Child sexual abuse in Ireland has entered the public domain only in the last twenty years. This process was accelerated by a number of high profile cases which became public in the mid-1990s. Prior to the recent past, few references to child sexual abuse in Ireland exist. The fIrst written evidence is found in the penitentials of the early Christian period. Penance is specified for those that "misuse" children. Mention of

adult child sexual relations is also found in the Brehon Law Texts.

Historians, sociologists and anthropologists of childhood suggest that patterns of child rearing vary across time and place depending on socio-economic, educational, religious and industrial conditions. Such variety in the conceptions of childhood and the personal variation in child guardians suggest that child abuse should not be

considered impossible or absent at any point in time and place. Even where little evidence is initially apparent, we must be sensitised to the revelations and exposures of recent years, which have clearly shown that the sexual abuse of children is more widespread than had previously been imagined.