The Decline of Sexual Abuse Cases

Summary: This project explores the dramatic decline in sexual abuse cases that has occurred across the U.S. during the 1990s. The goals of the study are to draw greater national attention to the declining trend and examine a number of possible reasons for why it is occurring.


After a fifteen-year increase, summary data put out by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) show a 39% decrease in sexual abuse substantiations. Estimates from these data, extrapolated to the total U.S. child population show that substantiated cases of sexual abuse have dropped from almost 150,000 cases in 1992 to approximately 93,000 cases in 1999. The trend is not universal, but it is affecting the majority of states. Thirty-eight states experienced a total decline of 30% or more in substantiated sexual abuse during the 1990s. While declines have also occurred in other types of child maltreatment, the decline in sexual abuse has been much more consistent and has occurred over a greater period of time. Awareness of this remarkable trend and discussion of the possible reasons for its occurrence have been limited.

Goals and Objectives

The goals of the current project are:


Two components of the research were used to develop a comprehensive list of possible causes for the decline:

These sources offered a number of suggestions about why the decline might be occurring. The following were six explanations that were suggested frequently and that had logical plausibility and some anecdotal support: