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?

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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