NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 11, 2007

In the wake of shocking crimes such as the mass murder at Virginia Tech, there is good news to report: America's children are actually safer, says Richard J. McNally, psychology professor at Harvard University.


  • Sociologist David Finkelhor and clinical psychologist Lisa Jones document that rates of crime have dropped by as much as 70 percent, depending on the nature of the offense.
  • Youngsters are far less likely to be murdered today than they were in the early 1990s, according to U.S. Justice Department statistics.
  • Since 1993, the juvenile homicide rate dropped by 50 percent, and the drop was even steeper for kids between the ages of 14 and 17.

The improvement is not confined to homicide; things have improved since 1990 for nearly every category of child victimization:

  • According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, substantiated cases of childhood sexual abuse declined by 49 percent, and substantiated cases of physical abuse declined by 43 percent.
  • Sexual assaults against adolescents have dropped by 67 percent, aggravated assaults by 74 percent, and robbery by 72 percent, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

So why have things been getting so much better for Americans under age 18?  There are probably multiple causes, says McNally:

  • More criminals are behind bars, more police officers are on the streets and more social workers, are dedicated to improving the lives of children.
  • Increased funding for programs designed to curb domestic violence likely played a role, and heightened public awareness about sexual abuse have made it harder to perpetrate.
  • Family physicians now prescribe more medication for psychiatric and behavioral problems, thereby alleviating child maltreatment indirectly.
  • Finally, increasing prosperity during the 1990s brightened the prospects of many people, easing family tensions and reducing problems for kids.

Source: Richard J. McNally, "Kids Today," Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2007.

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