How many innocent people in the U.S. are targeted in child abuse investigations?
It’s a fair question, but it’s a hard one to answer.
Let’s first start with a definition. A false abuse allegation is one that is made with knowledge that it is untrue.
So, from the start, we know we are not talking about well-intentioned parents who fear the worst. We are talking about people who know that what they are saying simply isn’t true.
A search on Google for “false abuse allegations statistics US” will yield a number of answers, with anywhere from 2% to a third or more of abuse allegations being found to be false.
Who to believe? It’s hard to know, especially in this information age. But let’s look at the more conservative figures, as a starting point.
This page from SAVE (Stop Abusive and Violent Environments) cites four academic sources for its assertion that the rate of false abuse allegations is between 2 and 10%. Those sources are:
- True and False Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse: Assessment and Case Management edited by Tara Ney; published by Psychology Press in 1995 (see specifically pp.23–33) (see book on Alibris here)
- Child Abuse and Neglect: A Clinician’s Handbook by Christopher J. Hobbs et al., published by Elsevier Health Sciences in 1999 (p. 197) (Amazon page here)
- Child Sexual Abuse: A Handbook for Health Care and Legal Professionals by Diane H. Schetky and Arthur H. Green, also published by Psychology Press in 1988 (p. 105) (AbeBooks page here)
- Child Sexual Abuse: Its Scope and Our Failure by Rebecca M. Bolen and published in 2001 by Springer (p. 109) (Amazon page here)
With that same page reporting that almost 3 million children were the subject of a Child Protective Services or similar investigation into abuse allegations in the year 2010, and assuming even the lowest reported statistic of 2%, that means in 2010 60,000 false allegations of abuse were made.
That’s sixty thousand U.S. parents, caretakers, and others who were accused of child abuse by people who knew the allegations were not true. And when you look solely at cases where abuse allegations are levied in child custody disputes, that 2-10% figure jumps as high as 55%. (Sources: Trocme N, Bala N. “False allegations of abuse and neglect when parents separate.” Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol. 29, 2005. p. 1341; Robin M. Assessing Child Maltreatment Reports: The Problem of False Allegations. Haworth Press. pp. 21–24. 1991; Mikkelsen EJ, Gutheil TG, Emens M. “False Sexual-Abuse Allegations by Children and Adolescents: Contextual Factors and Clinical Subtypes.” American Journal of Psychotherpay,Vol. 46, 1992.)
Now, looking solely at that most conservative 2% figure, let’s ask ourselves:
If, every single year, a full sixty thousand people were sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole – people who were factually innocent of any crime or wrongdoing – would the U.S. as a society deem that a crisis?
Of course that’s not a perfect analogy. But many parents who have been through this experience do liken it to a life sentence.
Once those allegations are made, and once the legal and justice machinery churns along to a certain point, many victims of false abuse allegations feel that it’s impossible to regain their reputations and their lives. They perceive that their relationships with their children have been irreparably damaged.
It does, indeed, feel like a life sentence, with no chance of parole.
That’s why it’s so crucial to address false allegations of child abuse right out of the gate, with an experienced team of legal and psychological experts.