Last updated: February 19. 2013 4:01PM - 161 Views

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REVEALING THAT you have been sexually abused doesn't come easily at any age. Child victims often fear for their lives. Years later, they fear the reaction of others to such a shocking admission.

But unless victims come forward, nothing changes.

The importance of coming forward was reiterated last week by boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard, who spoke candidly at a Penn State University conference on child sex abuse about a secret he had kept hidden for years.

Leonard, 56, said he was sexually assaulted as a youth by men he trusted as boxing coaches. The former middleweight and welterweight champion first revealed the sexual assaults in a book published last year. He has not identified the two men, now dead, whom he said abused him in separate instances.

Known for his bravery in the ring, Leonard had to muster up more courage to admit he wasn't always able to defend himself. He promised to stay in the spotlight if it will help bring more attention to a national problem. I'm going to be the poster child. I'm going to speak up. And speak out, he said.

Leonard's appearance at Penn State came only weeks after Jerry Sandusky, a former Nittany Lions assistant football coach, was sentenced to up to 60 years in prison for sexually assaulting 10 boys he befriended through a charity he had created for at-risk youth.

The two-day conference represents part of the efforts being made at Penn State to change a culture that failed to root out a sexual predator. Sandusky often brought his victims on campus.

But while Penn State has become the epicenter in the fight against child sexual abuse, the job must go far beyond that community. In Pennsylvania and other states, for example, lawmakers should open legal windows that go beyond current statutes of limitations so that victims abused years ago may file lawsuits that would give them a day in court.

There also must be stricter reporting requirements in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that would encourage child sexual-abuse victims to come forward and alert authorities sooner about the predators in their lives.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

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