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Although the terms are not always applied consistently, it is useful to distinguish between pedophiles/hebephiles and child molesters/abusers.

Pedophilia and hebephilia are diagnostic labels that refer to psychological attractions.

It has also been raised in connection with scandals about the Catholic church's attempts to cover up the abuse of young males by priests.

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The number of Americans who believe the myth that gay people are child molesters has declined substantially.

In a 1970 national survey, more than 70% of respondents agreed with the assertions that "Homosexuals are dangerous as teachers or youth leaders because they try to get sexually involved with children" or that "Homosexuals try to play sexually with children if they cannot get an adult partner." By contrast, in a 1999 national poll, the belief that most gay men are likely to molest or abuse children was endorsed by only 19% of heterosexual men and 10% of heterosexual women.

Whereas pedophilia and hebephilia refer to psychological propensities, child molestation and child sexual abuse are used to describe actual sexual contact between an adult and someone who has not reached the legal age of consent.

In this context, the latter individual is referred to as a child, even though he or she may be a teenager.

We can begin to address that problem by defining some basic terms.

Pedophilia and child molestation are used in different ways, even by professionals.

Black men in the United States were often lynched after being falsely accused of raping White women.

In a similar fashion, gay people have often been portrayed as a threat to children.

Even fewer – 9% of men and 6% of women – regarded most lesbians as child molesters.

Consistent with these findings, Gallup polls have found that an increasing number of Americans would allow gay people to be elementary school teachers.

Members of disliked minority groups are often stereotyped as representing a danger to the majority's most vulnerable members.