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For many parents, the recent media saturation of child sexual abuse cases – from Jerry Sandusky to Horace Mann to the Catholic cardinal’s aide – has prompted soul-searching about the people with whom our own children interact on a regular basis.

And it has elicited empathy for the families of the survivors, who struggle to regain a sense of normalcy amidst the devastation. As a mother myself, one of the most heart-wrenching interviews was with the mother of Victim 1 in the child sexual abuse trial against Sandusky, who detailed her son’s ongoing difficulty with his anger and disgust, despite counseling.

What’s clear is that, for survivors of child sexual abuse, a conviction doesn’t reverse the damage. Healing from child sexual abuse is a difficult journey that rarely culminates in a criminal justice response.

The best form of justice for child sexual abuse survivors is not an isolated offender’s conviction, but the increased awareness that leads parents to prioritize prevention. True justice for survivors would be the promise that no other child will endure those same horrors.

The prominence of these recent child sexual abuse cases presents an opportunity to channel our compassion for the survivors and concern for our communities into action. We can honor the survivors by advocating for prevention policies in the organizations in which our children learn and play. We can insist upon behavioral practices that limit opportunities for child sexual abuse to occur. And we can create family safety plans in our own homes, since children are most often sexually abused by someone they love and trust. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates these and other strategies to prevent child sexual abuse.)

Justice is not served until we take collective responsibility to prevent it from happening again.


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