21 December 2018

Child Sexual Abuse Became More Rare Just As Porn Became More Available

Child Sexual Abuse Has Fallen Greatly Since The Early 1990s
As of 2016, the rate of substantiated child maltreatment has shown little change over the past several years. It is, however, considerably lower than in 1990, having fallen from 13 incidents per 1,000 children to 9 per 1,000. Rates of physical, sexual, and psychological or emotional abuse have declined the most since 2000, while rates of neglect have declined the least.
From 1990 to 1994, the number of cases of child abuse or neglect that were either substantiated or indicated rose from 861,000 to 1,032,000, reaching a rate of 15 incidents per 1,000 children under age 18 in 1994. From 1994 to 1999, the trend reversed, with the number of cases dropping to 829,000, a rate of 12 per 1,000, in 1999. . . . In 2016, there were approximately 672,000 maltreated children in the United States, a rate of 9.1 per 1,000. . . .
Reported rates of neglect are higher than those for other types of child maltreatment. In 2016, 7 children per 1,000 were reported victims of neglect, compared with 1.7 for physical abuse, 0.8 for sexual abuse, and 0.5 for psychological or emotional abuse (Appendix 2). 
Among all maltreated children, the proportion with reported neglect increased from 49 percent in 1990 to 75 percent in 2016; those with reported sexual abuse declined from 17 to 9 percent, and those with reported physical abuse declined from 27 to 18 percent. Less frequent types of maltreatment, including those classed as “unknown,” accounted for the balance (Appendix 1). 
Rates of physical and sexual abuse have declined over the past two decades, while rates of neglect have fluctuated. From 1990 to 2016, rates of substantiated physical abuse declined by 40 percent and sexual abuse rates declined by 62 percent; in contrast, rates of substantiated neglect fell by just 8 percent over this period.2
From here.

Other surveys show that the median age of first sexual intercourse is rising for both men and women, and that high school and younger students are having sex less often that they did in the previous few decades. Some trends from 1954 to 2003 are reported in this report. A nice chart illustrating the long term trend can be found here.

According to this source, as of 2017: Teen birth rates, and overall abortion rates, were at record lows as of 2017. "Adolescent pregnancies are also decreasing precipitously, down 55 percent between 1990 and 2011. Early data suggest those numbers will continue to fall: Birthrates for women between the ages of 15 and 19 declined an additional 35 percent between 2011 and 2016, hitting the lowest levels since CDC began collecting data."

Based upon sources cited in a 2016 post at this blog: "There were about 1,030 children born to mothers aged 15 to 17 in New Jersey in 2014 (a rate of 5.8 per 1,000 girls aged 15-17 . . . down 78% from a peak in 1991), and about 37 children born to mothers under age 15 in New Jersey in 2014." If 2014 was equal to the average number of marriages by minor girls from 1995 to 2012 in New Jersey, 193 girls under age 18 in New Jersey were married in that year, including 9 girls between the ages of 13 and 15. Marriages in New Jersey for 16 and 17 year olds can be authorized with parental consent and 91% of them are of girls under eighteen to men over the age of eighteen. Roughly 19% of teen mothers in New Jersey marry before turning age 18. This is almost certainly a number that has declined over time, so it probably overstates the marriage rate for girls under age 18 in New Jersey.

According to this 2012 report: "In 2012, adolescents aged <15 and 15–19 years accounted for 0.4% and 12.2% of all abortions, respectively, and had abortion rates of 0.8 and 9.2 abortions per 1,000 adolescents aged <15 and 15–19 years, respectively. From 2003 to 2012, the percentage of abortions accounted for by adolescents aged 15–19 years decreased 27% and their abortion rate decreased 40%. These decreases were greater than the decreases for women in any older age group." Note that abortions performed for girls under the age of 15 are so rare that statistical significant becomes an issue in trend measurements except for very large sample sizes, since only one abortion in 250 involves a girl under the age of 15.

Another 2012 post at this blog has similar statistics.

