The sexual abuse of children is the subject of heated social debate. The general outrage with which this theme was placed on the public agenda in the 1970s has, to a considerable extent, made room for doubts about the reliability of children as witnesses and of professionals as their informants. History shows a parallel to this pendular movement in late nineteenth-century France; initial anxiety concerning the magnitude and seriousness of the sexual abuse of children, first expressed by Tardieu in the mid-19th century, turned later into scepticism. This article describes some of the aspects that play a role in the difficulty which society has in taking child sexual abuse seriously: the isolation of sexuality, ambivalences in the societal image of children, the status of parents and that of professionals. © 1998, A B Academic Publishers. Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved.