Incidence of Reported Sexual Abuse

Incidence refers to the number of reports of a particular phenomenon, usually occurring during a circumscribed time frame. In the United States, there are governmental and nongovernmental initiatives to gather incidence data on child sexual abuse.

Illustrative of governmental efforts is a provision in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974, which requires that the federal government collect annual statistics on reports of child maltreatment received by local Child Protection Agencies. These data include reports of child sexual abuse. Over the 20 years this information has been collected, there has been a steady increase in reports of child abuse and neglect, and a fairly steady increase in the proportion of sexual abuse cases among reports. According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse (NCPCA), sexual abuse cases constitute about 11% of cases currently reported—in 1995 almost 350,000 cases. Currently, approximately one-third of reports are substantiated after investigation by Child Protective Services (CPS), or about 110,000 cases of child sexual abuse annually.

Although the number of cases from the CPS reports is considerable, a study of 1000 parents conducted by the Gallup Poll in 1995 yielded a projection 10 times larger, of one million children sexually abused during the previous year. Part of the reason that the Child Protective Services number is lower is that CPS only concerns itself with situations in which a caretaker is the abuser. Most extrafamilial sexual abuse cases are not handled by CPS, but by law enforcement. However, the higher number in the Gallup Poll projection likely also indicates a substantial number of cases do not come to professional attention. Moreover, even the Gallup Poll figure is probably a low estimate because parents would be unlikely to report themselves if they were sexually abusing their children, and they might even be reluctant to report relatives and friends.

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