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Usage of the term child molestation varies among the general population, but in most instances the term child molester is applied to any person who has been accused or convicted of child molestation. Some applicable laws specifically use the term child molestation, while other laws use various terms such as lewd and lascivious acts or sexual conduct with a minor. Moral panics about child molestation have been seen as early as the postwar era.
Among minor-attracted people
"Child molester" is sometimes used by boylovers and girllovers as a pejorative term for an adult who rapes or otherwise coerces a child into unwanted sexual activity. Minor attracted people have the added burden, however, of having to work against a common assumption that their identity is indicative of "child molestation".
Distinctions, terminology and arguments
The distinguishing factor between a child lover and a child molester is that of thought, action, and—where action is concerned—consent. Whereas a child molester is someone who has committed an act of molestation, a child lover is simply somebody who is attracted—often sexually—to children, which is not an action. In this sense, someone may have illegal sex with a minor, but not express a preferential attraction to minors. If such an individual chooses sexually mature "children" as partners, it is far more likely that they have an ephebophilic attraction rather than (pedophilia).
It is commonly argued that if a person is aged below the Age of Consent, he or she is not able to give informed consent to engage in sexual activities. People who hold this view thus argue that any sexual intimacy with such a person is an act of child molestation. A small, but growing number of opponents argue that (sometimes depending on age and psychological maturity), a youth can give consent and sometimes even actively seek a sexual relationship with an adult friend. Such a relationship, they argue, is not child molestation. Note that some may hold this view and still be opposed to sexual relationships with youths because of society's harmful reaction towards the minors or the legal implications for themselves.
- See also, Age of Consent, Statutory rape.
Some jurisdictions prohibit contact with certain areas of a child's body (such as the genitals), but make exceptions for situations such as medical examinations or bathing. Other jurisdictions have chosen to focus on motivations rather than specific actions. Those areas tend to have laws that prohibit any contact with a child when it is believed that the contact is for the purpose of sexual gratification.
Laws of the latter category are often considered to be more onerous, since they require a judge or a jury to make a determination about the defendant's motives, rather than simply to decide whether or not the defendant touched a particular part of the child's body.
A man in California was imprisoned under the state's motivation-based child molestation law for sucking on a boy's toes. More alarming still was the testimony of one expert witness in the trial, who suggested that a person could be subconsciously sexually aroused while touching a child, thereby committing a crime without even being aware of it.
Incidence in pedophile and non-pedophile populations
In the United States, the incidence of child molestation crimes has been estimated at a rate of 6.25 crimes per 1000 individuals per year for the population of pedophile males (or minor-attracted males; sources are not clear on this), and 1.5 crimes per 1000 individuals per year for the population of heterosexual males. This is approximately equal to the divergence in rape statistics between African-American and Caucasian males.