Many of the recent accusations of sexual abuse date back many years; just because the public is hearing more about it now doesn't mean that it's on the increase. Thus while the barrage of news reports about sexual abuse of children may make parents fearful, the reality is that kids today are safer than ever.
Causes of the drop in child sexual abuse are complex and not completely understood. Some experts point out that the overall crime rate dropped significantly during the same time, and that child abuse rates fell along with murder and assault rates. Other analyses credit the economic prosperity of the 1980s and 1990s as improving overall social conditions, while still others note that tougher penalties for sex crimes led to higher numbers of offenders being jailed. It's also likely that greater social awareness of child abuse through television news (and even Hollywood films such as "Mystic River") resulted in parents taking more precautions for their children's safety. Like most social problems, there's no simple answer.
Benjamin Radford is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and author of Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us. His Web site is www.BenjaminRadford.com.
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