Disturbing Facts about Sexual Abuse

From research by economists J.J. Prescott and Jonah Rockoff, here are a few current statistics on sex offenses reported to the police:

1) 25 percent of victims are 10-14 years old; 23 percent are nine or younger.

2) 22.5 percent of the offenders are family members. Only 8 percent are strangers.

3) 25 percent of sex offenses reported to the police lead to an arrest.

And these are only the offenses reported to the police. Stranger sex offenses must be much more likely to be reported to the police than family abuse.

Using this data, I estimate that six out of every 1,000 10- to 14-year-old girls are victims of sex offenses which are reported to the police each year. The actual victimization rate is surely much higher.


Rob Adams

If only 25% of reported cases result in an arrest, why assume the actual number of victims is much higher than the reported number? Presumably some of these 25% also don't result in a conviction. Seems like there's two factors at work here:

The percentage of reported crimes that correspond to actual, real crimes
The percentage of real crimes that are either undiscovered or unreported.

It's not obvious to me what either of these numbers is likely to be, so it's nearly impossible to say really much of anything about the actual number of victims here.

T

This is an example of the news scaring us half to death and thus resulting in the severing of social bonds across the coutnry. We are panicked over some stranger molesting our child, when there is only a 0.048% (less than 5 out of 10,000) chance of it happening. One can argue that that is still too high, but is it enough for us to not want our children to pay outside or walk to school, thus preventing them from making friends in the neighborhood? What are the odds that the percentage of children being molested have in fact increased precisely as our social bonds have broken down over the years, driven by news reports overstating the dangers of molestation? This has even caused my wife to refuse to let our daughter spend the night over anyone's house -- meaning she's going to miss out on a fun part of having friends -- just because there is a miniscule chance she could be molested. I spent the night over several friends' houses, and was never molsted. But I was molested by two different people under circumstances nobody would have thought was dangerous in that way. I have dealt with the problem in a healthy way over the years, meaning it has ended up having little impact, but I also know it does have a strong impact on many others. Just about every stripper and porn star was molested by a family member. And while I know not every homosexual was molested as a child, most I've known were. It is hard to say if they were molested because someone's gaydar went off on them when the victim was a child, or if the homosexual behavior resulted from the molestation -- a study that would be interesting to do. Either way, I think all the hype surrounding molestation has done more harm than good. We are now locking our children away from everyone, making them antisocial and, thus, less human. And all so news stations can get more ratings and, thus, more money.

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Pat Ballew

"6 out of every 1000 10 to 14 year olds abused each year". HOW MANY IS THAT...
I really have trouble with simple proportions like that...they sound so delicate...
but if the census projection of 21 million people 10-14 is half girls, then you are talking about .006 of 10,500,000 for the number of assaulted girls.. I get 63,000 reported cases a year. And if my math is correct, that works out to 7 every hour.... One about every 8 minutes....
tick .... tick... tick...

k2000

Read "Culture of Fear" as this is a great example of facts vs press/emotion.

First off, remember that a "sex offence" includes that 19 yr old who dates a 15 yr old, who is caught in the back seat of a car by the 15 yr old's parents.

Secondly, since most offenders claim they were abused as children, we should see exponential growth in the statistics (esp as this defense is considered acceptable by the courts).

curious

Perhaps I'm missing something. When I read the table, I see that there are 8.6 sex offenses per 10K population.

How does that turn into 6/1000 10-14 year old girls are victims of sex abuse?

Another thought.. I remember hearing numerous times that approximately 20% of the female population has, at some point in their lives, been the victim of sexual assault.

If there are 8.6 assaults per 10K population, then this 20% figure must be vastly inflated. In fact, I read the report as saying that an adult woman in a stable social situation has virtually zero risk of being the victim of sexual assault.

Alan Gunn

It would be interesting to know whether the incidence of child sexual abuse has increased over the past 50 years or so: have there been any studies on this? I do some volunteer work with abused children, and the people I work with--judges, social workers, therapists--think it has, but impressions like this can be wrong. Still, we live in a society in which people are being told all the time that everyone should get as much sex as possible, which isn't a good message to give to people unable for various reasons to form adult relationships. And the breakdown of the traditional family creates more situations in which there's a "Mom's boyfriend" around, and Mom's boyfriend is frequently the abuser. As P.D. James once said, "The sexual liberation of adults has been bought at a high price and it is not the adults who have paid it.”

