
Mental illness or disability 0.6 5.7 3.5 0.4 1.8 4.1
Drug addiction 8.7 1 9.1 6.9 0.8 7.6
Local law prohibition 0 2.7 0 5.8
Other prohibitionsb 4.3 18.4 31.3 3 12.7 26.3
Note: Reasons for denials are based on 18 U.S.C. 922 and state laws.
Not available or Not applicable.

ior of both the abuser and victim may not always fit neatly into the organized and systematic framework of legal case presentation. Finally, the varying training mandates to ensure that prosecutors and judges are better informed about the social and personal costs of domestic violence, along with society's changing attitudes toward abuse, influence the responses of the judicial system.

The victim-offender relationship is an important factor in determining how the offender is treated by the criminal justice system. On the one hand, strangers are treated more harshly because stranger offenses are considered more heinous and the true targets of the justice system. As a result, criminal law is strictly enforced against them. On the other hand, the justice system has traditionally perceived nonstranger offenses as a victim's misuse of the legal system to deal with a strained interpersonal relationship.

Willingness of Victims to Prosecute

One of the most formidable problems in prosecuting abusers is the victim's reluctance to cooperate. Even though many abused women have the courage to initiate legal proceedings against their batterer, some are later reluctant to cooperate with the prosecution because of their emotional attachment to their abuser. Other reasons for their reluctance are fear of retaliation, mistrust or lack of information about the criminal justice system, or fear of the demands of court appearances. These reasons are among the findings by Lisa Goodman, Lauren Bennett, and Mary A. Dutton in Obstacles to Victims Cooperation with the Criminal Prosecution of Their Abusers: The Role of Social Support (Violence and Victims, vol.14, no. 4, winter 1999) and by JoAnn Miller of Purdue University in An Arresting Experiment: Domestic Violence Victim Experiences and Perceptions (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 18, no. 7, July 2003). A victim's fear and ambivalence about testifying, and the importance of her behavior as a witness, can undoubtedly discourage some prosecutors from taking action.

However, a victim might choose not to move forward with the prosecution because the violence ceases temporarily following the arrest while the batterer is in custody. In most cases, a woman does not want her husband to go to jail with the attendant loss of income and community standing. She simply wants her husband to stop beating her.

Religious convictions, economic dependency, and family influence to drop the charges place great pressure on victimized women. Consequently, many prosecutors, some of whom believe abuse is a purely personal problem and others who believe winning the case is unlikely, test the victim's resolve to make sure she will not back out. This additional pressure drives many women to drop the charges because after being controlled by their husband, they feel that the judicial system is repeating the pattern by abusing its power. Hence, the prosecutors fears contribute to the problem, creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

Goodman, Bennett, and Dutton explore the reasons many domestic violence victims refuse to cooperate in the prosecution of their abuser. Surprisingly, the researchers find that the relationship between the emotional support and the cooperation with prosecutors was not significant. Similarly, institutional support, whether from police or victim advocates, was also unrelated to cooperation. Neither the level of depression nor the degree of emotional attachment to the abuser had an effect. These findings refute the common perception that the battered woman is too depressed, helpless, or attached to the abuser to cooperate in his prosecution. Instead, Goodman, Bennett, and Dutton's findings show that many domestic violence victims persevere in the face of depression and the sometimes complex emotional attachment to their partner.

Consistent with findings from earlier studies, Goodman, Bennett, and Dutton note that the more severe the violence, the more likely the abused women were to cooperate with prosecutors. Participants rearing children with the abuser were also more likely to cooperate, perhaps because these women hoped that the criminal justice system would force the abuser into treatment. In contrast, women with substance abuse problems were less than half as likely as other women to cooperate with the prosecution. Goodman, Bennett, and Dutton conclude that the women who used alcohol or drugs believed that the abuse was partly their fault or that a judge would not take them seriously. Some also feared that their substance abuse might negatively affect the court proceedings and possibly even lead to criminal charges or the loss of their children.

Factors Associated with Prosecutors Charging Decisions in Domestic Violence Cases

In Modeling Prosecutors Charging Decisions in Domestic Violence Cases (Crime and Delinquency, vol. 52, no. 3, 2006), John L. Worrall, Jay W. Ross, and Eric S. McCord investigate what factors influenced the decisions of prosecutors to charge a batterer and what factors influenced the decisions of prosecutors to pursue a misdemeanor or a felony charge. They collected data on 245 domestic violence cases filed by police officers, examined the impact of characteristics of the victim, offender, and the offense, and determined how these characteristics influenced the prosecutors charging decisions.

