Characteristics of Child Abuse Reported by NIBRS

Caretaker Offenses

Analysis of NIBRS data on incidents known to police reveals that parents and other caretakers are responsible for nearly one in five (19 percent) of all violent crimes (plus nonforcible sex offenses) committed against juveniles (figure 1). Strangers are responsible for only half as many (10 percent) of these police-known crimes. The largest category of those known to police who commit offenses against juveniles comprises noncaretaker acquaintances (63 percent), both juveniles and adults, and the smallest category (8 percent) consists of noncaretaker family members, mostly juveniles.

Figure 1:Offenses Against Juveniles, by Type of Offender
Figure 1: Offenses Against Juveniles, by Type of Offender
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1997.
Note: Includes all violent crimes and nonforcible sex offenses.

The parent and other caretaker proportion for some offenses is quite a bit higher than for others. Parents and other caretakers commit 26 percent of sexual assaults of juveniles and 49 percent of kidnapings of juveniles, compared with 16 percent and 18 percent for aggravated and simple assaults, respectively (figure 2).

Also, as might be expected, offenses by parents and other caretakers play a particularly large role in the victimization of younger children, who do not have many persons other than caretakers in their lives (figure 3). Data on incidents known to police show that more than half of the crimes against children age 2 and younger are committed by parents and other caretakers; for juveniles age 12 and older, the role of parent and other caretaker offenders dwindles to less than 20 percent of all offenders.1

The high percentage of young children victimized by caretakers should not be misinterpreted. The majority of caretaker offenses in NIBRS are not actually committed against younger children (figure 3). Juveniles age 12 and older are victims in 53 percent of all NIBRS caretaker offenses, whereas children age 5 and younger are victims in only 21 percent. This is because the overall rate of victimization reported to NIBRS is lower for younger children. Of the relatively smaller number of crimes against younger children, however, a very large percentage are committed by parents and other caretakers.

The National Incident-Based Reporting System

The U.S. Department of Justice is replacing its long-established Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system with the more comprehensive National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). While the UCR monitors only a limited number of index crimes and, with the exception of homicides, gathers few details on each crime event, NIBRS collects a wide range of information on victims, offenders, and circumstances for a greatly increased variety of offenses. Offenses tracked in NIBRS include violent crimes (e.g., homicide, assault, rape, robbery), property crimes (e.g., theft, arson, vandalism, fraud, embezzlement), and crimes against society (e.g., drug offenses, gambling, prostitution). Moreover, NIBRS collects information on multiple victims, multiple offenders, and multiple crimes that may be part of the same episode.

Under the new system, as with the old, local law enforcement personnel compile information on crimes coming to their attention, and this information is aggregated in turn at the State and national levels. For a crime to be counted in the system, it simply needs to be reported and investigated. It is not necessary that an incident be cleared or an arrest made, although unfounded reports are deleted from the record.

NIBRS holds great promise, but it is still far from a national system. Its implementation by the FBI began in 1988, and participation by States and local agencies is voluntary and incremental. By 1995, jurisdictions in 9 States had agencies contributing data; by 1997, the number was 12; and by the end of 1999, jurisdictions in 17 States submitted reports, providing coverage for 11 percent of the Nationís population and 9 percent of its crime. Only three States (Idaho, Iowa, and South Carolina) have participation from all local jurisdictions, and only one city with a population greater than 500,000 (Austin, TX) is reporting. The crime experiences of large urban areas are particularly underrepresented. The system, therefore, is not yet nationally representative nor do findings represent national trends or national statistics. Nevertheless, the system is assembling large amounts of crime information and providing a richness of detail about juvenile victimizations previously unavailable. The patterns and associations these data reveal are real and represent the experiences of a large number of youth. For 1997, the 12 participating States (Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia) reported a total of 1,043,719 crimes against individuals, with 119,852 occurring against juveniles (including more than 15,000 perpetrated by caretakers). Nevertheless, patterns may change as more jurisdictions join the system.

More information about NIBRS data collection can be found at these Web sites: (1) www.jrsa.org/ibrrc/, (2) www.fbi.gov/ucr/nibrs/manuals/v1all.pdf, (3) www.fbi.gov/hq/cjisd/ucr.htm, (4) www.search.org/.



Figure 2:  Offenses Against Juveniles, by Type of Offender and Type of Crime
Figure 2: Offenses Against Juveniles, by Type of Offender and Type of Crime
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1997.
Note: Includes nonforcible sex offenses.