Questions like this are somewhat more important than things like point-shaving in basketball. It's a good thing that economists are taking an interest. (Not that they shouldn't do the other stuff too, to be sure--this wasn't meant as a dig.)

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Caleb Powers

No one knows what percentage of sex crimes, particularly crimes against children, are reported. I have read reports that suggest that it is as low as 10%, or as high as 30%.

The reason that knowing this is so difficult is that one of the symptoms of childhood sexual abuse is the delayed reporting of sexual abuse. We have seen thousands of victims of clergymen of various denominations come forward and report crimes that took place 30 years or more ago and that were not reported at the time. Victims of molestation by school teachers are now beginning to come forward with similar reports of events that occurred many years ago. Charol Shakeshaft, a professor at Hofstra, prepared a report for the US Dept of Education that suggests that childhood sexual abuse in schools is far more widespread than we ever believed.

Childhood sexual abuse is an epidemic in America, and we are doing little to stop its spread.

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Sallie

Check out Committed to Freedom to find out more about childhood sexual abuse, www.committedtofreedom.org. These statistics are only the beginning of the story. The damage done is incredible.

Rhea

Thanks for spotlighting this information about sexual abuse. I have worked (unpaid) for many years on this issue. Very people realize how prevalent it is.

Derick

I was on a jury on a sex abuse case in northern California last year. The selection process was in some ways more disturbing than the case. Roughly half of the potential jurors who got pulled up for the panel wound up being excused or taken off by one or the other of the lawyers because they or a close friend/family member had been sexually abused. At least two of the twelve jurors chosen had also been abused.

concerned husband

About the chances of working with, being friends with, or being related to a child molester, I'd really like to see those statistics, but I bet they are pretty close to 100%.

I was completely unaware of this, until I was married and my wife revealed that she was molested by her uncle and grandfather when she was very young. Her sisters were also targeted, but my wife protected them by taking their place, pretty noble for a 10 year old. One of her abusers is dead, but the other never even had to register as a sex offender, in the name of protecting my wife from the "trauma" of testifying in court.

Instead she has the ongoing trauma of seeing him occasionally at family gatherings, enduring his creepy smile, and knowing that he completely got away with what he did to her. Every time she crosses paths with a man, she is traumatized again by being unable to trust him not to be an abuser. She pretty much starts with the assumption that any strangers are abusers, because she has zero reason to believe the abusers out there are being held accountable for their actions. I think the short-term trauma of testifying in court would have saved her a lot of long-term trauma.

Since then, I was told a man in my own extended family was abused as a child. In addition, I now know some specific behaviors are symptoms of abuse, which makes me strongly suspect my mother and one of my sisters were victims, although they have never told me so.

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Michelle

13 yo, friend of the family, his behavior was swept under the rug because he was married and excused because he was an alcoholic. Typical. I strongly suspect the same holds true for date rape.

md2000

I suspect the reality is that we are more open to talking about this problem - Which has reduced the risk compared to earlier times. I recall an article in the 70's where a family discovered a well-liked local 17-yo boy was molesting the children he would babysit. When the parents tried to warn others in the community, they were shunned and harrassed themselves.

It was the proverbial "can of worms". Nobody wanted to open it, to discuss it, or admit and deal with the fact their own children had likely been molested. No different that rape being treated, until womens lib, as something shameful and somehow the woman's fault.

I suspect the rate has gone down significantly from earlier times because we are more willing to confront it.

I subscribe to the theory put forward (Paul Masson's?) that Freud himself was a fraud. When he began treating traumatized adults, he soon realized for many their problems were due to being molested as children. He knew that to accuse some of the biggest stars of Viennese society of child molestation was what we nowadays call a "career-limiting move". He abandoned truth and principle deliberately, and made up some fantastical garbage about childhood development fantasies.

In doing so, he set back treatment of the problem of child molestation for a century and gave the real molesters an alibi and a convenient way to deflect accusations as standard childhood fantasy.

