Sexual interest and contact between adults and children has been observed and documented over written history, and such accounts would suggest varying degrees of social acceptance (McConaghy 1998). However, the concept of child sexual abuse (CSA) as a social problem is a relatively new phenomenon and did not emerge in the academic literature until the 1980s. Its identification as a social problem led to a proliferation of studies examining the nature of the offender and their behaviour, as well as increased efforts towards documenting its prevalence and understanding the impact that such abuse might have on victims (Freeman and Morris 2001). What is also noticeable is the emergence of terminology emphasising the adult as perpetrator and the child as victim. Epidemiological studies have suggested the presence of widespread incest and child molestation, leading Finkelhor (1994) to assert that 'In every locale where it has been sought, researchers have demonstrated its existence at levels high enough to be detected through surveys of a few hundred adults in the general population' (412). In the twentieth century, within North American and European cultures, the person who engages in sexual contact with children is demonised as the least desirable member of our community, and when convicted of such a crime often requires special protection within the judicial system.
The purpose of this chapter is to examine how we currently make sense of adult sexual interest in children. This chapter does not focus on the relationship between sexual offences against children and the Internet, which is addressed in the next chapter. This chapter sets the scene to allow us to explore and evaluate critically what differences, if any, are associated with this new technology. In exploring what we mean by adult sexual interest in children it is important to note that our conceptualisations belong largely to this time, and take place alongside changes in how we think about children and childhood, and the role of mass communication. Kincaid (1998) has drawn our attention to the ways in which Western societies currently 'eroticise' children (seen most explicitly in advertising), while at the same time both denying their sexuality and overvaluing ideas of innocence. Thus we create a sexualised child whom we pretend to be protecting. This fusion of innocence and sexuality may be one of many factors that play a part in the objectification of children as sexual artifacts, and that results in younger and younger children being