In Cambodia, more than half of all children experience physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. This article examines how Cambodians view the causes and effects of child abuse and analyzes its underlying cultural forces. A conceptual framework developed in earlier research on the cultural context of violence against women was applied to a different dataset, in an ethnographic study involving 110 cases of child abuse (61 cases of sexual abuse, including 50 girls and 11 boys; 26 cases of physical abuse, including 13 girls and 13 boys; and 23 cases of emotional abuse or neglect, including 13 girls and 10 boys). The perpetrators included fathers and other close relatives, lay Buddhist officiants and monks, and neighbors. Most of the informants viewed the sexual or physical abuse of children as stemming from “cultural attractors” such as blighted endowment caused by deeds in a previous life, early character, astrological vulnerability to abuse, preordained entanglement between the child and the abuser (they are “fated” to meet), sexual craving, “entering the road to ruin”, and a moral blindness that portrays the abuser as blameless. Although similar to those that explained violence against women, there were notable differences such as the role of the tiracchāna in explaining sexual abuse including incest. Using these results, this article identifies a cultural epigenesis of child sexual abuse and provides a blueprint for developing a culturally responsive plan to prevent child abuse.

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