The Context of Child Sexual Abuse, and Points of Departure

  • Ben Mathews
Part of the Child Maltreatment book series (MALT, volume 7)


This chapter sets out the context of child sexual abuse and marks out several points of departure from which the rest of the book proceeds. It first defines the concept of child sexual abuse. Then, it reviews the best literature on the prevalence of child sexual abuse both generally, and in specific contexts, around the world. It reviews other important epidemiological features, referring to evidence about gender, age of onset, the relationship between those who inflict abuse and the child, frequency of offending, factors influencing offending, and theories of offending. It notes the common health and behavioural consequences of child sexual abuse. Significantly, it then reviews literature on the common non-disclosure of child sexual abuse by both girls and boys: a critical feature of this context. The chapter than shows that the gravity of child sexual abuse should be and is recognised in international policy and in most social norms. An appropriately nuanced approach is then urged, in recognition of a spectrum of cases that demand appropriately differentiated responses. Finally, the chapter explains that the book also proceeds on the basis that in any civilised society, individuals, institutions and broader social systems and nation states have a deep ethically-based duty to prevent and identify child sexual abuse, and to respond appropriately to it after it occurs. These ethical duties are consistent with bodies of political and public health theory, the Capabilities Approach, and human dignity informing the book’s entire conceptual approach.


Child sexual abuse Prevalence Nature Non-disclosure Health and behavioural consequences Recognition by international and social norms Ethical duty of prevention possessed by individuals, institutions and societies 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ben Mathews
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of LawQueensland University of TechnologyBrisbaneAustralia

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