Worrall, Ross, and McCord find that prosecutors were more likely to charge offenders if they had been arrested or if they had inflicted serious injuries on the victim. The researchers indicate that criminal charges were more likely to be filed against a male batterer than against a female batterer. They also note that if the victim supported prosecution, felony charges were more likely to be filed against the batterer.

Treatment for Male Batterers

Rather than serving a prison term, many convicted batterers enter treatment programs. As a requirement of probation, most courts will order a batterer into an intervention program. Regardless of an intervention program's philosophy or methods, program directors and criminal justice professionals generally monitor offenders behavior closely. Most batterers enter intervention programs after having been charged by the police with a specific incident of abuse.

The criminal justice system categorizes offenders based on their potential danger, history of substance abuse, psychological problems, and risk of dropout and rearrest. Ideally, interventions focus on the specific type of batterer and the approach that will most effectively produce results, such as linking a substance abuse treatment program with a batterer intervention program. Other program approaches focus on specific sociocultural characteristics, such as poverty, race, ethnicity, and age. Shelly Jackson argues in Analyzing the Studies (Shelly Jackson et al., Batterer Intervention Programs: Where Do We Go from Here? June 2003, that the effectiveness of batterer intervention programs might improve if the programs were seen as part of a broader criminal justice and community response to domestic violence that includes arrest, restraining orders, intensive monitoring of batterers, and changes to social norms that may inadvertently tolerate partner violence.

Batterers leave the program either because of successful completion or because they are asked to leave. The reasons for termination include failure to cooperate, non-payment of fees, revocation of parole or probation, failure to attend group sessions regularly, or violation of program rules. Successful completion of a program means that the offender has attended the required sessions and accomplished the program's objectives. With court-mandated clients a final report is also made to probation officials. To be successful, batterer intervention programs must have the support of the criminal justice system, which includes coordinated efforts between police, prosecutors, judges, victim advocates, and probation officers.

Program Dropout Rates

Dropout rates in battering programs are high, even though courts have ordered most clients to attend. Several studies, such as that by Jennifer Rooney and R. Karl Hanson in Predicting Attrition from Treatment Programs for Abusive Men (Journal of Family Violence, vol. 16, no. 2, 2001), record varying dropout rates, some finding that as many as 90% of the men who begin short-term treatment programs do not complete them.

High dropout rates in batterer intervention programs make it difficult to evaluate their success. Evaluations based on men who complete these programs focus on a select group of highly motivated men who likely do not reflect the composition of the group when it began. Because a follow-up is not conducted with program dropoutsthe men most likely to continue their violenceresearch generally fails to accurately indicate the success or failure of a given treatment program.

Certain characteristics are generally related to drop-out rates. Bruce Dalton of the University of South Carolina indicates in Batterer Characteristics and Treatment Completion (Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 16, no. 12, 2001) that the level of threat that the batterer perceived from the referral source (e.g., the court) was, surprisingly, not related to program completion. Unemployment was the one characteristic most consistently related to dropping out of treatment. Dalton theorizes that these men have both trouble paying for the treatment and a lower investment in the official social order. Loretta J. Stalans and Magnus Seng of Loyola University find similar results in Identifying Subgroups at High Risk of Dropping out of Domestic Batterer Treatment: The Buffering Effects of a High School Education (International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, vol. 51, no. 2, 2007). The following groups had a 60% dropout rate or higher: batterers who were aggressive in general, not only in the family setting; high school dropouts who were also ordered into substance abuse treatment; and unemployed offenders who were also ordered into substance abuse treatment.

Rooney and Hanson explain that factors influencing completion rates of batterer intervention programs include youth, not being legally married, low income and little education, unstable work histories, criminal backgrounds, and excessive drinking or drug abuse. Voluntary clients, especially those with college educations, remain in treatment longer. Some researchers, such as Edward W. Gondolf of Indiana University of Pennsylvania in A Comparison of Four Batterer Intervention Systems: Do Court Referral, Program Length, and Services Matter? Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 14, no. 1, 1999), find better attendance among college-educated men, regardless of whether their enrollment in a program is court ordered or voluntary.

