Infant Victims: An Exploratory Study

Utterly dependent on adults, infants are some of the most vulnerable individuals in our society. Despite the fact that society entrusts them to the care of adults, infants are occasionally the target of violence; they can also be incidental victims when violence occurs between other persons. This study explores the characteristics of and circumstances surrounding these criminal acts. It also includes an analysis of incidents indicating that additional victims are sometimes harmed during crimes of infant victimization.

This study uses data reported to the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Although not nationally representative at this time, NIBRS is one of the few sources of information on the victimization of young children and especially infants. It also provides a higher level of detail than is presently available in the UCR Summary reporting system, which presents summarized tallies of crimes. Through NIBRS, law enforcement agencies report incident-specific information. This level of detail enables crime analysts to investigate not only the intricate relationships between victim and offender but also the correlations between these relationships and offense information. However, NIBRS implementation by law enforcement nationwide is still incomplete, thus readers should use caution in generalizing the findings of this study to the Nation as a whole.

The NIBRS data used in this study are from the years 2001 through 2003 and reflect, on average, 16.7 percent of the crimes reported to the FBI overall. This study focuses on offense types classified as crimes against persons, excluding crimes that involve nonforcible sex. The nonforcible sex offenses of statutory rape and incest (see Endnote 1) require, by definition, some degree of consent; since infants are incapable of consent, such offenses are excluded. The category of crimes against persons includes murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation, forcible rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, forcible fondling, and kidnapping/abduction.

In order to help detect underlying patterns, this study applies a variety of approaches and designations to the disaggregated data. For certain parts of the study, victims are classified into one of four age groups. Victims under 1 year old are grouped together as infants, and victims aged 1 through 10 years old are categorized as young children. Victims aged 11 through 17 years old are classified as preadolescent and adolescent minors; victims who are 18 years old and older are classified as adults.

Figure 5.8
Offenses Related to Infant Victimizations, 2001-2003
Figure 5.8: Offenses Related to Infant Victimizations, 2001-2003
Figure 5.9
Age of Victims Present at Infant Victimizations
Figure 5.9: Age of Victims Present at Infant Victimizations

Although NIBRS has the capability to collect crime data according to 20 distinct types of location, for this study location types are reclassified into categories that reflect the possibility that someone unrelated to the offender might observe the crime. Areas considered private (or secluded) include residence/home, hotel/motel/etc., and jail/prison. With the exception of location types that are considered to be “other or unknown,” the remaining location types are considered public (or within view of the public).

Figure 5.10
Characteristics of Victims, by Age Group of Victim
Figure 5.10: Characteristics of Victims, by Age Group of Victim

Table 5.10: Number of Victims by Type of Relationship with Offender

Figure 5.8 shows a breakdown of offenses that occurred against both the infant specifically and other victims that were present at the infant’s victimization and were at least 1 year old. The breakdowns illustrate the number and distribution of offenses. In the case of crimes against persons, the UCR Program counts one offense for every victim in an incident, thus creating a unique statistical connection between the offense and the victim. Most often, the offense committed against these victims is simple assault. From 2001 through 2003, law enforcement agencies reported 1,404 simple assaults committed against infants and 1,081 simple assaults committed against other victims present at the infant’s victimization. The next most common offense was that of aggravated assault (1,023 committed against infants; 839 committed against other victims).

During the time frame of this study (2001-2003), law enforcement agencies reported to the FBI 4,973infant victims in the category of crimes against persons. This number represents 63.4 percent of the total number of victims in these incidents. (See Figure 5.9.) Even though the infants themselves constitute the majority of victims in the universe of incidents of interpersonal crime that include an infant victim, sometimes additional victims of other age groups are present at the infant’s victimization. Concurrent with the infant victimizations, there were 2,870 victims of other ages. Adults make up the preponderance of these other victims (24.9 percent), followed by young children (8.6 percent) and preadolescent and adolescent minors (3.1 percent). Additionally, the age breakdown of the infant victims reveals noteworthy patterns. As would be expected, the majority of infant victims are in the age range of 7 to 364 days old (49.2 percent of the total). However, the age group having the second-highest risk is made up of neonates (see Endnote 2) (11.3 percent of the total) with those infants 1 to 6 days old having the least risk (2.9 percent of the total).

