When Potential Pedophiles 'Turn Themselves In' To Tame Their Criminal Impulses

Over the past six years, Germany has opened three treatment centers for men with pedophilic tendencies. Patients enter the therapy-based program voluntarily, as a way to explore their impulses and control their behavior – before it’s too late.

A bulletin board with sexual predator notifications in Florida.
A bulletin board with sexual predator notifications in Florida.
Anja Perkuhn

REGENSBURG - The house is white. On the grounds of the BKR, a district clinic in the Bavarian city of Regensburg, there are many of these small, mostly white, nondescript buildings. Nothing points to the fact that this particular house is where, once a week, men with pedophilic tendencies meet for therapy sessions. And it's meant to be that way – one of the ground rules of the first and so far only out-patient center in Bavaria is absolute anonymity.

The Regensburg center opened in September 2010; it is the third facility of its type to open in Germany, after the day centers in Berlin (2005) and Kiel (2009). It serves southern Germany and, says Michael Osterheider, head of the project and of forensic psychiatry at Regensburg University, the positive reaction it has attracted so far also points to the fact that there was a need for such a facility.

Since it opened, 98 men have called in on the "Kein Täter werden" (Don't Become a Perpetrator) hotline that the center is linked to. Presently, 44 men are in therapy: 16 of them in individual therapy, the rest divided into two groups. A third group is due to start soon.

Therapy is "multi-modal" – a combination of behavioral and sex therapy. Medication to dull sexual drive is also an option. Candidates for the free counseling are determined after several rounds of interviews and tests – not every man who believes he might be a pedophile actually is. Nor is group therapy appropriate in all cases; it is not an option for patients suffering from psychosis or severe depression, for example.

Anyone who has actually committed pedophile acts is not part of the center's target group and will not be accepted for therapy. "The primary goal is to inculcate behavioral guidelines so that potential pedophiles do not act out," says Osterheider. However, not all men with pedophile tendencies automatically act out, just as not all men who act out are necessarily pedophiles. Over half of those who are convicted of sexual crimes against children, says Osterheider, are not strictly speaking pedophiles. Their victims are surrogates.

All ages, all walks of life

Making the public aware of such distinctions is another of the center's objectives, and this is also in the interests of the patients. They have all come forth voluntarily because they want to learn to live with their tendencies and to be responsible. For many, their biggest fear is that they could be labeled sex monsters.

Those registered at the BKR therapy center come from virtually all social classes – manual laborer, student, teacher, Catholic priest, engineer. Their ages range from 19 to 75. During the one- to two-year duration of their therapy they will learn that the tendency is not their fault, and also that they cannot change it.

It is unclear what causes some people to feel sexually attracted to children. Research is being carried out at Berlin's Charité university hospital – their "Prevention Project Dunkelfeld" is also to some extent the umbrella under which the three day centers function. A point of departure for researchers is that biological, psychological and social causes all play a role. In Germany, according to very basic estimates, about 300,000 men are affected and very few women. Because the first signs of pedophile tendencies usually appear at puberty, the operative assumption is that hormones play a major role.

Osterheider stresses, however, that the Regensburg project is not primarily a research project: it is about "victim prevention." The effectiveness of the center, for which three psychologists work and which is financed to the tune of 600,000 euros by the Free State of Bavaria, will be reviewed after three years.

Read the original story in German

Photo - Richard Elzey

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