Recidivism Rates

Recidivism (the tendency to relapse to old ingrained patterns of behavior) is a well-documented problem among people in intimate partner violence treatment programs. In Predictors of Criminal Recidivism among Male Batterers (Psychology Crime and Law, vol. 10, no. 4, December 2004), R. Karl Hanson and Suzanne Wallace-Capretta examine the risk factors associated with the recidivism of 320 male batterers within a five-year follow-up period. Of those men, 25.6% recidivated with a battering offense. Risk factors included being young, having an unstable lifestyle, being a substance abuser, and having a criminal history. Batterers were not deterred by expectations of social or legal negative consequences. However, maintaining positive relationships with community treatment providers was associated with deterrence of future battering. Rodney Kingsnorth of California State University, Sacramento, notes in Intimate Partner Violence: Predictors of Recidivism in a Sample of Arrestees (Violence against Women, vol. 12, no. 10, October 2006) that risk factors for recidivism during an eighteen-month period included use of a weapon, prior arrests (for domestic violence or other offenses), and the presence of a protective order.

According to Matthew T. Huss and Anthony Ralston of Creighton University, in Do Batterer Subtypes Actually Matter? Treatment Completion, Treatment Response, and Recidivism across a Batterer Typology (Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 35, no. 6, June 2008), men who only expressed violent behaviors in the context of their families were much more likely to complete batterer intervention programs than men who were generally violent or antisocial or who had personality disorders. Because of the higher treatment completion rates, these men were less likely to batter again. However, all men who completed treatment reported reductions in violence toward their partner.

In The Effects of Domestic Violence Batterer Treatment on Domestic Violence Recidivism (Criminal Justice and Behavior, vol. 30, no. 1, 2003), Jill A. Gordon and Laura J. Moriarty of Virginia Commonwealth University study the effect of batterer treatment on recidivism. The researchers find that attending treatment had no impact on recidivism when comparing the treatment group as a whole with the experimental group. Christopher I. Eckhardt et al., in Intervention Programs for Perpetrators of Intimate Partner Violence: Conclusions from a Clinical Research Perspective (Public Health Reports, vol. 121, no. 4, JulyAugust 2006), concur in their review of the literature concerning batterer intervention programs and recidivism rates. However, Gordon and Moriarty also find that among the treatment group, the more sessions a batterer completed, the less likely he was to batter again. Batterers who completed all sessions were less likely to be rearrested for domestic violence than were batterers who had not completed all sessions.

Still, as Huss and Ralston note, even small reductions in rates of domestic violence can have a substantial impact in tens of thousands of women's lives. Therefore, research continues into how to identify batterers who are most likely to benefit from batterer intervention programs.

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Causes and Effects of Child Abuse

Chapter 3
Causes and Effects of Child Abuse

Causes of Child Abuse
Families at Risk for Child Maltreatment
Mothers, Fathers, and Siblings
Consequences of Childhood Maltreatment
Corporal Punishment: Abuse or Not?

Causes of Child Abuse

Child abuse is primarily a problem within families. Even though abuse by nonfamily members does occur, most victims are abused by one or more of their parents. For this reason, much of the research into the causes of child abuse has focused on families and the characteristics and circumstances that can contribute to violence within them.

The 1975 National Family Violence Survey and the 1985 National Family Violence Resurvey, conducted by Murray A. Straus and Richard J. Gelles, are the most complete studies of spousal and parent-child abuse yet prepared in the United States. Unlike most studies of child abuse, the data from these surveys came from detailed interviews with the general population, not from cases that came to the attention of official agencies and professionals. Therefore, Straus and Gelles had a more intimate knowledge of the families and an awareness of incidences of child abuse that were not reported to authorities or community professionals.

Straus and Gelles believe that cultural standards permit violence in the family. They incorporated research from the two surveys and additional chapters into the book Physical Violence in American Families: Risk Factors and Adaptations to Violence in 8,145 Families (1990).

Understanding Factors that Contribute to Child Abuse

The factors contributing to child maltreatment are complex. In Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3 ; 1993), the most comprehensive federal source of information about the incidence of child maltreatment in the United States, Andrea J. Sedlak and Diane D. Broadhurst find that family structure and size, poverty, alcohol and substance abuse, domestic violence, and community violence are contributing factors to child abuse and neglect.

Even though these and other factors affect the likelihood of child maltreatment, they do not necessarily lead to abuse. It is important to understand that the causes of child abuse and the characteristics of families in which child abuse occurs are only indicators. Most parents, even in the most stressful and demanding situations, and even with a personal history that might predispose them to be more violent than parents without such a history, do not abuse their children.

Murray A. Straus and Christine Smith note in Family Patterns and Child Abuse (Straus and Gelles, Physical Violence in American Families ) that a combination of several factors is more likely to result in child abuse than is a single factor alone. Also, the sum of the effects of individual factors taken together does not necessarily add up to what Straus and Smith call the explosive combinations of several factors interacting with one another. Nonetheless, even explosive combinations do not necessarily lead to child abuse.

