12/22/2011 12:12 pm ET | Updated Feb 21, 2012

Visibility Is the First Step in Combating Child Sexual Abuse

Prominent child sexual abuse cases like the Penn State football scandal instill outrage in all of us at a particular incident and a particular perpetrator. But media coverage too often fails to shed light on the full extent of child sexual abuse in this country -- missing opportunities to understand the systemic nature of this silent epidemic.

More than 300,000 children are sexually abused each year in the United States, with often devastating, lifelong physical and emotional consequences. That's about one in three girls and one in six boys whose lives are forever altered. (Given the tiny percentage of reported cases, these statistics unfortunately underestimate the true magnitude of the problem.)

It's an epidemic buried even within news coverage of sexual violence. For example, a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that half of all rape victims were raped before they turned 18 -- a shocking statistic about the systemic nature of child sexual abuse that isn't given due attention. As one child sexual abuse prevention advocate recently remarked, "Child sexual abuse is the step-child of the rape crisis movement."

Only with increased visibility and informed understanding will child sexual abuse gain the resources necessary to enable prevention. If anything positive can emerge from the unfathomable horror of the Penn State case, it's the opportunity to raise the consciousness of a broader audience about the pervasiveness and impact of child sexual abuse.