A provocative treatment program for pedophiles in Germany is raising some eyebrows.

No one wants to see the sexual abuse of children occur.

As a result, in most cultures, pedophilia — sexual attraction to children — carries tremendous stigma. This stigma often drives pedophiles underground, and out of sight.

But does that work to keep children safe?


Is there a better way?

A group in Germany has been running a provocative ad campaign with an unusual target: pedophiles.

A Project Dunkelfeld PSA, which translates to: "Do you love kids more than you would like to? There is help. Free and confidential." Photo by Project Dunkelfeld.

The campaign is sponsored by Prevention Project Dunkelfeld (the "dark field" project), an organization that provides confidential, free therapy to people who struggle with pedophilia to try to ensure they never act on their impulses.

This includes teaching general self-control, basic situation avoidance — how to effectively steer clear of potentially dangerous, one-on-one interactions with children — and integrating patients into more robust social networks in order to marginalize the importance of sexual desire in patients' daily lives.

The program revolves around a crucial distinction:

"Child molestation and pedophilia are not synonymous."

Image by Project Dunkelfeld.

According to Fred Berlin, director of the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma (a private treatment center in Baltimore), "virtuous pedophiles," or people who are sexually attracted to children but have never abused and never intend to abuse a child, are out there. And right now, in the United States, they're not getting help.

"I think we have to encourage people who are undetected to come forward so that we can assist them before they cross the line," Berlin said.

“We have to get beyond this idea that sex offenders are monsters and recognize that they are among us, and that they can be helped," says Elizabeth LeTourneau, director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse at Johns Hopkins University.

LeTourneau told Upworthy that after "This American Life" featured her Maryland center in a report, she received over 200 inquiries from people who struggle with sexual attraction to children and claim to have never abused a child.

They reached out to her for help despite America's mandatory reporting laws.

These laws require health professionals in most U.S. states to notify authorities if they suspect one of their patients is a danger to children.

LeTourneau supports those laws but believes states should take a more nuanced approach.

"Many, many people who are attracted to children do not want to hurt children, and people who have already done so really want to stop," she said. She says it's important to "give them a way to access services where they don't also have to face the decision to risk 15 years in prison."

Germany's lack of mandatory reporting laws allows Project Dunkelfeld's therapists to provide judgment-free support at no legal risk to participants.

This Project Dunkelfeld PSA includes a phone number to call for help. Image by Project Dunkelfeld.

Strict laws in Germany prevent therapists from breaking confidentiality with their patients, though they can provide information to the authorities if a patient makes it clear they intend to commit a serious crime. No such laws exist in the U.S., although therapists are still ethically bound to confidentiality except in cases of danger and must comply with HIPAA.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the program is that therapists even help people who have abused children or consumed child pornography in the past.

Image by Project Dunkelfeld.

According to a report by Damien McGuinness of the BBC, this even includes abusers whose crimes have never been reported.

Q: So what does a therapist do if a patient says he has abused a child?

"If he comes to us and says, 'I have done something illegal in the past and don't want to do it again,' and that's the normal case for us, then we can help him to build up his self-regulatory behaviour to not do that again," says clinical psychologist and sexologist Anna Konrad of the Charite hospital in Berlin.

Q: But surely, I suggest, it's difficult to sit opposite a man who has abused children and try to help him?

"The main aim of the project is to protect children from being abused, and if I can help the person not to do that again, then for me it's quite clear that I should do that," she says.





The Project Dunkelfeld website features testimonials from patients who credit the program with teaching them how to manage their desires and live normal lives.

Christian, a civil servant, writes:

Jan, another patient, writes:

The accounts can be difficult, even shocking to read. But it makes you wonder:

Could a program like this work in the United States? Would communities here accept it?

Image by Project Dunkelfeld.

There are well-validated prevention programs of every conceivable type of childhood violence except for childhood sexual abuse, and that's because we've convinced ourselves that the people that commit these crimes are monsters," LeTourneau said. "They can't be stopped. They can't be helped. They're monsters, and all we can do is wait for them to do their horrible thing and then send them away for 10, 20, or 100 years. And that's ridiculous."

Right now, laws in most states make an aggressive prevention approach like Project Dunkelfeld difficult, if not impossible, to implement in the U.S.

Though the BBC reports that over 5,000 people have reached out to the German program for help and advice since it launched in 2005 and that over 400 men have begun treatment, how effective it's actually been at reducing incidences of child sexual abuse remains to be studied.

But despite how repulsive their desires might seem, people who are sexually attracted to children are not demons — they're people.

They're already in our communities, our churches, our schools, and yes, sometimes our homes.

Mandatory reporting laws might not have to go away, but perhaps they can be modified to allow those who don't want to abuse to come out of the shadows and seek help from trained specialists. It would require making some tough choices, but it could lead to fewer tragic outcomes and fewer children hurt.

Pedophiles need help. The question is: Are we willing to do what it takes to help them?

Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

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Since his first hit single "Keep Your Head Up" in 2011, award-winning multi-platinum recording artist Andy Grammer has made a name for himself as the king of the feel-good anthem. From "Good to Be Alive (Hallelujah)" to "Honey, I'm Good" to "Back Home" and more, his positive, upbeat songs have blared on beaches and at backyard barbecues every summer.

So what does a singer who loves to perform in front of live audiences and is known for uplifting music do during an unexpectedly challenging year of global pandemic lockdown?

He goes inward.

Grammer told Upworthy that losing the ability to perform during the pandemic forced him to look at where his self-worth came from. "I thought I would have scored better, to be honest," he says. "Like, 'Oh, I get it from all the important, right places!' And then it's taken all away in one moment, and you're like, 'Oh, nope, I was getting a lot from that.'

"It's kind of cool to break all the way down and then hopefully put myself back together in a way that's a little more solid," he says.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."