If you’ve been watching Congress grapple with the major issues of the day, you’re probably tempted to pull the plug, sell your house, buy a cabin in Big Ten Township, bar the door and never look back.

Talk about discouraging.

But it is reassuring to see that the American people can mobilize to confront a major social issue — and make a difference.

A massive new federal study released last week shows an “unprecedented and dramatic” decrease in incidents of serious child abuse, especially sexual abuse. That means all the efforts to publicize this crime, teach children about personal safety, check backgrounds and punish perpetrators is making a difference.

Still, an estimated 553,000 children suffered physical, sexual or emotional abuse in 2006, so there is still plenty of work to be done. But that is down 26 percent from the estimated 743,200 abuse victims in 1993.

“It does suggest that mobilization around this issue is helping,” said professor David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire, a leading researcher in the field. “It’s a problem amenable to solutions.”

The study is based on information from more than 10,700 “sentinels,” people like child welfare workers, cops, teachers, day care workers and health care professionals in 122 counties across the U.S.

The biggest drop was in sexually abused children, which fell from 217,700 in 1993 to 135,000 in 2006, a 38 percent decrease. Children experiencing physical abuse fell by 15 percent and the number of emotionally abused children fell by 27 percent.

The study found that poor children were three times more likely to experience abuse, and that family structure was important. Children with a single parent who has a live-in partner faced an abuse rate 10 times higher than a child living with two parents.

There was some speculation that the report was intentionally downplayed because some working in the field felt it might affect their fundraising.

We hope the report will have the opposite effect, to show that what we’re doing is working and that we should redouble our efforts. Until all children live without fear of abuse, there is more work to be done.

On a larger scale, the report shows that when we educate and mobilize the American people, we can make a difference. And this is not the first time.

Think of the progress we have made on some other big issues. Today, practically everyone wears a seat belt, saving thousands of lives a year. Today, far fewer people smoke cigarettes, particularly young people. We have also changed our entire societal attitude toward alcohol abuse, particularly drinking and driving.

We sense, too, the nation embracing alternative energy and conservation, which we think will — one day — become another national success story.

It’s truly too bad that our political system tends to polarize and divide people rather than pulling them toward consensus and solutions, and it explains the frustrating gridlock in Washington.

If we could find more common ground, perhaps we could solve more of our common problems.

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