Families at Risk for Child Maltreatment

It is impossible to determine whether child maltreatment will occur, but generally a family may be at risk if the parent is young, has little education, has had several children born within a few years, and is highly dependent on social welfare. According to Judith S. Rycus and Ronald C. Hughes, in Field Guide to Child Welfare (1998), a family at high to moderate risk includes parents who do not understand basic child development and who may discipline inappropriately for the child's age, those who lack the necessary skills for caring for and managing a child, those who use physical punishment harshly and excessively, and those who do not appropriately supervise their children. They find that families under stresses such as divorce, death, illness, disability, unemployment, or incarceration are more likely to abuse or neglect children. Small stresses can have a cumulative effect and become explosive with a relatively minor event. For potentially abusive parents, high levels of ongoing stress, coupled with inadequate coping strategies and limited resources, produce an extremely high-risk situation for children involved.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains in the fact sheet Understanding Child Maltreatment (2008, that a family may also be at risk if:

  • A child in the family is age four or younger
  • The family is socially isolated
  • The family has a history of violence, drug or alcohol use, or chronic health problems
  • The family is poor
  • The surrounding community is particularly violent

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse can cause great harm to children but tends to be less well recognized than physical or sexual abuse or neglect. In Family Dynamics Associated with the Use of Psychologically Violent Parental Practices (Journal of Family Violence, vol. 19, no. 2, April 2004), Marie-He´le`ne Gagne´ and Camil Bouchard identify four family characteristics that are likely to result in parental psychological violence. The first involves a scapegoat child, who may be different from other family members by his or her unattractiveness, disability, having been adopted, or being the child of a former spouse. This child is typically neglected by the parents, treated harshly, and excluded from family intimacy. The second type of family has a domineering father, who intimidates the children and may even turn physically violent. The mother herself may be a victim of spousal violence. The authoritarian mother typifies the third family characteristic leading to parental psychological abuse. She controls the household, and the children are expected to do as she bids. The fourth family characteristic involves the broken parent, who has not attained maturity and a feeling of self-worth because of a difficult past. This type of parent takes care of the children when things are going smoothly, but falls apart when difficulties arise.

Family Structure

Single-parent families appear to be at greater risk of child maltreatment. Sedlak and Broadhurst find in NIS-3 that under the Harm Standard, children in single-parent households were at a higher risk of physical abuse and all types of neglect than were children in other family structures in 1993. (See Chapter 2 for a definition of the Harm and Endangerment Standards.) Children living with only their fathers suffered the highest incidence rates of physical abuse and emotional and educational neglect. (See

Figure 3.1.) Under the Endangerment Standard higher incidence rates of physical and emotional neglect occurred among children living with only their fathers than among those living in other family structures. (See Figure 3.2.)

The Problem of Substance Abuse

Child protective services (CPS) workers are faced with the growing problem of substance abuse among families involved with the child welfare system. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in Children Living with Substance-Abusing or Substance-Dependent Parents (June 2, 2003,, approximately 70 million children under age eighteen lived with at least one parent in 2001; about 6.1 million (9%) of these children lived with one or more parents with past-year substance abuse or dependence. About one-fifth were five years old or younger (9.8% of three- to five-year-olds and 9.8% of children younger than three). (See Table 3.1.) Among these children, about 4.5 million lived with an alcoholic parent, an estimated 953,000 lived with a parent with an illicit drug problem, and approximately 657,000 lived with parents who abused both alcohol and illicit drugs. (See Figure 3.3.) The HSS notes that fathers (7.8%) were more likely than mothers (4%) to report past-year substance abuse or dependence.

TABLE 3.1 Children age 17 or younger living with one or more parents with past-year substance abuse or dependence, by number and
percentage, 2001
SOURCE: Table 2. Estimated Numbers (in Thousands) and Percentages of Children Aged 17 or Younger Living with One or More Parents with Past
Year Substance Abuse or Dependence: 2001, in Children Living with Substance-Abusing or Substance-Dependent Parents, U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, June 2, 2003, (accessed May 20, 2008)
Ages of children (years) Estimated numbers (in thousands) Percentage
Younger than 3 1,078 9.8
3 to 5 1,115 9.8
6 to 11 1,816 7.5
12 to 17 2,100 9.2
Notes: Children include biological, step, adoptive, or foster. Children aged 17 or younger who were not living with one or more parents for most of the quarter of the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA) interview are excluded from the present analysis. According to the 2000 Current Population Survey, this amounts to approximately 3 million or 4 percent of children aged 17 or younger.

