When you think about crime statistics now compared to when you were a kid, do you automatically assume things are worse these days? It’s easy to believe that, in a world full of “breaking news alerts” and screaming headlines. The good news? It’s just not true—crime is actually on the decline.
The national crime rate peaked in 1991 at 5,856 crimes per 100,000 people and has generally been declining ever since, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.Pew Research reports that, “Both the FBI and Bureau of Justice Statistics show dramatic declines in U.S. violent and property crime rates since the early 1990s, when crime spiked across much of the nation.” That’s what they wrote in 2019.
In 2020, during Covid, the crime rates did go up a bit, but they are nowhere near the levels they were in the 1980s and 90s, as you can see for yourself:
What that means is that kids today are much safer than their parents were a generation before. Some crime rates are even the same as they were in “the good old days” of today’s grandparents! So if you’re worried that the world is too dangerous for kids to be independent, take a look at these crime statistics for some reassurance.
Here is a look at the rate of crimes against children through 2019. The report was released in 2021 by the Crimes Against Children Research Center:
And here’s a slightly older graph of U.S. homicide trends:
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Violent Crime Rates, Then and Now
Violent crime statistics include murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault, plus the property crimes of burglary, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft. Explore the data from 1960-2019 here.
Overall violent crime has dropped dramatically.
From 1993 to 2018, the rate of violent victimization declined 71%. Even small increases in a few urban areas in recent years don’t change the overall safety trend. (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics)
Murder rates are half what they were in 1990.
In 1991, the murder rate was 9.8 per 100,000. By 2014, the rate had plummeted to 4.4. (Brennan Center for Justice, Crime Trends: 1990-2016)
The current murder rate is about the same as it was in 1960.
In 1960, the murder rate was 5.1 per 100,000 people. By the 1980s, that number had doubled, but then began a rapid decline. (FiveThirtyEight)
The murder rate climbed briefly in 2015-17, mostly in a handful of major cities. In 2018, it dropped again, to 5.0 per 100,000 people. (Brennan Center for Justice, Takeaways from 2019 Crime Data)
Public perception of crime doesn’t match crime statistics.
Opinion surveys regularly find that Americans believe crime is up nationally, even when the data shows it is down. In a survey in late 2016, for instance, 57% of registered voters said crime in the U.S. had gotten worse since 2008, even though FBI and BJS data shows that violent and property crime rates declined by double-digit percentages during that span. (Pew Research Center, 5 Facts About Crime in the U.S.)
Get the Facts: Crimes Against Children
Viral Facebook posts would have you believe that human traffickers are lurking in every Walmart, predators stalk every playground, and schools are dangerous places to be. Take a look at some of the actual crime statistics involving children.
Human traffickers are not randomly abducting children.
The Polaris Project’s research indicates that human traffickers do not abduct victims (children or adults) randomly. Traffickers build relationships with vulnerable targets over time. (Polaris, 2018 Statistics From the National Human Trafficking Hotline)
Viral Facebook posts on sex trafficking abductions pop up regularly, but not a single one of them has been proven true. From Snopes.com:
- Coon Rapids Walmart Trafficking Warning: UNPROVEN
- Narrow Brush with Human Traffickers at a Southern California IKEA?: UNPROVEN
- Target ‘Talking to Strangers’ Facebook Warning: UNPROVEN
Schools are much safer than we think.
Statistically, schools are actually among the safest places for children to be. Here are some highlights from the federal report Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2018.
Between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, a total of 18 (1.2%) of the 1,478 homicides of school-age youth (ages 5–18) occurred at school.
Between 2001 and 2017, the overall percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported being victimized at school during the previous 6 months decreased from 6 to 2 percent. (Victimization is another way of saying someone has been the victim of a crime.)
The percentage of students who reported gang presence at their schools dropped by more than half between 2001 and 2017.
Sex offense registries aren’t making kids safer.
Experts often advise parents to monitor sex offense registries to look for dangers in their neighborhood. But those lists aren’t actually very effective at protecting kids or reducing crime. One reason is that 93% of sexual abuse of children is committed by someone the child already knows — not a stranger. (Sexual Assault of Young Children As Reported to Law Enforcement, Bureau of Justice Statistics)
Additionally, only about 5% of sex crimes are committed by someone already on a registry. That means 95% of those crimes wouldn’t have been prevented by a registry anyway. (Does a Watched Pot Boil? A Time-Series Analysis of New York State’s Sex Offender Registration and Notification Law)
While many parents believe that anyone on the sex offender registry is dangerous, the recidivism rate of registrants is actually very low. One study found that after eight years on the registry, only 4% of offenders had new sex crime convictions. (Evaluating the Effectiveness of Sex Offender Registration and Notification Policies for Reducing Sexual Violence against Women, NCJRS)
The Truth About Stranger Danger and Child Abduction
Many parents worry about kidnapping, but the odds of a stranger randomly abducting a child are extremely small. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, non-family abductions are the rarest type of case and make up much less than 1% of the missing children cases reported to NCMEC.
A report by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention indicates that about 100 children are abducted by strangers each year. In 2019, stranger abductions made up about .3% of missing children cases. The vast majority of missing children are runaways.
What’s more, the FBI National Crime Information Center reported a 40% drop in the number of missing children cases between 1997 and 2014.
Child abusers of all types usually target children they already know. RAINN notes that only 7% of sexual abuse cases involve a stranger.
Stop teaching Stranger Danger.
“Stranger Danger” is an outdated concept, and sometimes even prevents kids from asking for help when they need it. By teaching kids that everyone they don’t know is dangerous, we make it impossible for them to know who they should trust. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children no longer recommends teaching “Stranger Danger.”
There are a variety of terrific and reliable resources to help parents understand crime statistics and how they relate to kids. Here are some to consider.
- Childstats.gov: Forum on Family and Child Statistics
- Sex Offender Registries: Are They Keeping Kids Safe? (Psychology Today)
- Crimes Against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire
- FBI: Crimes Against Children/Online Predators
- World Health Organization: Violence Against Children