There are no reliable data on how many individuals find themselves sexually drawn to prepubertal and/or early pubertal children due to a complete lack of comprehensive epidemiological studies on the topic. In various international sexological studies, between 3 and 9 percent of male participants indicated having sexual fantasies about children and/or early adolescents (cf. Seto, 2008). Given that, in many studies, the intensity and duration of these fantasies was not examined, it is difficult to estimate the incidence of pedophilic preference – in the sense of clinically diagnosable pedophilia – in the general population. National studies suggest that around 1 percent of men have sexual fantasies about children and fulfill the diagnostic criteria for pedophilia.
The causes of pedophilia and hebephilia are largely unknown. Therapeutic experience shows that it is difficult for many of those affected – most being men – to deal with the preference and the sexual fantasies that accompany it.
Individuals with a sexual preference for the prepubertal or early pubertal body scheme of minors do not inevitably commit child sexual abuse offenses or consume child sexual abuse images (so-called child pornography). For this reason, the terms pedophilia and hebephilia must be clearly distinguished from the term child sexual abuse. While, under the criminal code, child sexual abuse exclusively describes sexual acts with children, pedophilia and hebephilia are understood to mean a sexual responsiveness to a certain stage of bodily development (either the prepubertal or the early pubertal one). Not all pedophiles/hebephiles commit child sexual abuse and not every sexual offender is a pedophile/hebephile.
The majority of sexual assaults on children and adolescents remain unknown and unreported to the authorities. As these deeds are not accounted for by criminal statistics and therefore remain in the dark, they are referred to as being in the so-called dark field. The share of offenses in the dark field is many times larger – according to some estimates, at least eight times as large – as the share of offenses known to the legal system, which are designated as being in the light field. The share of offenses involving the consumption of child sexual abuse images as a portion of all offenses against sexual autonomy in the light field remains low. Nevertheless, police criminal statistics indicate a notable increase in this group of crimes. It must be assumed that the consumption of child sexual abuse images on the internet predominantly takes place in the dark field.