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Child sex abuse becomes focus of difficult public discussions

Anyone who follows the news on a regular basis has probably noticed that high-profile stories about child sexual abuse have become sadly common. This does not mean, however, that sexual abuse itself has become more common. Rather, it likely means that abuse is becoming more widely reported, prompting much-needed public discussions.

Child sex abuse is an uncomfortable topic, and one that most Americans would prefer not to discuss. But because of the shame, fear and secrecy that surround this heinous crime, it is important to create an environment in which victims can speak about their experiences with the expectation that they will be understood and supported.

As we have written in previous posts, sex abuse survivors who gain the courage to share their stories publicly often inspire others to do the same. Charles M. Blow is a regular columnist for the New York Times. In the past year, he has provided a unique perspective on national stories about child sex abuse. And in September of last year, Mr. Blow laid bare his own story of being sexually abused at age 7 by an older male cousin.

In response to two recent, high-profile sex abuse cases, Mr. Blow noted that "this is not a political issue, even if people - including abusers themselves - have hypocritically used it as one." In other words, stories about sex abuse involving public figures should not focus on how the mighty have fallen. Instead, we must keep in mind that every story of sex abuse involves a victim, and the experiences of those victims should not be minimized or politically exploited.

Charles Blow is almost entirely correct when he says that child sexual abuse is not a political issue. The one notable exception is harnessing the power of media to advocate for victims' rights laws. In the past year, many states (including Pennsylvania) have considered or passed laws to remove or extend the statute of limitations in cases of child sex abuse. Victims often take years to report what happened to them (if they ever report it), and statutes of limitation can make it impossible for victims to seek justice in criminal court or compensation in civil court.

Hopefully, writers like Mr. Blow will continue to push for public discussion about the difficult topic of child sexual abuse.

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