One of the best articles on sex crime hysteria I've read (via Balko, of course).
The hysteria over sex doesn't exist in a vacuum, of course. Previous generations didn't have this hysteria because sex was hidden from view. We didn't allow ourselves to think of children as sexual beings, even though starting with puberty (about age 11 for most kids) that's exactly what they are. (And studies have even shown that even younger children have sexual thoughts.)
Now? There's been a growing movement since about the mid-60s to view sex positively. And there's been one hell of a backlash to said movement from the puritan Right. When the puritans started losing the battle against positive views of sexuality, they decided to embrace big government and attempt to force others to have their views on sex. In the conservative mind, adolescent sexual exploration is not a natural urge to be explained and guided by adults but a "sinful nature" (to invoke my least favorite philosopher of all time) to be controlled and subdued by adults. But that's not all - as the puritans lost the battle even more, they looked at the changing culture and concluded that more mature reactions to adolescent sexuality were destroying America. So why did the government get involved? Well, if people wouldn't adopt conservative views anymore, and liberal views were destroying American culture, conservative views had to be imposed. Hysteria over children's sexuality is a way of using government to convince kids that sex is evil and dirty and should be avoided at all costs, because in the conservative mindset, the stakes are too great to not invoke Big Government. It's a combination of cranky get-off-my-lawnism and apocalyptic nuttery - imagine if the old man became convinced that his house would blow up because kids kept cutting across his yard.
If anyone wonders why I tend to scoff at crisis/emergency language in political discussion, this is why. Such talk leads to destroyed lives.