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White Papers | Posted: October 11, 2010

Professor Klaus M. Beier on child pornography: "A Huge, Unethical Human Experiment"

The Institute of Sexology and Sexual Medicine at the Berlin University hospital "Charité", under the direction of Prof. Klaus M. Beier, offers preventive therapies for pedophile men. Users of abuse images on the internet are addressed as well.

Interview by Stefan Tomik

May 28, 2010
Professor Beier, what do researchers know about people who abuse children?

There are two groups of offenders: about half of them have a pedophile inclination, i.e., a sexual responsiveness to the child's body. In contrast, the others are sexually focused on adults, but for various reasons, they are not in a position to realize sex with age-appropriate partners. They switch to children.

How many pedophiles are there?

A separate study showed us that about one percent of all men find the child's body arousing. In Germany, that would come up to about 250,000 persons affected. This corresponds to the prevalence of Parkinson's disease, approximately.

Is pedophilia curable?

No, and on this point all experts agree. Nevertheless, there are always voices that claim the opposite. In fact, the sexual preference structure is formed in adolescence and is thereafter immutable. No one can be made responsible for his inclinations, but only for his behavior. So our project starts with behavioral control. We reduce reality distortions, promote the ability to empathize with victims, and involve partners or relatives. Medication can also be very helpful to suppress sexual impulses.

Last year, you expanded your project on the use of abuse images on the internet.

We soon realized that most men who come to us have long been using photos from the internet. Such images are an infinite humiliation of the victims. They are also believed to lower the users' threshold for real abuse. The web lacks any social control.

How do the persons affected justify themselves?

Sometimes even highly intelligent men have an alarmingly low awareness of the problem. Here quite a number of cognitive distortions play a part. They say for example, "But the pictures are already made, and when I look at them now, where is the problem?" On a rational level, we can usually convince them that the demand increases the supply and thus entails further abuse. But wishful thinking is much more powerful. Another self-deception: "I cannot see that the children in the pictures are suffering - they appear to be very interested and also enjoying it." In order to exonerate themselves, they attribute the desire to the children; they actually believe that there are seven- or eight-year old girls who wish to have "sexual experiences" with an adult, including sexual intercourse. Some viewers have been convincing themselves of that for 20 years. It is difficult to correct this distortion of perception.

How do you proceed?

With those affected, we review the images they use, because these identify precisely their sexual preferences. Thus we gain insight into the programming of the person, into his brain. This is important for diagnosis and therapy. It is the prerequisite for preventing a relapse effectively. Such an approach should be used much more often. But the judges do not examine the confiscated computer files of a convicted offender. Here opportunities are missed.

The State punishes without offering help?

Even offenders who are accused of child sexual abuse in court, are rarely examined by experts. Examinations of perpetrators, who are charged with the use of child pornography, are the absolute exception; although through the images - i.e., the evidence - an expert would have a good basis for statements about prognosis and therapy.

The coalition is considering whether to make the assessment of offenders at the trial obligatory.

That would be a good thing, but honestly, it has to be admitted that there would not be enough experts with qualification and experience in sexual medicine to implement it.

Conservatives and Liberals are proposing stronger sanctions on the possession of child pornography. Fines instead of prison?

Many offenders only laugh about fines. In addition, a rapid implementation of the criminal law is rare.

How can you draw people's attention to your project?

We want to reach those affected where they look for abuse images, that is on the internet. For example, if they enter typical key terms in the search engines, a message could appear that points users to our prevention project.

What's the problem?

We have produced banners in all formats, but the search engine operators do not support the effort.

But the internet industry claims that it is supporting the fight against child abuse.

That's what Google also told me. They said our project was very interesting; they would examine it; and only needed the consent from America. That was last summer. We never heard from them again.

Does the internet exacerbate the problem of pedophilia?

Yes, in several respects: access to child abuse images is easier and easier; the images reduce the critical self-awareness of users and thus probably the threshold for direct action. Studies show that young people now have very early first contact with pornography on the internet. If the preference structure manifests in early adolescence, such pictures leave traces. In our clinical work, even 12-13-year olds report that images appear in their masturbation fantasies, which they have seen on the internet. This is a huge, unethical human experiment, and it is a complete mystery to me why this goes on unhindered.


Kein Täter Werden
Kostenlose Beratung und Therapie für pädophile Männer
[Free consultation and therapy for pedophile men]
[Prevention of Online Child Sexual Abuse in the Criminological "Dunkelfeld" (EN)]