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Germany

New television show confronts men looking for underage relationships

Critics say a new television show that catches men chatting with teens about sex and then meeting up with them is mob justice. Along for the ride is Defense Minister Theodor zu Guttenberg's wife, who co-hosts the show.

A computer screen with a pixelated image of a person

The online world can be a dangerous place for children

The man's face and body is completely pixilated. His voice is distorted. But it's easy enough to see what this guy wants. He's had the windows of his car tinted so no one can see inside. No one will notice them when they're out in the woods, anyway, he tells his companion, who he thinks is just 13 years old.

This is "Tatort Internet," a new television show that uses fake chat usernames to trick men into thinking they're talking with young girls or boys and set up a meeting. Then they secretly film the encounter and confront the man with his inappropriate messages, the inappropriate photos he's sent and his inappropriate intentions.

German Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger

The justice minister says the show could put innocent people at risk

The show is co-hosted by Stephanie zu Guttenberg, the wife of German Defense Minister Theodor zu Guttenberg. That didn't stop fellow cabinet member and justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger from expressing her distaste for the show to the newspaper Passauer Neue Presse.

"There's the risk that innocent people are being publicly condemned," she said. "The German legal system doesn't have to resort to mob justice."

One man featured on the show was identified and then fired from his job where he worked with teens. He subsequently went missing for several days and his colleagues and family said they feared he may have killed himself. He has since resurfaced.

Paula Honkanen-Schoberth, director of the German League for Child Protection, told Deutsche Welle that she was also worried about the vigilante aspect of the television show.

"Of course we think that sexual abuse is a severe crime and must be prosecuted in all possible, but legal ways," she said. "But in Germany we live under the rule of law, and that is why we regard the criminal prosecution as a matter for the police. And television is not the police. And shouldn't act like it is."

Getting the safety message to teens

What needs to be done, Honkanen-Schoberth said, is to get parents talking with their kids about staying safe online. They should tell them not to give out their name and address or to meet up with strangers alone. They should let them know they can always come to them if someone is threatening them or pressuring them to do something they don't want to do.

A teenage girl types at a computer

Parents must talk with their children about staying safe online, says Honkanen-Schoberth

Honkanen-Schoberth said she would welcome a show that addressed these things.

But media expert Jo Groeber from the German Digital Institute says the show itself could be a revolutionary way to inform young people about the dangers of the Internet and chatting with adult strangers.

"It's entertaining, it's even, I'm afraid to say it, thrilling," he said. "It's probably tasteless, but it reaches the audience."

One concern he does have, he said, is whether the show's producers know of potential abusers for months at time before informing the police.

The Guttenberg image

Stephanie zu Guttenberg's presence on the show comes as her husband's political star gets brighter and brighter. There's even been speculation that he could become the country's next chancellor.

Stephanie zu Guttenberg and her husband, Defense Minister Theodor zu Guttenberg

Stephanie zu Guttenberg's role in the show could affect her husband's career

In a survey by the Forsa research institute released on Wednesday, 25 percent of those surveyed said the defense minister would make a better chancellor than his boss, Chancellor Angela Merkel.

This new role for Stephanie zu Guttenberg will only enhance her husband's image, according to Groebel.

"Let's be honest, the partner of a high-ranking politician is usually on the safe side. They're involved in charity work, but they never take any risks," he said. "I think the fact that she's taking a risk will strengthen his image, as the husband of a completely independent wife."

Author: Holly Fox
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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