The 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health surveyed parents about different forms of household turbulence in the past year. The survey found that households in which there was past-year alcohol dependence or abuse were more likely to report turbulence. For

example, 40.4% of households containing children in which there was alcohol dependence or abuse reported that people often insulted or yelled at each other, compared to 27.3% of households with no past-year alcohol dependence or abuse. (See Figure 3.4.) Nearly a third (29.8%) of the households with alcohol problems reported that people in the household had serious arguments, compared to 18.2% of people in households with no alcohol problems. Parents in households with alcohol problems (9.9%) were also more likely than parents with no alcohol problems (3.6%) to report that one spouse hit or threatened to hit the other at least once in the past year. In other words, children living in homes where alcohol dependence or abuse was a problem were more likely to be exposed to domestic violence than children living in homes where alcohol abuse was not a problem.

Sedlak and Broadhurst note that the increase in illicit drug use since the Second National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (1986) may have contributed to the increased child maltreatment incidence reported in NIS-3. Children whose parents are substance abusers

are at high risk of abuse and neglect because of the physiological, psychological, and sociological nature of addiction.

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, in Substance Abuse and Child Maltreatment (2003,, about one-third to two-thirds of substantiated child maltreatment reports (those having sufficient evidence to support the allegation of maltreatment) involve substance abuse. Younger children, especially infants, are more likely to be victimized by substance-abusing parents, and the maltreatment is more likely to consist of neglect than abuse. Many children experience neglect when a parent is under the influence of alcohol or is out of the home looking for drugs. Even when the parent is at home, he or she may be psychologically unavailable to the children.

SUBSTANCE ABUSE AMONG PREGNANT WOMEN. Illicit drug use among pregnant women continues to be a national problem. Each year the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, formerly known as the National House-hold Survey on Drug Abuse, asks female respondents aged fifteen to forty-four about their pregnancy status and illicit drug use the month before the survey. In Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (September 2007,, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's Office of Applied Studies states that in 200506, 4% of pregnant women, compared to 10% of nonpregnant women, reported using illicit drugs during the past month. (See Table 3.2.) Pregnant teens were much more likely to use illicit drugs than were older pregnant women; 15.5% of pregnant women aged fifteen to seventeen reported illicit drug use the previous month, compared to just 1.8% of pregnant women aged twenty-six to forty-four. Among pregnant women, more African-Americans (6.1%) than whites (4.7%) and Hispanics (1.4%) reported using illicit drugs the previous month.

CHILDREN AT ILLICIT DRUG LABS. The rapid growth of methamphetamine use in the United States has resulted in the establishment of clandestine methamphetamine laboratories (meth labs) in many places. In years past large-scale operations, particularly in California and Mexico, produced large quantities of drugs, which were then distributed throughout various areas in the country. With more demand for methamphetamines, many small-scale businesses have started operating. Because methamphetamines can be produced almost anywhere using readily available ingredients, nearly anyone can set up a temporary laboratory, make a batch of drugs, then dismantle the apparatus. Authorities have found makeshift laboratories in places inhabited or visited by children, including houses, apartments, mobile homes, and motel rooms.

As more children are found living in or visiting home-based meth labs, CPS personnel have to deal with those children who have been exposed not only to potentially abusive people associated with the production of methamphetamines but also to dangers such as fire and explosions. Melinda Hohman, Rhonda Oliver, and Wendy Wright report in Methamphetamine Abuse and Manufacture: The Child Welfare Response (Social Work, vol. 49, no. 3, July 1, 2004) that hazardous living conditions in these labs include unsafe electrical equipment, chemical ingredients that can cause respiratory distress and possibly long-term effects such as liver and kidney disease and cancers, syringes, and the presence of firearms and pornography. Police find meth homes with defective plumbing, rodent and insect infestation, and without heating or cooling. Children living in meth labs are also likely to be victims of severe neglect and physical and sexual abuse. According to Karen Swetlow, in Children at Clandestine Methamphetamine Labs: Helping Meth's Youngest Victims (June 2003,,

TABLE 3.2 Illicit drug use in the past month among females, by age, pregnancy status, and Hispanic origin and race, 200304 and 200506
SOURCE: Table 7.52B. Illicit Drug Use in the Past Month among Females Aged 15 to 44, by Pregnancy and Demographic Characteristics: Percentages, Annual Averages Based on 20032004 and 20052006, in Results from the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, September 2007, (accessed May 20, 2008)
      Pregnancy status
  Totala Pregnant Not pregnant
Demographic/pregnancy characteristic 20032004 20052006 20032004 20052006 20032004 20052006
Total 10.0 9.8 4.6 4.0 10.2 10.0