Introduction

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) is committed to improving the justice system's response to crimes against children. OJJDP recognizes that children are at increased risk for crime victimization. Not only are children the victims of many of the same crimes that victimize adults, they are subject to other crimes, like child abuse and neglect, that are specific to childhood. The impact of these crimes on young victims can be devastating, and the violent or sexual victimization of children can often lead to an intergenerational cycle of violence and abuse. The purpose of OJJDP's Crimes Against Children Series is to improve and expand the Nation's efforts to better serve child victims by presenting the latest information about child victimization, including analyses of crime victimization statistics, studies of child victims and their special needs, and descriptions of programs and approaches that address these needs.

In recent years, parents and policymakers have become increasingly concerned with ensuring the safety of children when they are in the custody of childcare workers. Such concerns have sparked extensive debates about how childcare providers should be hired and screened and whether routine criminal background checks should be used to uncover potential offenders. These safety concerns have even prompted the use of surveillance devices to monitor workers who care for children (Wen, 2000).

Unfortunately, information that might clarify these issues is limited. For example, public data on juvenile abuse and crime victimization do not routinely present the identity of perpetrators in a way that allows identification of specific groups of offenders, such as teachers or daycare operators. Instead, perpetrators are grouped more generally, either as undifferentiated childcare providers or simply as acquaintances of the victim.

Parents are particularly concerned about babysitters, whose recruitment and screening are often informal. Nonfamilial paid babysitters have generated anxiety ever since they became a nearly universal social phenomenon in the post-World War II childrearing environment (Kourany, Gwinn, and Martin, 1980). As mothers entered the workforce and fewer families lived with other relatives, more and more parents relied on babysitters to care for their children. Concerns about babysitters may have increased in recent years, especially in the wake of cases like that of Louise Woodward, the Boston-area au pair convicted of killing 8-month-old Matthew Eappen, who was in her full-time care (Doherty, 1997; Kahn, 1997).

Despite such publicity, the literature on the offenses of babysitters is scant (Margolin, 1990; Margolin and Craft, 1990; Martin and Kourany, 1980). However, this lack of information is beginning to change. Babysitters are one of the new categories of offenders for whom specific information is now being collected within the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) growing National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The availability of these data for the first time, combined with public and policy interest, makes babysitter offenses worthy of analysis.

Analysis of NIBRS data on crimes against juveniles (ages 0 to 17) reveals the following information:

  • Babysitters are responsible for a relatively small portion of the reported criminal offenses against children: 4.2 percent of all offenses for children under age 6—less than the percentage accounted for by family members or strangers.

  • Among the reported offenses that babysitters commit, sex crimes outnumber physical assaults nearly two to one.

  • Children most at risk of physical assaults by babysitters are younger (ages 13) than those at risk of sex crimes (ages 35).

  • Males constitute the majority of sex-offending babysitters reported to the police (77 percent); females make up the majority of physical assaulters (64 percent).

  • Juvenile offenders are responsible for nearly half the babysitter sex crimes known to police (48 percent) but only 15 percent of the physical assaults.

  • Babysitter offenses rarely result in death, but victims of babysitter crimes known to police are more likely than other child crime victims to suffer an injury (75 percent versus 53 percent for victims under age 6).

Previous Contents Next

Crimes Against Children by Babysitters Juvenile Justice Bulletin September 2001