When a Berlin hospital started a project to help pedophiles, people were skeptical. Now, the federal government is stepping in to secure its financing.
If all goes according to plan, therapy for pedophiles will be covered under German health insurance in five years' time. And that's a good thing, according to Klaus Beier, the head of the Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine at Berlin's Charite hospital. He and other experts agree that pedophilia is first a diagnosis, not a crime.
Pedophilia is a disorder among adults who experience a sexual attraction to prepubescent children. It is not the same as child molestation, but it often precedes such acts.
Professor Beier is a pioneer in his field. In 2005, he started the "Dunkelfeld" (dark field) project to prevent child sex abuse. It was aimed explicitly at offenders or potential offenders. He developed a free, confidential outreach program for pedophiles who are not facing criminal charges.
Since then, the project has turned into a nationwide network under the banner "Don't Offend" that is active in 11 locations. Beier's unique approach to treating pedophilia has made international headlines. He says he's received inquiries from Finland, Britain, Sweden, the United States, the Philippines and India.
Better financing needed
Since 2008, the German justice ministry has been supporting the project. That support was due to run out this year, which would have meant an end to the project. But now, the health ministry has announced it will take over the financing for the next five years. A ministry spokesman announced there will also be a substantial increase in funding. The network has so far received around 1.4 million euros ($1.5 million) in public support; that has now been increased to 5 million euros annually to support not just therapy, but also research and training.
Goal is to control behavior
Beier spoke to reporters about the project during a press conference in Berlin on Tuesday.
"Offenders" can be divided into two groups, he said. Around 40 percent have a sexual pedophile preference disorder. The other 60 percent engage in replacement behavior. This group includes adolescents, the mentally disabled, or people with personality disorders, said Beier.
"Pedophilia is not curable, it can only be treated," he said.
The therapy focuses on changing behavior and minimizing certain risk factors. Those affected should be prevented from viewing child pornography, for example. Medication to suppress testosterone has also been used to control sexual desire, although the pharmaceutical industry is still very restrained in this area, Beier said.
Some 7,000 people and counting
The sites offering therapeutic help are dependent on offenders or potential offenders coming forward voluntarily. For this reason, the number of people treated is relatively low. Nationwide, some 7,000 people have contacted the network, according to Beier's deputy, Uwe Hartmann from the Medical College in Hanover. Of that number, 2,300 took the step of going to a therapy center, and 1,300 were offered a course of therapy. Of that number, 659 people decided to pursue therapy. Many of those affected by the disorder wish they could erase the sexual desire for children from their minds - something Hartmann tells them will never work.
Joy over securing funding: Uwe Hartmann (center) surrounded by representatives of old and new donors: the ministry for justice (left) and health (right)
Beier said that around 100 people register at Berlin's Charite hospital every year, just over half of whom receive treatment. Most of them have already acted on their impulses, he said. The patients have an average age of 37, and three-quarters of them are employed. Forty percent are in a relationship. Beier said that the first long-term studies are promising. In one group that was examined, no offenses had been committed in the five years since therapy ended.
In addition to offering therapy, the network's goal is to conduct basic research. Hartmann described the project's current data pool as globally unique, adding that it can be used to develop quality standards for diagnosis, therapy, and training.
Child sexual abuse is a problem for all of society, said Beier. Nine percent of girls and 3 percent of boys are affected, according to his estimates. Victims of child sexual abuse often suffer their entire lives as a result.