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survivor

My mother is a drug abuse councillor for adolescents. She said every single one had been sexually abused. Usually by a family member or a close family friend.

I have always been frustrated and angry when that she did not believe me when I told her my blood father had been sexual with me. I know many people who have been sexually abused. It is rarely a stranger that abused them.

I am estranged from my abuser. When I was finally old enough to have the language and knowledge to say what he had done to me the statutes of limitations was up. So there was no reason to bring it to tell. Why bother? People just treat you funny after they know.

Thirty years later people still try to get me to reconcile with my "father." The last time I had communication with him he told me he had found Jesus and Jesus said it was okay for us to have sex now. Yuck.

James Wimberley

Frankenduf is "fascinated by the concept of repression of childhood abuse leading to adult behavior dysfunction.". If so, please check out the devastating refutation of the whole myth of repression by Frederick Crews. The "recovered memory" experts are charlatans. There is basically no evidence that anybody can repress a deeply painful memory. No cases have ever been reported of Holocaust survivors repressing the memories; they suffer from them every day. It's possible that very small children may simply forget abuse - permanently.

family member

I have also had a family member who was abused and have known a couple of other people. In the case of my family member, it was by an older cousin, who had himself been abused (if I recall, by a clergy member). The two others were each abused by a friend's father (different friend/father). And those are only the three I know about - of the thousands of people I have met in my life, there are no doubt many more.

That said, I have long been disturbed by the stranger-phobia in American society. It definitely makes sense to warn your kids about strangers (just as I was warned), but it seems that things have gone off the deep end. When the most likely perpetrators are people you already know, it seems odd to focus so much on strangers. Almost counter-productive. I don't know what the solution is, but perhaps we would be better off telling children to tell us if anything happens to them, rather than obssessing that they will be kidnapped/raped/murdered if they venture out of sight for five seconds. Otherwise, when will they get to be children?

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Caleb Powers

Mr. Wimberley, those of us who have represented the victims of childhood sexual abuse know all too well that childhood memories are frequently repressed. The type of "research" to which you refer always seems to be produced and cited by expert witnesses who testify on behalf of school systems, churches, and others who are accused of condoning abuse.

In a recent case in my area, in which the public school system was accused of condoning childhood sexual abuse, a highly paid prominent psychiatrist attempted to suggest that not only does childhood sexual abuse not always harm a person, but that the "relationship" with an abuser can be healthy. The jury literally laughed at him, then awarded a multi-million dollar verdict.

There will always be people in whose financial interest it is to come up with theories that downplay either the damage from childhood sexual abuse, or imply that the victims are lying. However, there is such a widespread recognition of the problem today that these folks are being seen as the venal frauds that they are.

And, to follow up on what Derick said, when the jury was chosen for this trial, quite a number of jurors reported either having been victims of childhood sexual abuse themselves or having had close relatives or friends who were abused.

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Rebecca

Isn't it a little more disturbing that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and 70% of these people knew their attackers? (Rennison, C., U.S. Dept. of Justice, 2000)

I find it scarier to think that people I trust most in the world are most likely to sexually assault me.

Diana

"22% offenders family members
8 % offenders strangers
70 % offenders (the rest)" are priests, stepparents, mother's boyfriends, etc. Not too hard to figure out.
However, there's a big difference between a 17-year-old fooling around with a 15-year-old and an infant so badly abused that she needs an operation. There's such a huge range of experiences here that probably the key thing to take away is that the abuser is much more likely to be someone the parents trust than the stranger they warn the kid about.

dweeb

Perhaps it would help if we characterized the data in terms of actual facts:

1) 25 percent of those reporting sexual offenses against them are 10-14 years old; 23 percent are nine or younger.

2) 22.5 percent of the accused are family members. Only 8 percent are strangers.

3) 25 percent of sex offense reports to the police lead to an arrest.

Using this data, one can reasonablyI estimate that, out of every 1,000 10- to 14-year-old girls, six may be expected to allege or report being victims of sexual offenses in a year.

False reports are common, epsecially with many social workers and mental health professionals on
crusades to find sexual abuse whether it's there or not.