NIBRS collects data about the characteristics of victims in terms of age, gender, and race. (See Figure 5.10.) By assigning each victim to a category by age, one can more easily distinguish any differing patterns of the characteristics among these groups.

The vast majority of infant victims are white (74.0 percent). When others are victimized along with the infant, the percentage of whites decreases. This indicates that there is a higher presence of other races in these incidents. Data about other victims present at the infant’s victimization show a higher presence of minorities. In the category of infant victims and victims between the ages of 1 and 10, there were approximately the same proportion of males and females. However, the older the associated victims are, the more likely they are to be female (69.8 percent for preadolescent and adolescent minors and 69.6 percent for adults). On average, the age data for minors victimized in these incidents show a slight bias toward younger ages. In the adult age group, the data for the average age of adult victims show a bias toward the lower end of the range of ages—as would be expected if the victims were the parents or caretakers of an infant.

NIBRS captures up to ten types of relationships between victim(s) and offender(s). These relationships reflect each unique combination of one victim and one offender within a crime incident. As a result, a victim can appear more than once in this table if more than one offender was involved in the incident. Data in Table 5.10 show the number of victims sorted by the type of victim-to-offender relationship. To facilitate the detection of patterns relating to each age group, this study uses aggregate categories that are more general than the categories coded in NIBRS.

Infant victims and the young children present at an infant’s victimization are usually dependents in the household of the offender. The next-most-often relationship is when these victims are otherwise acquainted but not related to the offender. Older victims (i.e., preadolescent and adolescent minors) are more likely to be victimized by people acquainted with them rather than by individuals related to them. Finally, adult victims are usually an intimate partner of the offender. This result is consistent with the finding that infant and young child victims are dependents of the household—as would be expected in a domestic situation.

One of the advantages of gathering crime data through NIBRS is the ability to capture information on more than one type of offense that may occur in the course of a crime incident, information on multiple victims, and information on multiple offenders. NIBRS can record up to 10 different types of offenses, 999 victims, and 99 offenders. A simple analysis of the number of types of offenses and the number of victims and offenders reported within an incident showed noteworthy contrasts between those incidents with infant victims and those without. As shown in Table 5.11, incidents with infant victimizations are slightly more likely to have multiple offense types (11.9 percent compared with 8.1 percent) and multiple offenders (14.6 percent compared to 11.6 percent). Based on the data, incidents involving infants may have a slightly higher probability of involving more than one assailant or more than one type of offense. However, the contrast is more striking for the number of victims. The data show that 45.5 percent of incidents with infant victimization have more than one victim; in contrast, 13.9 percent of incidents with no infant victimization have multiple victims. This finding suggests that it is less common for the infant victim to be alone with his or her offender, regardless of whether the infant is the intended victim.

Table 5.11: Number and Percent of Incidents by Presence of Multiple Offense Types, Victims, or Offenders

Figure 5.11
Number of Victims, by Injury Sustained
Figure 5.11: Number of Victims, by Injury Sustained

Table 5.12: Number of Offenses by Type of Weapon and Victim Age

Figure 5.12
Crime Location
Figure 5.12: Crime Location

The NIBRS incident reports capture up to five types of injuries for each victim. For the present study, this data is grouped as follows: None, Apparent Minor Injury, Major Injury, and Multiple Injuries. In Figure 5.11, the category of multiple injuries reflects the number of victims in incidents for which law enforcement reported more than one type of injury. The figure shows the number of victims by the type of injury sustained for each of the age groups. The data show that although both adults (41.3 percent) and infants (46.3 percent) suffered an injury in 44.6 percent of the incidents, victims in the remaining age groups were less likely overall to receive an injury. Young children sustained no injury in 84.9 percent of the incidents, and preadolescent and adolescent minors sustained no injury in 68.6 percent of the incidents. The patterns of the injuries sustained within each age group demonstrate the particular vulnerability of infant victims. Infants had a higher incidence of multiple injuries and major injury than did other victims.

