Law’s Role in Preventing, Detecting and Responding to Child Sexual Abuse

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


This chapter discusses law’s role in preventing, detecting and responding to child sexual abuse. It first notes the historical absence of children’s legal rights and protections, and comments on the gradual social and legal change that has occurred. It identifies how political theory and public health theory translate into social norms, legal entitlements and protections, noting the recognition of children’s rights by international law. Then, it focuses on the nature of national legal systems, conceiving domestic law as a social system required to protect individuals’ personal security, and within this, performing the key role of recognising children’s rights. It identifies law’s role in the prevention, detection and response to child sexual abuse, and places this role in the context of the major sources of law: legislation, common law and international law. It then highlights key general principles from criminal law, civil law, and child protection law relevant to the context of child sexual abuse. It explores public health law and its range of mechanisms that are capable of preventing, detecting and responding to sexual abuse. Finally, it covers regulatory theory, an important consideration in any regulatory effort, and provides insights into institutional regulation; this is particularly relevant for institutional sexual abuse prevention and response. The key message of this chapter is that every society’s legal system has a broad range of tools to create rights, obligations and remedies, and to set social norms, regarding child sexual abuse. Moreover, consistent with political theory and public health theory, every legitimate society has a responsibility to use these tools to protect its vulnerable citizens, including children, and to take reasonable actions to prevent, identify and respond to child sexual abuse.


Child sexual abuse The role of laws in preventing, detecting and responding to child sexual abuse The recognition of children’s rights and their influence on law Recognition in political theory and international law Domestic law Civil law and child sexual abuse Civil compensation Civil legal duties of individuals and organisations Vicarious liability 'Reform to statutes of limitation Criminal law and child sexual abuse Criminal offences Criminal liability Sentencing Criminal law obligations to report known cases of child sexual abuse The duties of the state to use laws to protect children from sexual abuse 


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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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