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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Macy's and Girls Inc. believe that all girls deserve to be safe, supported, and valued. However, racial disparities continue to exist for young people when it comes to education levels, employment, and opportunities for growth. Add to that the gender divide, and it's clear to see why it's important for girls of color to have access to mentors who can equip them with the tools needed to navigate gender, economic, and social barriers.

Anissa Rivera is one of those mentors. Rivera is a recent Program Manager at the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc., a nonprofit focusing on the holistic development of girls ages 5-18. The goal of the organization is to provide a safe space for girls to develop long-lasting mentoring relationships and build the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to thrive now and as adults.

Rivera spent years of her career working within the themes of self and community empowerment with young people — encouraging them to tap into their full potential. Her passion for youth development and female empowerment eventually led her to Girls Inc., where she served as an agent of positive change helping to inspire all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.

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Inspiring young women from all backgrounds is why Macy's has continued to partner with Girls Inc. for the second year in a row. The partnership will support mentoring programming that offers girls career readiness, college preparation, financial literacy, and more. Last year, Macy's raised over $1.3M for Girls Inc. in support of this program along with their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programming for more than 26,000 girls. Studies show that girls who participated are more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, score higher on standardized math tests, and be more equipped for college and campus life.

Thanks to mentors like Rivera, girls across the country have the tools they need to excel in school and the confidence to change the world. With your help, we can give even more girls the opportunity to rise up. Throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases or donate online to support Girls Inc. at Macys.com/MacysGives.

Who runs the world? Girls!

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Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

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Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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