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Child sex abuse cases dramatically decline in US, says report

Despite the headlines hyping scandals at Penn State and the Boy Scouts, child sex abuse cases in the US, by several data gauges, have dramatically declined since the 1990s, say University of New Hampshire researchers.

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– The National Crime Victimization Survey, which collects information annually from a nationally representative sample of tens of thousands of US households every six months, asks about sexual assault among 12- to 17-year-olds and found a 69 percent decline in the annual rate of sexual assaults against teens from 1993 to 2008.

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– The Minnesota Student Survey, conducted every three years among sixth, ninth and 12th grade public school students in selected school districts, asks about sexual abuse by family members and non-family members. The survey found between 1992 and 2010 that there was a 29 percent decline in sexual abuse by non-family members and a 28 percent decline in abuse by family members.

– The National Survey of Family Growth gathers information every few years from national samples of women ages 15-44 about sexual and reproductive activity. Between 1995 and 2008, NSFG found a 39 percent decline in the women age 15-25 who reported that their first experience with intercourse was before age 15 with a person three or more years older.

– The National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence, conducted in 2008, found 2 percent of children ages 2-17 had been sexually assaulted, down from 3.3 percent in a similar survey five years earlier.

One survey in the UNH report did not find a significant decline: The National Survey of Adolescents, in two studies 10 years apart, reported what UNH researchers described as a "non-significant decline" in sexual assault for girls, from 13.2 percent in 1995 to 11.5 percent in 2005, and a "non-significant rise for boys" from 3.5 percent to 3.8 percent.

The UNH researchers noted that other indicators of child welfare that could be associated with sexual abuse have also declined, including teen suicide, down 30 percent from 1990 to 2010; teen runaways as measured by police arrests, down 60 percent; and teen births, down 55 percent from 1991 to 2010.

In addition, violent crime rates overall in the US have been declining for the past two decades. However, the researchers noted that there was conflicting data on whether there have been similar declines in the non-sexual physical abuse and neglect of children.

Although many high-profile child sex abuse cases have involved molestation of boys by men, including cases from Penn State, the Boy Scouts, and the Catholic Church, Finkelhor said that statistically, "about four girls are victimized for every one boy, and 95 percent of all offenders are males."

However, he noted that girls are more often victimized within the family while boys are often victimized outside the family.

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