NIBRS captures up to three types of weapons associated with certain offenses. Table 5.12 shows the number of offenses reported wherein a certain type of weapon was used, and the number is further broken out by infant and all others. For the purposes of this table, the “multiple weapons” category reflects the number of offenses in which law enforcement reported more than one type of weapon. The preponderance of offenses committed against both infants and other-aged victims fell under the “personal weapons” category. Firearms were more likely to be used in offenses involving other-aged victims rather than infants. Multiple weapons, though rarely used, were more likely to be recorded by law enforcement for aggravated assault (6.6 percent within the offense category) than for any other offense (2.4 percent overall).

Figure 5.13
Characteristics of Offenders, by Age Group of Victim
Figure 5.13: Characteristics of Offenders, by Age Group of Victim

For this study, the location types collected in NIBRS were regrouped to reflect whether the location would be considered private (or secluded) or would be considered public (or within view of the public). (For the purpose of this study, the location category other/unknown was grouped with public locations.) The incidents were then charted by time of day and day of the week in order to assess any patterns of occurrence.

The preponderance of the incidents of infant victimizations occurred in private locations. One possible explanation for this pattern is that during certain times in private locations victims have a lack of effective “guardianship” or witnesses who might act as a deterrent. Additionally, these incidents do not appear to have a distinct pattern throughout the day except for some minor peaking at stressful times: at the dinner-hour, when adults arrive home from work, or Monday morning, when adults leave the house to go to work.

Incidents that occurred under public view and other/unknown were typically at times when people are out of the house on the weekends, in the late afternoon, or in the early evening. (See Figure 5.12.)

NIBRS collects data about the characteristics of offenders in terms of age, gender, and race. By assigning each offender to a category by age of victim, one can more easily distinguish any differing patterns of the characteristics among these groups.

Figure 5.14
Percentage of Incidents Cleared
Figure 5.14: Percentage of Incidents Cleared
Figure 5.15
Clearances by Exceptional Means
Figure 5.15: Clearances by Exceptional Means

In contrast to characteristics of victims on these incidents, offenders are less often female (34.9 percent) but similar in terms of race (69.5 percent white). Among all incidents of infant victimization within this study, the offenders are mostly in their mid- to late twenties. (See Figure 5.13.) While those basic characteristics hold true for the subgroups of incidents with additional victims, the chances of the offender being female show subtle shifts depending upon the age group of the victim. Offenders are very often (47.5 percent) more likely to be female when the additional victims are young children and are less likely to be female when additional victims are adult or preadolescent and adolescent minor victims. There is a greater presence of minority offenders in incidents having additional older minor and adult victims. Although the average age of the offender is mostly stable across victim age groups, the average age of the offender shows a substantive difference (1.8 to 2.1 years) in incidents where the victims are in the Preadolescent and Adolescent Minors group. This finding is consistent with the lower occurrence of victimizing by family members compared with victimizing by individuals with whom the victim is acquainted. The average age of offenders in crimes against preadolescent and adolescent minors may reflect circumstances in which offenders are closer in age to the victims themselves than in the other types of incidents.

Within the UCR Program, an incident, and subsequently any offenses within it, can be cleared by the arrest of one individual connected to it. Alternatively, it can be cleared by exceptional means when circumstances beyond the control of law enforcement prevent an arrest of a located offender from occurring. Incidents with infant victimization have a slightly higher overall clearance rate (51.5 percent) compared with incidents cleared when there were no infant victims (47.3 percent). Additionally, incidents with infant victimization are also more likely to be cleared by arrest, which may be expected since these incidents most commonly occur within a household by individuals known by or related to the victim.

Law enforcement agencies report a clearance by exceptional means when some element beyond law enforcement control prevents filing of formal charges against the offender. In such cases, the identity and location of the offender must be clearly established, and there must be enough information to support an arrest or charge. The data in Figure 5.15 show, among the circumstances that allow for an exceptional clearance in the UCR Program, the most common category for incidents with infant victimization was “prosecution declined” (75.9 percent). Whereas in those incidents without infant victimization, the most common circumstance of clearance by exceptional means involved the victim refusing to cooperate (51.2 percent).