2010 post at this blog noted that:  "According to the CDC report: "The [birth] rate for the youngest teenagers, 10-14 years, fell from 0.6 to 0.5 per 1,000, the lowest level ever reported. . . . The birth rate for teenagers 15-17 years declined 7 percent to 20.1 per 1,000. This rate dropped 9 percent from 2007 (22.1) to 2009, and was 48 percent lower than the rate reported in 1991 (38.6 per 1,000)." Teen births are down 59% from their 1957 modern peak, about 33% from their most recent peak in the late 1980s (when I was 15-19 years old), and significantly below the depressed levels of World War II which rebounded from a long period of muted fertility with the baby boom. With the exception of a surge in teen birth rates in the late 1980s and some small, short term statistical blips, teen birth rates have declined steadily from the 1957 peak of the baby boom to the present."

Overall rapes declined 24% from 2001 to 2010, and declined further in both the late 1990s and the early part of the current decade.

Access To Free Pornography Online Has Increased Greatly Since The Early 1990s

Internet access was first available for people other than scientists and military users in the early 1990s. By the year 2000, about 50% of Americans had Internet access, and it rose to about 84% by 2015. The rise of free pornography available over the Internet lagged only slightly behind the rise in Internet access generally.

The line for Internet use in developed countries, globally, on the chart below from Wikipedia, closely parallels the trends in the United States:

Online Pornography Is Not Causing Increased Rates Of Child Sexual Assault

As shown above, the rise in rates of Internet access, which also brought the rise of access to free pornography videos, also coincides with large declines in the rate of sexual assaults overall, and record low teen pregnancy rates, teen birth rates, and teen abortion rates, including all time record lows for pregnancies in girls under age 15.

This data suggests that the concern that increased access to pornography over the Internet has fueled increased rates of child sexual assault, appears to be unfounded, although it is not impossible that, for example, child to child sexual assaults (which have always been, and continue to be, a minority of sexual assaults on children) have risen for this reason. 

Notably, this source, while calling the numbers alarming, does not make any statements regarding whether this is become more or less common, or what proportion of child sexual assault cases this involves. It also provides no data demonstrating what share of these cases involve pornography viewing by perpetrators.

For example, according to this 2015 source, "96% of people who sexually abuse children are male, and 76.8% of people who sexually abuse children are adults." This implies that 23.2% of perpetrators are under the age of eighteen (predominantly boys). The same source states that 91% of sexual assault victims are female. And, a minority of victims are children. The same source states that "12.3% of women were age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization, and 30% of women were between the ages of 11 and 17. 27.8% of men were age 10 or younger at the time of their first rape/victimization." Of course, one would not be at all surprised to find that the victims of child perpetrators of sexual assault are themselves young. This statistic doesn't distinguish between adolescent and pre-pubescent boys who commit sexual assaults, although I suspect that older offenders are more common than younger offenders. According to this source: "82% of all victims under 18 are female."

A different data set finds with regard to victims of child sexual abuse that:
Out of the yearly 63,000 sexual abuse cases substantiated, or found strong evidence, by Child Protective Services (CPS), the perpetrator was most often the parent: 
80% of perpetrators were a parent
6% were other relatives
5% were "other" (from siblings to strangers)
4% were unmarried partners of a parent
This would suggest that significantly less than 16% of child sexual assaults are committed by other children (presumably the relationship to the perpetrator was unknown or not available in 5% of cases in the sample), although child to child sexual assaults are probably disproportionately unlikely to be reported to Child Protective Services.

Wikipedia examines the issue of child on child sexual abuse in this entry. It notes that:
The incidence of child-on-child sexual abuse is not known with any certainty, similar to abuse by adults. It frequently goes unreported because it is not widely known of in the public, and often occurs outside of adults' direct supervision. Even if known by adults, it is sometimes dismissed as harmless by those who do not understand the implications. In particular, intersibling abuse is under-reported relative to the reporting rates for parent-child sexual abuse, and disclosure of the incest by the victim during childhood is rare. 
This implies that the long term trend in the rate at which this happens is unknown and may be heavily influenced by changes in reporting rate as opposed to changes in incidence rates.

It seems more likely that this is a case of "moral panic" at a time when the problem is actually becoming much less prevalent.

I am not claiming that greater pornography availability caused reduced rates of child sexual assault. In all likelihood, other causes were much more important.

For example, almost all other kinds of crime also became much less common in this time period.

But, I am claiming, that the claim that greater pornography availability increased rates of child sexual assault is strongly disfavored by the available data. If child sexual assault rates are down dramatically to near record lows, in a time period when pornography access has seen the biggest increase in the history of the world, it is unlikely that pornography access is causing increased rates of child sexual assaults.

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