Prosecution of Child Abuse: A Meta-Analysis of Rates of Criminal Justice Decisions

Theodore P. Cross, Wendy A. Walsh, Monique Simone, Lisa M. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study meta-analyzed rates of criminal justice decisions in 21 studies of prosecution of child abuse. Rates of referral to prosecution, filing charges, and incarceration varied considerably. Rates of carrying cases forward without dismissal were consistently 72% or greater. For cases carried forward, plea rates averaged 82% and conviction rates 94%. Compared to national data, child abuse was less likely to lead to filing charges and incarceration than most other felonies but more likely to be carried forward without dismissal. Diversion, guilty plea, and trial and conviction rates were about the same for child abuse and all violent crimes. Thus, prosecuting child abuse is generally neither feckless nor reckless. Rates can be misleading and cannot be the sole measure of prosecution success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)323-340
Number of pages18
JournalTrauma, Violence, & Abuse
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • child abuse
  • child sexual abuse
  • criminal justice
  • meta-analysis
  • prosecution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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