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A Berlin project has taken aim at preventing child molestationImage: Bilderbox

Treating Pedophilia

DW staff (jen)
May 31, 2007

A controversial project aimed at preventing pedophiles from acting on their sexual urges risks being shut down for lack of funds, despite reported success with its first group of patients.


Berlin’s Charite Clinic hospital shocked Germans in 2005 when it advertised for potential child molesters to take part in an experimental behavioral therapy, known as Prevention Project Dark Field.

Some 550 people responded to the ad campaign, which ran under the slogan, “Do you love children more than they want you to?” Ninety men were accepted for the initial round of therapy. On Wednesday, researchers said 20 men had successfully completed the therapy so far.

Now, 45 men with either a history of child-molestation or an urge to do so, are waiting for a slot in a group slated to start in autumn. But they may be waiting in vain. The project is in danger of folding for lack of funds.

Kinder auf dem Spielplatz
A day at the park should be worry-freeImage: BilderBox

The idea behind the novel project is aimed at preventing child molestation. The therapy, developed at the Charite Clinic, has been co-funded by the child-victim rights group Hansel & Gretel Foundation, and the Volkswagen Foundation.

No blame for desires

The strong response to the study shows how many actual and potential pedophiles want therapy, said Klaus Beier, director of the Institute for Sexual Medicine at Charite.

“We need to offer men preventive help, so it doesn’t come to an assault,” Beier told the Associated Press. Pedophilic tendencies begin in adolescence and stay with a person for life, he added.

In the therapy, doctors tell their patients that sexual attraction to children is an unalterable part of character, like homosexuality.

People who took part in the study were promised anonymity.

The message given to the patients was, “You aren’t to blame for your sexual desires, but you are responsible for your sexual actions,” Beier said.

Learning what children really want

A key part of the course, described by the Charite as unique world-wide, is to teach the potential pedophiles, through role-playing, to understand the child's view and that they only imagined children were offering sex.

gestelltes Illustrationsfoto zum Thema Kriminalität, Kindesentführung, Kindesmissbrauch Symbolbild Kinder - Gefährdung - Missbrauch
Many of those with the urge seem to want to fight itImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

"One aim was to teach the pedophile men to clearly pick up their warning signals. For example these could be thinking about a child often, giving a child presents or inviting a child over," one therapist, David Goecker, told dpa news service.

The men were better able to control their urges after the course of treatment, according to the researchers. In severe cases, impulse-curbing drugs were prescribed, to improve behavior controls.

There is no guarantee the patients would not molest children in the future, "but we can reduce the risk," said Goecker.

Funding is threatened

Despite the high demand and apparent successes, however, the future of the project is in danger. The Volkswagen Foundation has said it would only continue its financing of the project if additional sponsors can be found, Hansel & Gretel’s CEO Jerome Braun told news agencies.

Hansel & Gretel Chairwoman Barbara Schäfer-Wiegand called upon the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research, as well as private donors and foundations, to lend their support to the therapy research.

One percent of German men are thought to have pedophilic tendencies, Schäfer-Wiegand said. These people need to be exposed to therapy “before thoughts turn to action.”

'Dark Field' outside the law

Per year, some 15,000 cases of child sex abuse are reported in Germany, but the number of unreported cases is thought to be about four times that.

The project’s official name is the Dark Field Prevention Project: “Dark Field” standing for the shadowy area outside the legal system where potential child molesters lurk.

The project is aimed at three groups of people: men who have never assaulted a child but fear they may; men who have already molested a child but were never charged, and those who where charged and completed their sentences, but who fear a relapse.

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