Contrary to what might have been expected during an economic recession, child abuse declined in the United States in 2008 compared to 2007, official data shows.

No-one is sure why, but the small declines (sexual abuse 6 per cent, physical abuse 3 per cent and neglect 2 per cent) continue a trend that goes back more than 15 years — in the areas of sexual and other physical abuse, both of which have more than halved since 1992.

The figures are tracked by the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. Director, sociology professor David Finkelhor, advises caution in reaching conclusions about the recent decline as the effects of financial strain may not have shown themselves yet. However, he suggests reasons for the long-term trend:

“The long-improvement for sexual and physical abuse may be related to a generation-long effort to educate and respond more effectively and aggressively to the problem,” Finkelhor said. “If successful prevention efforts are behind the declines, then the improvements may persist even in the face of social stressors like the recession.”

His full report can be found here
Here are some numbers from it:

Disaggregated data from the report show that sexual abuse declined 6% from 2007 to 2008 to a nationally estimated 68,500 substantiated cases. Physical abuse declined 3% to an estimated 119,500 cases. Neglect declined 2% to an estimated 546,600 substantiated cases (see Figure 1).

Sexual abuse declined 58% from 1992 to 2008, while physical abuse has declined 55%. Neglect has dropped less with only a comparatively small 10% decline since 1992.

Perhaps this shows that if a society sends clear messages and acts consistently it really can reverse a bad trend. Let’s remember that teenage sexual activity and pregnancies also declined through the 1990s and up until 2005, a period when the federal government was supporting abstinence education.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet