The sexual abuse of children by persons who work with them - Institutional abuse - Is a focus of major concern among policy makers, practitioners and the public. Despite this, knowledge about it remains limited. This paper presents findings from a study of institutional abuse cases referred to social service departments or the police in eight local authority areas. While such cases were relatively uncommon and constituted a small proportion of all child protection referrals, some involved large numbers of victims and abusers. Institutional abuse cases in the present study shared some characteristics with the majority of (intrafamilial) abuse cases, but there were also important differences, such as the proportion of male victims and the extent to which abusers used techniques of targeting and entrapment. Contrary to media representation, the institutional abuse reported here was not just a problem of children's homes, social work or the public sector, but occurred in a wide variety of settings and sectors and was perpetrated by a range of occupational groups. If all children are to be protected, then policy and practice measures to prevent abuse need to be directed towards a much wider range of institutions.