Concluding Remarks

Although data gathering through NIBRS is not implemented widely enough to support definitive statements about the characteristics of infant victimization nationwide, patterns emerge from the existing data. As might be expected, the information in NIBRS appears to support the understanding that infant victimization is primarily a problem associated with violence in a domestic setting. The NIBRS data yield the following observations:

While it bears repeating that these findings do not necessarily reflect statistics for the Nation as a whole, they do reflect the difficulties associated with an effective law enforcement response to this problem. When incidents occur in private and the witnesses to such crimes either cannot speak for themselves or may be reluctant to speak because of a sense of loyalty to friends and family, it can be difficult for law enforcement to ascertain sufficient information during an investigation to have a case accepted for prosecution.


1. Although in common usage the term incest describes incidents of sexual abuse between a parent and his or her child, the UCR Program defines incest as “nonforcible sexual intercourse between persons who are related to each other within the degrees wherein marriage is prohibited by law.” Any acts of sexual abuse that are considered nonconsensual are classified as a forcible sex offense regardless of the relationship of the victim to the offender.

2. The UCR Program defines neonates as infants under 24 hours old and infants as less than 1 year old.


Table 5.10
Number of Victims by Type of Relationship with Offender
Relationship to Offender Infants Young
Intimate Partners 0 0 39 691
Parental Roles 0 0 1 34
Dependants in the Household 2,095 398 44 29
Sibling Relationships 59 22 10 41
Other Family Relationships 169 62 8 105
Acquainted 555 109 97 497
Babysittee 103 10 1 0
Relationship Unknown 404 95 46 199
Stranger 232 90 31 206
Table 5.11
Number and Percent of Incidents by Presence of Multiple Offense Types, Victims, or Offenders
Victim Offender
No Infant Victimizations Percent with more than one       8.1% 13.9% 11.6%
  Total number 2,522,052 2,711,005 2,664,443
Infant Victimizations Percent with more than one 11.9% 45.5% 14.6%
  Total number 3,564 5,647 3,698
Table 5.12
Number of Offenses by Type of Weapon and Victim Age
  Murder/Non-negligent Manslaughter Negligent Manslaughter Forcible Rape Forcible Sodomy Sexual Assault With An Object Forcible Fondling Aggravated Assault Simple Assault Kidnapping/
  Firearm 3 0 0 0 0 0 121 0 16 140
  Knife/Cutting Instrument 1 0 0 0 0 0 34 0 2 37
  Blunt Object 2 0 0 0 0 0 48 0 0 50
  Motor Vehicle 1 1 0 0 0 0 66 0 3 71
  Personal Weapons (hands, feet, teeth, etc.) 47 4 15 9 4 40 393 1,049 71 1,632
  Fire/Incendiary Device 1 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 5
  Drugs/Narcotics/Sleeping Pills 4 1 0 0 0 0 7 0 0 12
  Asphyxiation 6 6 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 13
  Poison (include gas) 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
  Explosives 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 0 4
  Other 7 5 3 1 0 3 93 135 7 254
  Multiple Weapons 5 0 0 1 0 0 56 26 7 95
  Unknown 17 2 6 2 5 15 164 81 18 310
  None 0 0 15 12 4 27 31 113 91 293
  Total 94 19 39 25 13 85 1,023 1,404 215 2,917
Other Victims                    
  Firearm 2 0 1 0 0 1 390 0 19 413
  Knife/Cutting Instrument 0 0 1 0 0 0 51 0 0 52
 Blunt Object 0 0 0 0 0 0 52 0 0 52
  Motor Vehicle 2 0 0 0 0 0 132 0 2 136
  Personal Weapons (hands, feet, teeth, etc.) 2 0 9 2 4 21 78 869 32 1,017
  Fire/Incendiary Device 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
  Drugs/Narcotics/Sleeping Pills 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
  Asphyxiation 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
  Poison (include gas) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
  Explosives 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 2
  Other 0 0 2 0 0 3 46 93 2 146
  Multiple Weapons 1 0 0 0 0 0 67 22 15 105
  Unknown 2 0 0 0 0 5 10 31 10 58
  None 0 0 9 7 1 10 10 66 23 126
  Total 9 0 22 9 5 40 839 1,081 103 2,108
Grand Total 103 19 61 34 18 125 1,862 2,485 318 5,025