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How many offenders of child sexual abuse are Identified?

How many offenders of child sexual abuse are Identified? Identified and unidentified populations of offenders may be very different. Perhaps the most important reasons for these differences are that social policies prioritize certain types of abuse, especially intrafamilial abuse, and most offenders are not caught. Because the first issue has been discussed throughout the early chapters of this book, this section addresses only the second issue. Becoming an identified offender requires a myriad of steps. First, the child must disclose the abuse, or abuse must be suspected. Second, the person who observed the abuse or to whom the abuse was disclosed must report the abuse to the proper authorities. The official reporting body must then deem the complaint serious enough to warrant an investigation. If the investigation leads to a substantiation of the abuse, it can be referred for prosecution. If sufficient evidence exists, the case can then be prosecuted. Finally, the perpetrator must be convicted. Disclosure: First, the child or perpetrator must be willing to disclose the abuse, or the abuse must be observed. It is safe to say that the vast majority of all abuse is not observed. Perpetrators obviously do not want to get caught and, therefore, usually go to great lengths to hide their actions. For the same reason, perpetrators do not admit to having sexually abused a child. Children are also reluctant disclosers. Few children tell, and most who do so delay their disclosure (Russell, 1983; Lexington Herald-Leader, 1992; Saunders, Villeponteaux, Lipovsky, Kilpatrick, & Veronen, 1992; Sauzier, 1989). The third party who is told about the abuse then has the responsibility of deciding how to handle the disclosure. This is not an easy task because child reporting mechanisms differ by state. This task may be especially ominous for a lay person unfamiliar with state policies. Regardless, lay people often do report known abuse, accounting for 27% of all child abuse cases in 1993 known to child protective services (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996). The process for mandated reporters is clearer, and every state now has formal child abuse reporting laws (Pence & Wilson, 1994). Legally, those who report are not required to have proof of their suspicions—only reasonable suspicion. Even so, only 40% of all maltreatment and 35% of serious maltreatment was reported to or identified by child protective services in 1986 (Finkelhor, 1990a). Zellman and Antler (1990) also found that only 44% of surveyed mandated reporters said that they consistently reported suspicious abuse. A more recent study found that only 69% of suspected abuse was officially reported by professionals (King, Reece, Bendel, & Patel, 1998). Thus, only a fraction of all abuse is disclosed or suspected, and only a fraction of known abuse comes to the attention of authorities. Investigation: The next step is that child protective services or law enforcement agencies must be willing to investigate the offense. The most recent figures indicate that child protective services investigated only 42% to 44% of all cases of child sexual abuse known to professionals in 1993, down from 72% to 75% in 1986 (Sedlak & Broadhurst, 1996).4 Substantiation: Not only does the case have to be investigated, but it also has to be substantiated. As would be expected, not all investigated cases are substantiated. In 1997, substantiation rates were 34% for all cases of child abuse and neglect, down from 38% in 1990 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998, 1999). There are various reasons that cases are not substantiated, the most logical of which is that abuse did not occur. The recent trend in which fewer cases of abuse are investigated, however, is very disturbing. Certainly, a case that is not investigated cannot be substantiated, nor for that matter, can abuse be definitively ruled out. Further, it is extremely disturbing that only about 10 of every 100 cases of child sexual abuse known to professionals are substantiated.5 It is illogical to assume that 90% of cases of suspected or disclosed abuse did not occur. Prosecution and sentencing: Finally, the majority of substantiated cases of sexual abuse are not prosecuted. While studies vary in the percentage of cases that are prosecuted, all agree that the percentage is low. In the study with the lowest percentage, Tjaden and Thoennes (1992) found that criminal charges were filed in only 17% of all cases of child sexual abuse. A poll by the Lexington Herald-Leader (1992) of abuse occurring over a period of three years in 10 counties in the state of Kentucky also found that charges were filed in only 19% of substantiated cases. The first National Incidence Study (NIS-1) (Finkelhor, 1983) also found that criminal action was taken in only 24% of substantiated cases, a finding replicated in a study by Sauzier (1989). Still another study found that although criminal charges were filed in 42% of all cases of probable abuse, felony charges were filed in only 24% of all cases (Martone, Jaudes, & Carvins, 1996). A final study found that 39% of substantiated cases were prosecuted (Brewer, Rowe, & Brewer, 1997). Further, of those cases sent to prosecutors, only a small percentage of offenders are actually sentenced. Sauzier (1989) found that of 156 victims of sexual abuse, only 10% of all offenders were incarcerated. Martone et al. (1996) also found that convictions occurred in only 15% of all cases of probable abuse, although 85% of those convicted were incarcerated. Finally, the Lexington Herald-Leader (1 992) found that of the 19% of cases of sexual abuse that were prosecuted, 9 1 % of offenders were convicted or pled guilty, only 65% of which were incarcerated. Two other studies consider cases of child sexual abuse referred for prosecution. In one study of all child sexual abuse cases referred for prosecution over an eightyear period, 30% of perpetrators pled guilty prior to the trial, and less than 5% were convicted at trail (Bradshaw & Marks, 1990). In a more recent analysis, only 60% of cases submitted for prosecution over a one-year period were accepted, although 85% of the cases accepted for prosecution were convicted (Cross, Whitcomb, & De Vos, 1995). Of those convicted, 38% were incarcerated for more than a year, 40% were incarcerated for one year or less, and 22% were not incarcerated. Cross et al. conclude that child sexual abuse trials are rare, with cases being four times more likely to be declined than accepted by prosecutors. Because of the different ways in which these studies are reported, they are difficult to compare. For certain of these studies, however, the total percentage of offenders who were incarcerated can be computed. The Lexington Herald-Leader (1992) found that offenders were incarcerated in only 10% of all cases of substantiated abuse, whereas Martone et al. (1996) found that offenders were incarcerated in only 13% of all cases of probable abuse. Sauzier (1989) found that offenders were incarcerated in only 10% of all cases that were referred for evaluation, whereas Cross et al. (1995) found that offenders were incarcerated in 40% of all cases submitted for prosecution, although only 19% of all offenders were incarcerated for over one year. Summary: Given the current knowledge base, we cannot at this time estimate the percentage of offenders known to authorities. This analysis suggests, however, that most cases of sexual abuse are not disclosed. Even in disclosed cases that are then reported to child protective services by professionals, most are not investigated. Of those cases that are investigated, most are not substantiated. Of those cases that are substantiated, most offenders are not prosecuted. Only if the case is prosecuted does the offender have a better-than-average chance of conviction. Even then, however, most convicted offenders spend less than one year in jail. In the end, offenders may be convicted in only one or two of every 100 cases of suspected abuse known to professionals. Of substantiated abuse, only about 7% of offenders will spend more than one year in jail.6 Yet in Chapter 5, “Incidence and Prevalence,” it was noted that using even the most optimistic estimates, only about one-fourth of all abuse that occurs is known to authorities. Thus, the population of identified offenders represents a tiny percentage of the population of unidentified offenders. This is a grim analysis of a system designed to protect its young charges.

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