Angela Michelle Mattson said she woke up early in her Bowie home yesterday with a vague feeling of uneasiness, which built toward dread, even fear, as she approached her office in Rockville.
How would her friends and colleagues react, now that the darkest chapter of her life had come to light. The Washington Post printed her name on its front page, and her story -- that of a woman, 28, who had chosen to speak openly about years of sexual abuse allegedly inflicted by her father.
"I worried how people would look at me; I worried about having to put up with snide remarks," said Mattson, whose father, University of Maryland professor Frank J. Munno, was indicted Tuesday on sexual child abuse and other charges. "But I was just amazed at the response," she said.
"A lot of people have come up to me to tell me they were very moved to find out what happened," said Mattson, an engineer for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. "People have come by to give me encouragement. I got phone calls. And I got an anonymous note from someone else here who was a victim, talking about how there's light at the end of the tunnel.
"It's been overwhelming," she said.
The reaction of Mattson's friends and colleagues seems to reflect what mental health professionals, lawyers and others say is a heightened public sensitivity toward alleged victims of sexual abuse.
In the last dozen years or so, according to those specialists, an ever-growing number of incest victims have come forward seeking help and have discovered that society is increasingly more willing to provide it.
Some specialists in the field say public awareness of sexual abuse, and concern for its victims, have been increasing since the 1960s as part of a broad rise in society's concern about all forms of child abuse.
"It's a 180-degree difference," said New York lawyer Andrew Vachss, who represents young victims of sexual abuse. "Not even a decade ago, a lot of adults, children, were not willing to come forward. They were afraid they wouldn't be believed, or they'd be treated as freaks."
The National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Chicago, for example, said 6,000 cases of child sexual abuse were reported to police, health professionals and other child-advocates in 1976, compared with 37,000 in 1980. And the federal government's National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect says the number climbed to 155,000 in 1986. The figures include children abused by family members and by strangers.
Many child-welfare professionals point to the work of the late pediatrician Henry Kempe as the first step toward today's heightened concern about the physical and sexual abuse of children. "The Battered Child Syndrome," Kempe's article in the July 1962 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, brought the problem to attention.
Media attention also increased, said Vachss, the New York lawyer.
"It's almost like the media suddenly discovered it, and so the public discovered it too," he said. "I've been doing this for 26 years, and back in the early '60s, it was almost as if no one knew it existed."
By 1970, every state had enacted a law requiring social workers, teachers and others who deal with children to report suspected abuse, said Deborah Daro, the Child Abuse Prevention Committee's chief researcher.
As concern about child abuse in general continued to rise, so did the public's awareness of perhaps its darkest form, child sexual abuse, including incest. "The numbers we see" don't necessarily mean more kids are being abused, said Patricia Toth of the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse, in Alexandria. "What it means is we're doing a better job identifying these people, and we're more willing to listen to them and help."
Mary Froning, a Silver Spring psychologist, said that for years many therapists were unwilling to attribute their adult patients' emotional difficulties to "childhood traumas" such as sexual abuse.
"Right now, it's commonly the first intake question," she said.
Knowing about the abuse, she said, "we can treat the trauma -- not just the symptoms, the anxiety. And the proper treatment of that trauma eventually involves confronting the people who victimized you."