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Most Americans believe that children's descriptions of sexual abuse are credible, according to a nationwide poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times.

Seventy-nine percent of the poll's 2,627 respondents said they were ''certain" that children under age 13 are capable of providing accurate accounts of abuse, even when the incidents recounted took place several years earlier.

The 100-question telephone survey, conducted last month, also provided, according to the newspaper, the first comprehensive picture of the extent of child abuse across the nation.

Among the findings:

At least 22 percent of the respondents said they had been molested as children. Some 86 percent of those who had been molested said the public should believe children's accounts of abuse.

Almost three-fourths of those surveyed by the newspaper ap8proved of fingerprint checks and licenses for people who work with children; 43 percent recommended heavier punishment for offenders; and 41 percent suggested more public attention should be devoted to the problem. More than 60 percent of the respondents said current laws are inadequate.

Most respondents said they favored long prison sentences for child abusers; 10 percent said the death penalty is appropriate.

Although those polled overestimated the reported incidence of child sexual abuse in the country, they tended to think such crimes were not serious problems in their own communities.

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