New data shows reports of child sexual abuse increasing nationally and in New Hampshire

  • Sexual assault survivors along with their supporters at the #MeToo Survivors March against sexual abuse Sunday, Nov. 12, 2017 in Los Angeles. A march to CNN's headquarters in Los Angeles and a rally at the intersection of Hollywood and Highland Avenue in Hollywood were part of the events held. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS) Gary Coronado

Monitor staff
Published: 3/6/2020 12:00:57 PM

The number of reported cases of child sexual abuse rose 6% nationally between 2017 and 2018, with 38 states, including New Hampshire, seeing increases, according to new data analyzed by the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center.

This is the first marked increase in sexual abuse cases in more than 15 years. But experts have urged caution when interpreting the data, saying a one-year change isn’t indicative of a trend.

“The pattern for really close to 30 years has been one of decline, and so the fact that it went up, and it went up this much, is something we should note, but I would also say that a single year change is not enough to really call it a trend,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center said in a Monitor interview. “We have to wait and see whether it continues to go up in another year at least.”

Nationwide, the number of reported cases rose from 59,400 in 2017 to nearly 63,000 the following year.

While an increase in reports can draw concern about a greater occurrence of abuse, experts say the likelier cause is that more people are reporting. Highly-publicized sexual assault cases, including the USA Gymnastics scandal and the convictions of Harvey Weinstein, create greater awareness about sexual abuse and support available to victims who come forward.

Despite the one-year increase in substantiated cases, the overall rate of child sexual abuse declined 62% from 1992 to 2018.

Reports from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System document only the abuse cases known to and substantiated by state child protection authorities, meaning the numbers do not provide a complete picture of the occurrence of child sexual abuse in the United States. All adults are mandatory reports of child abuse, but too often children don’t come forward because they don’t understand what happened to them was a crime, they fear no one will believe them, or they’re afraid of retaliation from perpetrators. The average age of disclosure of child sexual abuse is 52 years old.

Between 2017 and 2018, New Hampshire saw a 26% increase in the number of child sexual abuse cases, according to the UNH research center. In contrast, Massachusetts reported a 5% decrease, and the states of Maine and Vermont a 6% increase.

Finkelhor said by phone Thursday that he tried to get a better understanding of the uptick in New Hampshire, but was limited by the data currently available. He explained that child protection authorities log abuse and neglect more broadly, to include other types of physical abuse and neglect.

“It does look like, overall, the number of child maltreatment reports are going up in New Hampshire,” he said. “Child sexual abuse accounts for about 10% of that.”

Finkelhor said he expects the upward trend to continue but cautioned that it’s too early to speak exclusively to cases of sexual abuse.

“It will probably not be for another year or two that we’ll be able to make sense of what’s going on,” he said.

One possible explanation for the increase could be more widespread prevention and bystander intervention programs at schools and youth-service organizations across the country.

“There is a new level of mobilization nationwide to try to raise awareness, protect children and promote disclosures,” Finkelhor said.

In the Granite State, the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and its 13 member crisis centers have increased their efforts to provide prevention education to children of all ages, said Amanda Grady Sexton, the coalition’s director of public affairs.

“We are hopeful that the rise in reporting rates can be attributed to these efforts to teach children that sexual abuse is unacceptable and that it’s important to tell someone when they are being hurt. After children report abuse, it’s critical that the criminal justice system and our communities hold sexual predators accountable,” she said. “It will take both increased reporting and offender accountability to ultimately see a significant reduction in the rates of child sexual abuse in New Hampshire.”

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 or at adandrea@cmonitor.com.)



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