For two decades now, the horror of child sexual abuse has infiltrated the nation's psyche, influencing everything from popular television shows to churches' volunteer training. And the continuing revelations in the Jerry Sandusky scandal reaffirm that predators — and their enablers — can even be found in a highly reputable college football program. But now there is some encouraging news: Researchers think child sexual abuse is on the decline.
As the New York Times reported recently, researchers aren't sure why child sexual abuse is diminishing, down as much as 60 percent between 1992 and 2010, based on numerous sources, including the FBI, the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect, and annual surveys of Minnesota students. But they do know what has likely contributed: Greater public awareness, specialized policing, better training and education. And there is a belief that high-profile cases, such as the repeated discoveries of abuse by Roman Catholic priests, has made the public finally willing to believe victims and to hold institutions responsible for enabling the abuse.
That is what is still playing out at Penn State University. And it is notable the number of victims who have been willing to come forward publicly, experts said, because public reaction is more empathetic than in the past.
Child sex abuse remains far too frequent a crime and destroys far too many young lives. Its most common method is sadly familiar: A predator, usually close to the victim's family, turns a child's innocent trust and need for approval into something perverse. But because Americans have become more aware and have dedicated resources, fewer children are suffering. That vigilance must not stop.