The emergence of political priority for addressing child sexual abuse in the United Kingdom

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Background: Child sexual abuse (CSA) is widespread. Few countries, however, prioritize the issue. The United Kingdom is an exception, ranked first in its response to the issue in a 2019 country comparison. In 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron designated the issue one of three national threats. Funding commitments and policies to address CSA followed. Objective: To investigate how CSA emerged as a national political priority in the United Kingdom, and to identify insights for proponents seeking to advance priority for addressing the issue. Participants and setting: Documents were analyzed and semi-structured interviews conducted with actors in the United Kingdom central to CSA advocacy, research, and/or programming, as well as with policymakers. Methods: Drawing on the multiple streams public policy model, a thematic analysis was conducted on collected documents (n = 160) and 21 interview transcripts. Results: Our analysis delineates three critical developments that led to national prioritization for addressing CSA. First, high-profile scandals and the re-framing of CSA survivors as deserving of support raised public awareness of the problem. Second, champions concerned with CSA developed evidence-based and politically-feasible solutions. Third, the Prime Minister's concern and other political developments opened a policy window. Conclusions: The case provides insights for proponents on generating political priority for addressing CSA. Proponents need to (1) ensure survivors are not seen as culpable but rather as deserving of support, (2) be ready with solutions and (3) cultivate high-level political support, so that when policy windows open they can jump to push the issue onto the national agenda.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105601
JournalChild Abuse and Neglect
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Agenda-setting
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Child sexual violence
  • Policy
  • United Kingdom

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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