Societal Views

Pedophilia and child sexual abuse are generally seen as morally wrong and abnormal by society. Research at the close of the 1980s showed that there was a great deal of misunderstanding and unrealistic perceptions in the general public about pedophilia (La Fontaine, 1990; Leberg, 1997). However, a more recent study showed that the public's perception has gradually become more well-informed on the subject.

Misuse of medical terminology
The words "pedophile" and "pedophilia" are sometimes used informally to describe an adult's sexual interest or attraction to pubescent or post-pubescent teenagers and to other situations that do not fit within the clinical definitions. The terms "hebephilia" or "ephebophilia" may be more accurate in these cases. This was especially seen in the case of Mark Foley during the congressional page incident. Most of the media labeled Foley a pedophile, which led David Tuller of Slate magazine to state that Foley was not a pedophile but rather an ephebophile.

Another erroneous but unfortunately common usage of "pedophilia" is to refer to the actus reus itself (that is, interchangeably with "sexual abuse") rather than the medical meaning, which is a preference for that age group on the part of the older individual. Even more problematic are situations where the terms are misused to refer to relationships where the younger person is an adult of legal age, but is either perceived socially as being too young in comparison to their older partner, or the older partner occupies a position of authority over them. Researchers recommend that the above imprecise uses be avoided.

Pedophile advocacy groups
During the late 1950s to early 1990s, several pedophile membership organizations advocated age of consent reform to lower or abolish age of consent laws, and for the acceptance of pedophilia as a sexual orientation rather than a psychological disorder, and the legalization of child pornography. The efforts of pedophile advocacy groups did not gain any public support and today those few groups that have not dissolved have only minimal membership and have ceased their activities other than through a few websites.

Anti-pedophile activism
Anti-pedophile activism encompasses opposition against pedophiles, against pedophile advocacy groups, and against other phenomena that are seen as related to pedophilia, such as child pornography and child sexual abuse. Much of the direct action classified as anti-pedophile involves demonstrations against sex offenders, against pedophiles advocating for the legalization of sexual activity between adults and children, and against Internet users who solicit sex from minors.

High-profile media attention to pedophilia has led to incidents of moral panic, particularly following reports of associated pedophilia associated with satanic ritual abuse and day care sex abuse. Instances of vigilantism have also been reported in response to public attention on convicted or suspected child sex offenders. In 2000, following a media campaign of "naming and shaming" suspected pedophiles in the UK, hundreds of residents took to the streets in protest against suspected pedophiles, eventually escalating to violent conduct requiring police intervention.