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Parents, police and schools can all do a better job of preventing child sexual abuse

Little is more horrifying or more intractable than the curse of child sexual abuse. That goes not only for the act of abuse, but for all the ramifications churned up in its terrible aftermath, including the thorny question of prevention.

Prevention was the subject of a compelling and, yes, horrifying story a week ago in The Buffalo News. The bottom line is that much more can be done, but in the end, much responsibility will always rest with parents and guardians, and even they cannot guarantee perfect safety.

Still, everyone can do better, beginning with the public entities that have systems in place to share information. What to do with that information remains a question since, as a map that accompanied the article showed, you often don’t have to look far to find a registered sex offender in the neighborhood.

Still, knowing is better than not knowing and it is possible to do a better job of allowing concerned adults to know where to find information about the location of registered sex offenders and even to push that information out to them automatically. That should be the goal, along with helping those adults to understand how best to use that information.

The Buffalo School District and Buffalo Police Department could both do a better job. Neither proactively issues notices to parents about where sex offenders live, arguing that the law doesn’t require it and that the state registry is easily available to anyone via the Internet. Both points are correct, yet both are evasions.

The law doesn’t require common sense, either, but it doesn’t prevent anyone from using it. Common sense demands sharing important, potentially lifesaving information in the most efficient way possible. That may not be by letter, which, as school officials in West Seneca have discovered, could contain outdated information by the time it is mailed out.

But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done. Businesses and online services routinely send out automatic emails or even text messages to clients who request them. It doesn’t seem too much to believe that police or the school district could set up a similar system, automatically updating subscribers about changes in the registry.

The information has limitations, but could be valuable, nonetheless. For example, more than 100 registered sex offenders live in the ZIP code that includes Martin Luther King Park, and more than 60 percent of those people were convicted of a crime involving a minor. Recidivism can be high among sex offenders.

Still, how much of an actual risk those people are to any particular child is a question mark, given another depressing fact: Between 75 and 90 percent of victims of child sexual abuse know their attacker. These crimes are often committed by people the children and their families trust and may even love. It’s hard for society to protect against that kind of vile deception. It’s hard even for parents, but in such cases, their vigilance may be the best protection, as incomplete as it is bound to be.

Maybe better solutions can be devised. But as parent advocate Samuel L. Radford III observed, “Let’s use the sex offender registry until we’ve got something better.”

That’s what you call common sense.