In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Child Sexual Abuse

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Reference Works
  • Comprehensive Books about CSA
  • Journals

Social Work Child Sexual Abuse
Leslie M. Tutty
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 September 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 September 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0303


The sexual abuse of children is not a new phenomenon, but the traumatic short- and long-term mental health consequences make it essential to study and, ultimately, prevent. The labels for child sexual abuse (CSA) vary and have changed over time, examples being “child sexual abuse,” “child sexual assault,” “child sexual exploitation” and “unwanted sexual experiences.” Each has slightly different meanings and implications. Researchers, practitioners, criminal justice personnel, and policymakers also differ on how to define other aspects of CSA (e.g., age of the child, age differential between child and offender, what acts constitute CSA [touch or penetration only, or non-touch such as exposure to pornography], and risk factors that may become targets of prevention strategies). Such definitional debates impact all aspects of studying the concept, such as examining prevalence, assessment, and clinical interventions. Whether the perpetrators are known to the child (true in the majority of cases) or are strangers affects the length of time that the child is victimized sexually and whether and how they disclose the abuse. The sexual abuse of boys, while a relatively small proportion of sexual victimizations, was not given the attention it warranted until relatively recently. Perpetrators are both males and females (an estimated 20 percent), but the type of CSA differs based on the sex of the offender. Special circumstances in which CSA occurs include the abuse of children in institutions and the CSA of children with disabilities. Disclosing CSA is difficult for many children and, rather than directly disclosing, many mention the abuse indirectly or much later on. Once disclosed, intervention typically consists of child protection services assessment and trauma-focused counseling. Child advocacy centers (CACs) have become the standard agencies to investigate and support CSA victims and non-offending family members. There are a number of ways to provide CSA prevention programs, such as media education, but the most common approach is educating children about the risks and teaching them strategies that may assist them in avoiding abusers or seeking assistance early on. The launch of the Internet has introduced new ways to sexually abuse children, with easier access to child pornography, abuse in real time, and trafficking children for commercial sexual exploitation.

Introductory Works

The sexual abuse of children is an age-old problem, but Rush 1981 describes CSA as receiving little societal attention until the 1970s in Western countries. The following books are classics in the study of child sexual abuse: Finkelhor and Yllö 1984 is one of the first research books on CSA; Herman 1981 highlighted father-daughter incest; Freyd 1996 explained why CSA victims often repress their memories of the abuse; and Sgroi 1988 describes a number of CSA-related issues, including the impact of sexual abuse on boys and adult survivors.

  • Finkelhor, D., and K. Yllö. 1984. Child sexual abuse: New theory and research. New York: Free Press.

    An early scholarly examination of child sexual abuse victims, perpetrators, and theories of CSA.

  • Freyd, J. J. 1996. Betrayal trauma: The logic of forgetting childhood abuse. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    In the 1990s, a number of therapists who counseled survivors of child sexual abuse were sued for “implanting false memories of sexual abuse” into their clients. Freyd, a clinical psychologist, explains why children may repress memories of sexual abuse in order to protect essential relationships (such as parent-child), only to recall them in later life.

  • Herman, J. L. 1981. Father-daughter incest. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    Herman’s research on father-daughter incest was groundbreaking, raising the issue as important and more common than anticipated. It provides insights from interviews with forty women whose fathers sexually abused them and twenty women whose fathers behaved seductively but did not physically sexually abuse them. In addition, the book reviews literature and media resources on CSA, child pornography, and popular literature. The book concludes with clinical options, prevention strategies, and legal remedies.

  • Rush, F. 1981. The best kept secret: Sexual abuse of children. New York: McGraw Hill.

    Rush’s book provides the historical context of CSA across the centuries. For anyone who has ever wondered whether marriages with child brides were consummated when they were still children (they were at times), or about the place of religious institutions in condoning CSA, this book is a classic.

  • Sgroi, S. M., ed. 1988. Vulnerable populations: Evaluation and treatment of sexually abused children and adult survivors. Vol. 1. New York: Free Press.

    Eleven chapters on a variety of issues related to CSA, including assessment and therapy with children, males, and adult survivors, using modalities such as art therapy.

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