Types of Caretaker Offenders

Within the parent and other caretaker offender category defined in this Bulletin, parents are responsible for 60 percent of all crimes. Stepparents and parentsí boyfriends and girlfriends account for another 19 percent. Males are considerably more likely than females (73 percent versus 27 percent) to be perpetrators. This gender difference holds true even among babysitter offenders, although males are much less likely than females to be babysitters. Biological fathers account for two-fifths (41 percent) of all offenders, and stepfathers and parentsí boyfriends account for nearly one-fifth (18 percent) (figure 4). Men account for 92 percent of caretaker sex assault, 67 percent of aggravated assault, 68 percent of simple assault, and 58 percent of kidnaping offenders.

Figure 3:  Offenses Against Juveniles by Parents and Other Caretakers, by Victim Age
Figure 3: Offenses Against Juveniles by Parents and Other Caretakers, by Victim Age
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1997.
Note: Includes nonforcible sex offenses.

Gender of Victims

A somewhat larger number of girls than boys are victims of parent and other caretaker offenses (58 percent versus 42 percent). This is largely accounted for by the disproportionate number of female sexual assault victims (80 percent girls versus 20 percent boys) (figure 5). Victim gender is fairly evenly distributed for simple assaults, aggravated assaults, and kidnapings.

In the category of sex offenses by parents and other caretakers, the percentage of victims who are female rises with age across the span of childhood (figure 6). In the category of nonsexual caretaker offenses (physical assaults and kidnapings), the percentage of victims who are female also rises at adolescence, perhaps because boys grow big and strong enough to deter parental assaults or because parental conflicts with girls (particularly concerning sexual behavior) are intensified during adolescence.

Figure 4:  Offenses Against Juveniles by Parents and Other Caretakers, by Perpetrator Identity
Figure 4: Offenses Against Juveniles by Parents and Other Caretakers, by Perpetrator Identity
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1997.

Connection Between Child Abuse and Other Domestic Violence

Spouse abuse is one factor that may bring parent and other caretaker offenses against children directly to the attention of police. Officers responding to a home where domestic violence is occurring may discover an assault against a child as well. Multiple victims are coded by NIBRS, which means that incident data can include both spousal and child victims. For incidents known to police, 3 percent of spouse and other intimate partner assaults also include a child abuse victim, while 13 percent of child abuse victimizations include a spouse or other intimate partner assault. Thus, response to spousal violence may be one way in which child abuse by a parent is discovered by the police.

Figure 5:  Offenses Against Juveniles by Parents and Other Caretakers, by Victim Gender and Type of Crime
Figure 5: Offenses Against Juveniles by Parents and Other Caretakers, by Perpetrator Identity
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1997.

In some cases, more than one child is victimized by the same parent or caretaker. NIBRS data on parent and other caretaker assaults show that 7 percent of physical assaults and 10 percent of sexual assaults involved more than one child. Multiple-victim assaults were more likely to involve younger than older children. Seventy percent of juvenile victims in multiple-victim assaults were under 12 years of age, compared with 42 percent in single-victim assaults.

Weapons and Injury in Child Abuse Cases

Most offenses by parents and other caretakers do not involve weapons. Only 1 percent of episodes involved a firearm and only 2 percent involved a knife—rates of weapon use that are less than half those for other perpetrators against children. Severe injury is also relatively infrequent in offenses by parents and other caretakers reported to police. NIBRS data indicate major physical injury (such as severe lacerations, broken bones, and unconsciousness) to only 3 percent of the juvenile victims and minor physical injury (such as bruises or scratches) to another 42 percent. The impression has been that, compared with other types of juvenile victimization, offenses by parents and other caretakers require a higher threshold of injury to bring them to the attention of police. In fact, however, NIBRS data show that the level of injury in offenses by parents and other caretakers reported to police is about the same as that in offenses committed against juveniles by other perpetrators. Major injuries are more common for younger children (6 percent for victims age 5 and younger versus 3 percent for children age 6 and older), which may reflect the greater physical vulnerability of younger children.

Figure 6:  Offenses Against Female Juveniles by Parents and Other Caretakers, by Type of Crime and Victim Age
Figure 6: Offenses Against Female Juveniles by Parents and Other Caretakers, by Type of Crime and Victim Age
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1997.


1 In figures 3 through 7, ďageĒ refers to age at the time the offense was reported, not necessarily age at first occurrence.

Previous Contents Next

Child Abuse Reported to the Police Juvenile Justice Bulletin May 2001