Take A Minute To Celebrate: Fewer Horrible People Are Abusing Children

By  | 

The sexual abuse of children has been dominating the news cycle in what seems like a terrifying trend. From Jerry Sandusky‘s trial exposing his horrible abuse and the school’s cover-up, to a private school’s disturbing culture of sexual assault, to the newest social media danger connecting rapists with young victims, we’re hearing a lot of the abuse of children.

That’s why it may be difficult to believe that the rate of sexual abuse against children is actually on its way down. Or at least, the rate of reported acts of abuse are steadily decreasing. As the New York Times reported today, “Overall cases of child sexual abuse fell more than 60 percent from 1992 to 2010, according to David Finkelhor, a leading expert on sexual abuse who, with a colleague, Lisa Jones, has tracked the trend.”

As a parent, I would think that all of would want to celebrate this moment. Of course, we still need to be aware that abuse happens and the victims need support. We need to be vocal about the importance to maintain our commitment to punishing criminals and taking care of children. But shouldn’t this decline give us hope that things are moving in the right direction?

Of course it should. And yet, those who work with these problems most are a little scared of the good news. Says one professor, “The child abuse field has always been one that felt like there was not enough public policy attention, so the narrative reflected that. It’s at crisis proportions; it’s getting worse every year; it’s an epidemic. So when people hear that the rates are going down, it really is sort of a challenge.” Others put the problem more bluntly. They depend on government funding to continue their advocacy work. If it seems like the problem is receding, they could use their financial support.

It’s a sad example of our times that those who work to end child abuse can’t be excited about it’s decline for fear of losing the money to continue successful programs.

But that’s another problem with this good news. It’s hard to explain why it happened. If you don’t know why the numbers went down, you can’t say what was effective. There are various possibilities floating around. It could be that strict penalties for child abusers has acted as a deterrent. It might the growing number of child advocacy centers which help respond to abuse quickly. It might be that more open reporting of the crimes has scared some individuals away from acting on their dangerous impulses.

There are many theories being floated around. Some even say that the actual number of child abuse victims isn’t changing, it’s simply the way we classify them now.

No matter what the reason is, I guess I still feel disappointed that we aren’t hearing more people say, “But kids are safer. Whatever the reason, kids are safer. And that’s something that we should take a minute and be thankful for before we start dissecting what all the new numbers mean.”

Let’s take the good news when we can get it, because there are plenty of sad stories out there to be mourned over. There are plenty of children who still need our support, need our understanding. Of course we still have work to do. But that’s why it’s so important to take a minute and acknowledge the good that can be done. It gives everyone hope.

So just for today, I want to say, cases of sexual abuse of children have fallen 60% in the past two decades. That’s a reason to feel grateful for the work done by advocates, hopeful about the prospects of bringing those numbers down even more, and positive about the safety of our children. Today’s a day to be thankful.

(Photo: Elena Schweitzer/Shutterstock)