In Germany, they treat paedophiles as victims… not offenders

Dunkelfeld-Project allows paedophiles to seek help anonymously

How many men are paedophiles? One in a million? One in 100,000? 

In fact, the figure could well be much closer to 1 in 100.

A government report released in May suggests we have dramatically underestimated the number of paedophiles in our society - with the Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England claiming there would not be enough land to build the prisons needed if all potential offenders were identified.

So what do we do with approximately one per cent of the male population who are sexually attracted to children? The situation is one that the UK has  to face up to – perhaps emulating our far more enlightened German neighbours in their approach.

Project Dunkelfeld (which translates as “Darkfield”), allows individuals to anonymously contact therapists who help them control their sexual urges towards children.

First anonymously, through email or phone, and then after an assessment and evaluation patients can join either group or single two-hour therapy sessions every week for approximately two years. The initiative, started in Berlin in 2005, has outposts in ten different cities in Germany.

Petya Schuhmann, a psychologist at the project managing 30 patients, says we need to start treating these men (it is mainly men – out of 1,000 contacts since 2005 only a “handful” have been women) as victims.

“I feel so much respect for our patients,” she told The Independent. “They are so brave to call us and to work with us and they are really suffering for their feelings [of paedophilia].”

The sessions teach the men how to control their desires to prevent them offending. The programme does not work with convicted paedophiles, but only those in the ‘dark’ – which means they are unknown to authorities.

Some of the men may have already abused children but, under German law, doctors are not allowed to report them to police.

Ms Schuhmann estimates that “80 to 85 per cent” are effectively “reformed.”

She says many of those who contact the organisation are “very relieved there is someone to talk to about their sexual desires.” Many of them feel “stigmatised” - even if they have never offended - and are ashamed of their actions.

“It is a disease, it is a trait, it is not a choice. They haven’t chosen to change, but they can learn how to live responsibly with their sexual desires.”

As Ms Schuhmann, who defends her project’s work by pointing to the success rate, says: “You can have a sexual interest in children, and be a paedophile, but not offend a child. You can also offend a child and not be a paedophile.” 

Nick Devin would fit the former profile.

Mr Devin, not his real name, founded an online community in the US called Virtuous Paedophiles that aims to encourage support among a community of men sexually attracted to children but committed to never acting out their desires. Mr Devin, a well-off and respected man in his 60s, has four grown male children and is sexually attracted to young boys, “typically aged 12 to 13”.

He told The Independent realising he was a paedophile was an “incredibly traumatic” event. His group, co-founded with Ethan Edwards (also not his real name), hopes to show that not all paedophiles are ‘bad’ people.

Even so, our conversation is conducted through g-chat and Mr Devin is vague about his personal details.

He insists he will never tell a soul where his alternative sexual fantasies lie. His wife remains in the dark: “I can see how talking about it would hurt. I can't see how talking to her would help.”

Paedophilia is medically defined as a "disorder of adult personality and behaviour” according to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) but emotionally, being a paedophile is now framed in large part by the stereotypical - and incredibly negative – public image; an image that has been helped in no small measure by the media’s “absolutely irresponsible” and “self-indulgent” portrayal in recent years - at least according to Dr Sarah Goode.

Dr Goode, an Honorary Research Fellow and Convenor at the University of Winchester who has spent years examining paedophiles and views surrounding them, thinks our attitudes are finally undergoing a “paradigm shift” and that as “a society we can begin to understand that sexual attraction to kids is something that seems to be a part of human sexuality”.

She estimates that as many as one or two in every 100 men are either exclusively sexually attracted to children or primarily attracted to children,” with one in five “sexually aroused to children under certain circumstances”.

Such numbers, she claims, are important because the gulf between the reality of a child sexual predator and someone with paedophilic tendencies is huge.

Mr Devin cites the “great” Dunkelfeld-Project, but thinks such a programme is unlikely to occur elsewhere as “the hatred is so great” towards paedophiles they “are reluctant to come forward to get help; help that reduces the amount of child sexual abuse.”

One crucial difference that may prevent a similarly successful UK implementation of a Brit-Dunkelfeld is a new government initiative making it a legal obligation for all police, council staff, social workers and healthcare professionals to report any concerns.

Dr Goode believes including “therapists and counsellors” in the initiative will set back  the discussion around paedophilia years and notes if it happened “there will be nowhere for these vulnerable people to go.”

It is a claim echoed by Mr Devin. Until more organisations like Dunkelfeld exist, ‘virtuous paedophiles’ such as him are forced to exist in the murky virtual world. Bleakly, he commented: “The online community is really all we have.”

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