Monday, April 24, 2017

Prevention Project Dunkelfeld And Mandatory Reporting

Another Word About Terminology (Again)

It is quite normal to use the word "pedophile" to refer to someone who has sexually abused children, or to think that those with a sexual attraction to children have or will abuse children. However, neither is accurate. People with a sexual attraction to children (pedophiles) are not typically responsible for abusing children, and those that abuse children do not typically have pedophilia. By using the proper terminology, we can reduce the stigma around pedophilia and enable pedophiles to come forward for help if they need it.

What Is Prevention Project Dunkelfeld?

PPD is a German program aimed at reaching anyone with concerns about their thoughts around children. Because there is no mandatory reporting law in Germany, they are able to offer free and completely confidential help to people. While their primary target is people with a sexual attraction to children (regardless of whether those people have hurt or not hurt children, see here if you need a refresher on the distinction between child rapist/child rape and pedophile/pedophilia), it is impossible to argue with their results. Hundreds of people have come forward since the program started in 2005, and they have gone from a single site to many sites all over Germany. Their program is seeing people with sexual concerns crawling out of the woodwork to get help.

A Word About Sweden

Sweden has one of the best systems for handling crime out there: They treat their criminals like people instead of scum, and it seems that this system is paying off. While some reports might tell you that they have a much higher rate of rape and other sexual crimes compared to the United States, you must remember that rape is a highly underreported crime, particularly in the United States: According to RAINN, out of every 1,000 rapes, only 310 are reported to police, and 11 get referred to prosecutors. It is possible that Sweden's approach to crime means more people are prosecuted, and more cases are reported. Sweden has a fairly low incarceration rate because they offer help when giving people a second chance, rather than just slapping them with a sentence, a criminal record, and telling them, "Good luck rebuilding your life, we'll be watching." This begs the question of whether the United States could do better, and whether looking at Sweden, as well as Germany, could benefit us.

Why Does Mandatory Reporting Matter?

Previously, I have discussed mandatory reporting from the perspective of those who have loved ones who have abused children. What you may not realize is that mandatory reporting does not just affect people who have already hurt a child, it affects those who have not committed any crime, but fear they might be charged with one because of a misconception or false accusation. While false accusations of sexual abuse are relatively rare (4-8%), the degree to which sexual abuse is punished by law makes it a very, very scary topic for people.

Combine that with the sexual attraction to children, which most people erroneously conflate with the sexual abuse of a child, and you have a recipe for no one coming forward for help. One of the biggest emerging areas in sexual abuse prevention is the question: How do we get people with concerns about their thoughts towards children to get help before a child is hurt? Prevention Project Dunkelfeld has answered that question. While many pedophiles may already have support systems in place, it is extremely difficult. Establishing support networks for pedophiles (those with the sexual attraction, not those who have abused, remember) has been a challenge primarily because of the fear that they will be charged with a crime or investigated (and outed) by law enforcement.

Mandatory reporting also deters victims from reporting their abuse. Most people consider sexual abuse to be a heinous crime... and rightly so. But those same people also consider those who commit this crime to be abhorrent monsters, sexual predators even... when this is not the case. Around 90% of child sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known and trusted, not just by the victim, but in the surrounding community. 30% are family members: Someone's loving uncle, father, brother, and more. 60% are people who are close friends with the family: Teachers, babysitters, coaches, and more. These are people we care about, not just an ugly monster we feel fine just locking up and throwing away the key.

That matters because the person abusing the victim is someone the victim loves and cares for, and the community around both the victim and the abuser loves and cares for both the victim and the abuser. We see a pattern in many institutional cases where a teacher or priest is known to have been abusing, and nothing is done- by adults. This outrages us because of the lack of accountability, but it gives testimony after testimony that abuse is perpetrated by known, loved, and trusted figures. This means that no one wants them to get in trouble, but everyone wants them to get help. If the only way to get them help is for the abuser to go to prison and have their life ruined, many people decide that the help is not worth it. I suggest that it is possible to hold an abuser accountable without giving them a criminal sentence for the rest of their life, and without draconian punishments. Sweden clearly demonstrates this possibility, as does Germany.

Bringing Primary Prevention To The United States

The Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse is a program of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, led by Dr. Elizabeth Letourneau. Since 2015, they have been working on a project that they have called "Help Wanted" which is a project designed to determine what help young adult pedophiles need, and how to reach them before they hurt a child. While some of their work ignores the reality that some pedophiles do not need expert interventions, the goal of the project is to figure out how Prevention Project Dunkelfeld could happen in the United States.

The original basis for their Help Wanted project was an episode that aired on This American Life (30 min.), which told the story of a young pedophile who tried many different therapists before joining Virtuous Pedophiles and creating his own support group. While Help Wanted seems to be exclusively aimed at helping teenagers, it is the only US-based attempt to determine how to reach potential abusers of children before the abuse can happen.

One of the biggest needs to make this kind of prevention a reality is the elimination of mandatory reporting laws, and the elimination of draconian sentencing. While there are a small percentage of sexual abusers who fit the media stereotype of being "monstrous scum" who constantly prey on children, the majority of abusers do not fit this stereotype. If we had policies and a public that recognized that fact, the United States and other countries could put a significant dent in child sexual abuse.

How Can You Help?

Contact your legislators, and link this post, or the programs linked in this post. The more people who are aware of Help Wanted and Prevention Project Dunkelfeld, the more chance there is that something can be done. It is not enough for a lone prevention advocate, and a lone prevention organization, to be saying these things. Multiple people from different areas of background (or no background at all) need to join these voices.

For most people, calling your legislators and leaving a message is far more effective than shooting off an email. Sending a physical letter will help as well. If you are unsure of who your legislators are, Google "contact my representative in [state]". If multiple people contact the same office at around the same time, they take more notice.

You can also donate money to the Moore Center and other organizations that push primary prevention, like Stop It Now! There is a heavy financial need for projects like Help Wanted, because of the number of people unwilling to provide funding on such an emotional topic.

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