I have a lot of sympathy for paedophiles. Before a pitchfork-wielding mob burns down my house, the men in white coats arrive in their van to take me away, or, worst by far, Twitter should get hold of this, I had better clarify my position.
A paedophile is described very simply in the dictionary as ‘one who feels sexual attraction to children’. Crucially it does not mean that any action has taken place; a ‘paedophile’ has not necessarily committed any crime and is so-called purely for their thoughts rather than deeds.
It is wrong to use ‘paedophile’ and ‘sex offender’ interchangeably. Recent studies, in fact, suggest that far from all paedophiles being inhuman monsters lurking in society’s darkest corners, three to five per cent of men have desires that could classify them as a paedophile, while one in five could be ‘capable of paedophilic feelings’.
This not only shows that we cannot write off and ignore them as ‘outliers’ and ‘weirdos’, but also that there is a silent majority of so called ‘virtuous paedophiles’ who constantly supress their desires.
Indeed, it is somewhat ironic to say that all paedophiles are monsters when many of them are all too aware of the monster within and struggle to fight it. It is in light of this that a German part-government-funded initiative called the Dunkelfeld Project has been offering free, confidential, clinical treatment to self-professed paedophiles.
The scheme launched in 2005 with a series of billboards and TV adverts, and by 2010, 1,134 men were on the programme, over half of whom had previously sought therapy for their problems without success.
Patients undergo Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), in an effort to help them self-regulate their desires, and establish coping mechanisms often involving partners or relatives.
There are now centres in 11 different German cities. The project’s tagline sums it up very well: ‘You are not guilty because of your sexual desire, but you are responsible for your sexual behaviour. Get help! Don’t become an offender!’ The main objective of Dunkelfeld, as it should be for any paedophilia initiative, is to protect children.
By forcing paedophiles to live a life of guilt-ridden repression, facing their problems spurned and alone, we make them far more likely to offend than if they were met with tolerance and the offer of help. Humanising these people and allowing them access to honest discussion and therapy is far more constructive than demonisation.
Dunkelfeld has met with controversy for its willingness to also accept paedophiles who have already offended; there is some opposition to the idea of public money helping those who have already committed such terrible crimes. However, it seems far worse that we should send paedophiles to prison and then release them back onto the streets without providing therapeutic help to lessen the likelihood of re-offending.
This is not a matter of prisoner welfare, but one of child protection. Witch hunts of past offenders are all very well, but if we actually want to protect children then it is preventative strategies like the Dunkelfeld Project that we should invest in.