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“We’re learning that victims inevitably seem troubled and flawed. It’s very rare that someone can be sexually violated as a child and live a charmed, perfect life,” Clohessy said.
Heightened publicity has also drawn out victims who now know they are not alone, said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
“The climate is so much better for survivors than it was a decade ago when they felt isolated and like a freak,” Finkelhor said.
“Almost everyone knows this happens to other people now. It’s not nearly as stigmatizing,” he said.
The momentum in prosecuting child sex abuse cases depends upon many factors, including whether state legislatures broaden the time frame for victims seeking justice, a move under discussion in Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
By the time a child victim is able to confront an assailant, a state’s statute of limitations may prevent prosecution. If victims are still eligible to file civil lawsuits, however, the surrounding publicity may draw out other victims and could lead to subsequent criminal prosecutions, advocates say.
“When a predator is exposed in any way, in any form, it encourages victims, witnesses, whistle-blowers to step forward and perhaps file criminal charges,” Clohessy said.
“Obviously, kids are safest when predators are jailed,” he said. “Sometimes civil suits lead to criminal prosecution. Even when they don’t, they warn people about a potentially dangerous child molester.”