By: Debra W. Haffner

There is nothing new about child sexual abuse, and there is nothing surprising about the events unfolding at Penn State University (and now Syracuse University) or at religious congregations around the country. In fact, if there is a surprise, it’s that this issue generally receives so little attention, and that so few institutions and parents take the steps to prevent it.

We know that approximately one half a million children are thought to be sexually abused each year. If one half a million children each year were getting pneumonia or dying in airplane crashes it would be front page news and covered as a national crisis.

It’s taken the abuse of children by priests and football coaches for headlines to emerge. I fear that once the Penn State case is resolved, the headlines will go away again.

The fact is that child sexual abuse is a devastating social, spiritual and public health crisis. It is also a crime. As many as one in four women and one in six men were sexually abused before they were 18 years of age. In 90 percent of the cases, the children know their abusers well-they are parents, family members, neighbors, clergy, coaches, scout leaders, and teachers. Despite the latest news stories, girls are much more likely to be abused; more than 8 in 10 juvenile sex crime victims are female.

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