Babysitters were only a small portion of the offenders in NIBRS jurisdictions who committed violent crimes against children. They accounted for 0.5 percent of offenders who committed crimes against juveniles (youth under age 18) and 4.2 percent of those who committed crimes against young children (those under age 6) (figure 1).1 In contrast, family members (including nonparental offenders) accounted for 21.4 percent of offenders who committed crimes against all juveniles and 53.5 percent of those who committed crimes against young children. (Parental family offenders alone are 12 percent and 36 percent, respectively.) Complete strangers accounted for 11.0 percent of offenders against juveniles and 5.6 percent of offenders against young children. In assessing these figures, it would be useful to compare babysitters with other categories of professional childcare providers, such as teachers or youth workers, but such comparisons are not possible because these categories are not separately identified in NIBRS.

Victim Characteristics

Children under age 6, the group most likely to be cared for by babysitters, are also those most likely to be victimized by them (figure 2). Children in this age group made up 60 percent of the victims of babysitter crimes in the NIBRS jurisdictions, although youth 12 and older were sometimes victimized. (The victims in the older age group may have included disabled youth who still require some professional childcare.) In terms of racial distribution, juvenile victims of babysitter offenses known to police were more likely to be white (92 percent) than juvenile crime victims in general (75 percent). This racial disparity may exist because nonwhite children are less likely to be cared for by paid nonfamily babysitters due to cost factors and the greater availability of care by relatives (Casper, 1997).

Among babysitter offenses that were reported to the police, sex offenses outnumbered physical assaults 65 percent to 34 percent (figure 3). Most of the sex offenses involved fondling rather than the more serious crimes of rape or sodomy (41 percent, 9 percent, and 11 percent of all babysitter offenses, respectively). Simple assaults made up 25 percent of all reported babysitter offenses, whereas aggravated assaults accounted for 9 percent. A very small fraction of the offenses entailed a kidnapping (0.5 percent) or homicide (0.6 percent).

The age distribution of victims in NIBRS reports varies, depending on the type of offense. Children ages 1 to 3 faced the greatest risk of physical assault, whereas children ages 3 to 5 were most vulnerable to sex offenses (figure 2). Victim gender also varied by type of offense. More boys than girls were victims of physical assault by babysitters (54 percent versus 46 percent), whereas girls made up 65 percent of the sex offense victims (figure 4).

Offender Characteristics

Overall, among babysitters, male offenders outnumbered female offenders (63 to 37 percent) in police reports.2 However, this percentage masks the true disproportion in the risk of male offending, in that most children are exposed to more female than male babysitters, both in terms of numbers and the amount of time spent in their care. No reliable information is available about the overall gender ratio of babysitters, but one teen survey found that females were twice as likely as males to have had babysitting experience (Kourany, Martin, and LaBarbera, 1980). Among adult babysitters, the ratio is considerably higher (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2001). Therefore, the true risk of a male babysitter offending is likely much greater than the two-to-one ratio of male to female offenders found in the data.

Males were disproportionately involved in sex offenses (77 percent of offenders known to police). Females committed the majority of the physical assaults (64 percent of offenders). Of babysitters who committed sex offenses, males were more likely than females to target female victims and victims ages 6 and older (figure 5). They were also more likely to be adults (58 percent), whereas female sex offenders were predominantly juveniles (67 percent), mostly ages 13 to 15.

In addition to gender of the offenders, one of the most dramatic differences between sex offenses and physical assaults reported in NIBRS jurisdictions was the offender age profile (figure 6). Nearly half (48 percent) of the babysitter sex offenders were themselves juveniles. On the other hand, only 15 percent of the physically assaultive babysitters were under age 18. This age pattern—teens overrepresented in the commission of sex offenses and adults in the commission of physical offenses—held true for both male and female offenders. One possible explanation for this pattern may be that adult babysitters are more likely to be given responsibility for young children for longer periods (e.g., a whole day or several days a week) than teenage babysitters, and this continuous exposure creates the kind of stress and control-related conflicts that tend to trigger physical assaults on young children. Sex offenses, by contrast, are often crimes of opportunity that occur during the more occasional exposures that children have with teen babysitters.


Death was a relatively uncommon outcome for victims of babysitter crimes in NIBRS jurisdictions (0.6 percent). However, babysitter victims were more likely to sustain injuries than juvenile victims of other offenders. Among juvenile victims of physical assault, 67 percent of those assaulted by babysitters incurred a major or minor injury, compared with 52 percent of victims of other offenders (figure 7). For assault victims under age 6, the injury discrepancy was even larger (75 percent of babysitter victims injured versus 53 percent of victims of other offenders). Sexual assault injury rates are fairly low and similar for babysitters and nonsitters alike.

1 Counts of offenders by relationship to victim are based only on victimizations where perpetrators can be identified as family members, strangers, babysitters, or other acquaintances, thus excluding the "unknown" category. Furthermore, comparisons of babysitter-perpetrated offenses with those committed by nonbabysitters are limited to only incidents involving crimes against persons (homicide, sexual assault, assault, kidnapping, and nonforcible sex offenses) because these are the only crimes linked in NIBRS data to babysitter offenders.

2 Some babysitter victimizations are perpetrated by multiple sitters, or by one sitter and other offender(s), yielding mixed offender patterns and offender-victim associations. In cases with multiple offenders, nonbabysitter offenders are identified by their relationship to the victim, not to the babysitter. To avoid ambiguity, only incidents containing a single babysitter acting alone are used when specifying offender characteristics and describing offender-victim links. Single babysitters acting alone accounted for 93 percent of all babysitter victimizations reported in 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998 NIBRS data.

Previous Contents Next

Crimes Against Children by Babysitters Juvenile Justice Bulletin September 2001