Perpetrators Against Juveniles

As figure 9 shows, in incidents where knowledge of perpetrators allows their identification as family member, acquaintance, or stranger, most offenders against juveniles (80 percent) are known to the victim (i.e., the offender is a family member or an acquaintance). Only 11 percent of the child victimizers in violent crimes are strangers, suggesting that while "stranger danger" may be an important concept in child safety training, it is far from sufficient. There are two violent crimes with relatively higher percentages of stranger perpetrators—kidnaping (24 percent) and robbery (52 percent). Kidnaping, however, also has a relatively high percentage of family offenders (38 percent) as do sex offenses (28 percent). Despite the stereotypes about stranger molesters and rapists, sex offenses are the crimes least likely to involve strangers as perpetrators.

Juveniles are more likely than adults to be victimized by other juveniles, but their victimization is much less exclusively at the hands of juveniles than might be imagined. Adults are responsible for 55 percent of the juvenile victimizations known to police and constitute 47 percent of all identified offenders against juveniles. However, NIBRS data may exaggerate the percentage of adult offenders, because adult-perpetrated crimes are more likely than juvenile-perpetrated crimes to be reported to the police, a reality reflected in the NCVS self-reported data (Finkelhor and Ormrod, 1999).

In the NIBRS jurisdictions, the percentage of adult perpetrators is highest for kidnaping and sex offenses against juveniles, consistent with the stereotype, but there is no specific crime, not even simple assault, for which the percentage of adult perpetrators (among all identified perpetrators) falls below 40 percent (figure 10). Thus, a substantial portion of the crimes reported to police involving child victims are cases that have the potential to be processed in the criminal (as opposed to juvenile) court. Conversely, kidnaping and sex crimes against juveniles have a certain number of juvenile perpetrators (12 percent and 36 percent, respectively), something not necessarily reflected in the stereotypes of these crimes.

The characteristics of perpetrators change quite dramatically, depending on the age of the victim (figure 11). For example, family perpetrators commit most of the reported crimes against juveniles younger than age 5, but this percentage declines steadily until adolescence, when family members constitute less than 20 percent of all perpetrators. In a nearly mirror opposite trend, the percentage of acquaintance perpetrators rises throughout childhood, reaching a steady level of approximately 70 percent for victims ages 12 and older. The percentage of perpetrators who are strangers also rises slightly, but not dramatically, as juvenile victims grow older and spend more time in public areas.

In NIBRS incident reports, the ratio of adult perpetrators to juvenile perpetrators also changes with the age of the victim (figure 12). Adult perpetrators predominate for children younger than age 7, but during school years juvenile perpetrators prevail, until the late teenage years. Then, as juvenile victims come closer to maturity and more of their peers reach adulthood (age 18), the level of adult perpetration rises once again. It may also be that as juvenile offenders reach adult status, they are more likely to be reported to the police, a pattern suggested by an analysis of NCVS data on reporting (Finkelhor and Ormrod, 1999).

Figure 13 combines the offender's age (juvenile or adult) and relationship to the victim (family, acquaintance, or stranger) to show some more specific victimization patterns for juveniles at different stages of childhood. Whereas the percentage of adult family perpetrators (dark green solid line) shows a steady decline as children grow older (as suggested in figure 11), the percentage of juvenile family perpetrators (black dashed line) follows a different pattern. Incidents involving juvenile family offenders (mostly brothers and sisters) increase a bit after infancy (while incidents of parent perpetration are declining) and then remain elevated for victims ages 3 to 8, after which they, too, subside. Adult and juvenile acquaintance perpetrators also show different patterns. Juveniles account for most of the increase in incidents committed by acquaintance perpetrators against children 8 and younger (medium gray dashed line). During that same time, adult acquaintance perpetration—which is quite high for preschoolers—declines to a slight degree (medium green solid line). However, starting in adolescence, offenses committed by juvenile acquaintances decline dramatically, while crimes perpetrated by adult acquaintances dramatically increase. Offenses committed by strangers also have different patterns for juvenile and adult perpetrators. Adult strangers (light green solid line) pose the biggest risk to infants and youth in their late teens. Juvenile strangers (light gray dashed line) pose the greatest peril to victims in the late elementary school years.

In contrast with their levels in official child abuse statistics (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Children's Bureau, 1999), female offenders are relatively scarce in data from NIBRS jurisdictions on crimes against juveniles. They constitute 24 percent of the offenders in violent crimes against juveniles, only slightly higher than their proportion of offenders in crimes against adults. Females constitute 36 percent of offenders in violent crimes against children younger than age 1 and a minority of the offenders committing sex offenses against juvenile male victims. This suggests that female-perpetrated child abuse is less likely than male-perpetrated child abuse to be reported to the police by child welfare authorities, a conclusion suggested by early data from the child welfare system itself (Finkelhor, 1983).

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Characteristics of Crimes Against Juveniles Juvenile Justice Bulletin June 2000