Problem with Child Sexual Abuse

Prepublication version of article published in the journal Science in their August 19, 2005 issue:

To the Editor of Science:

The Policy Forum article “The Science of Child Sexual Abuse” by Freyd, et al. (22 April 2005, p. 501)

  • provides an extremely important call to action to the scientific community. In 1999, James Mercy, Senior Scientist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, noted the importance of viewing child sexual abuse with “new eyes.”
  • The implementation of Freyd et al.’s policy recommendation would help us do this. For too long, the fact that the topic makes us uneasy, has caused too many of us to avert our eyes. But what if this was a newly discovered disease — a disease that effects up to 20% of women and 10% of men; a disease that forms a potent risk factor for developing a host of mental and physical problems; a disease that according to a conservative estimate by the U.S. Department of Justice, costs society over $24 billion each year?
  • Imagine what we as concerned scientists would do if we discovered such a disease decimating the lives of our young people?

Our response thus far, “has been far from the full-court press reserved for traditional diseases or health concerns of equal or even lesser magnitude.”  We have severely underestimated the effects of this problem on our children’s health. It is time to recognize that the problem is not solely a product of the action of a few sick individuals; child sexual abuse is a preventable health problem that has been allowed to spread unabated due to scientific and social neglect.

Paul Fink. M.D.

President, The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence
Past President, American Psychiatric Association
191 Presidential Blvd., Suite C-132
Bala Cynwyd , PA 19004

J. J. Freyd et al., Science 308, 501 (Apr 22, 2005).
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Child Maltreatment 2003, (2005).
J. A. Mercy, Sexual Abuse 11, 317 (1999)