Characteristics of Child Abuse Reported by NIBRS
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 kniferates 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.
1 In figures 3 through 7, ďageĒ refers to age at the time the offense was reported, not necessarily age at first occurrence.