Learning About Child Sexual Abuse is the First Step in Preventing It

In recent years, the topic of sexual abuse has made its way into the headlines and news stories with alarming frequency. I am often asked if this is because the abuse is happening more frequently, or if we’re just seeing more reports of it. Unfortunately, that’s a question I can’t answer.

Child sexual abuse has occurred quietly for generations, but it didn’t become a public topic until the 1970s and ‘80s. Before then, it was rarely spoken about, but the enactment of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in 1974, which occurred at the same time the National Center for Child Abuse and Neglect was formed, finally began building more awareness about the problem and prevalence of child sexual abuse.

We have progressed in many ways since then; many states have enacted laws making it illegal not to report suspected abuse, and the passage of the Child Abuse Victims’ Rights Act in 1986 gave children a civil claim in cases of sexual abuse. With the passage of Megan’s Law in 2004, the national sex offender database was created.

But for all the progress we’ve made, it’s clear that there is still much more work to be done to increase awareness and accountability. Incidents like the ongoing Catholic Church scandal and the more recent revelations of sexual abuse at Penn State and Syracuse University serve as reminders that this problem hasn’t gone away. It’s still the topic that nobody wants to discuss, the one that nobody wants to believe is happening. But it is.

Education is the first step. It’s vital that we learn what’s happening to our children, know the warning signs and know what we can do to stop it. People in positions of authority continue to turn their heads while pedophiles claim more victims, and it’s up to us to take a stand and refuse to allow their silence to go unpunished. Many organizations and individuals are working diligently to combat the problem of child sexual abuse, but too many people still see this as “someone else’s problem.” The fact is, it’s a problem for each and every one of us. It’s happened to someone in your family, one of your friends, or perhaps to you. Even if you think it hasn’t affected anyone you know, it has. I can promise you that.

If you don’t know how or where to take action, the first step is just to start educating yourself. The more you learn, the more you’ll be motivated to take action. This isn’t a battle that is going to be won overnight, but it definitely can’t be won without your help.

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