Survivors must come first, to protect the future of children across the world.

My work is dedicated to raising the important issue of child sex abuse.

Of huge importance is putting the ‘many’ survivors of Child Sex Abuse, first.

From where I stand it seems victims receive a diminished focus, both in cases and media awareness, and this should never be the case. They should be considered first and foremost in any trial, life, reporting or story. This is the only way we are going to learn more and prevent more cases. I speak openly about this to anyone who wants to listen, at every opportunity.

Every day I find myself discovering new conversations about child sex abuse. I am always open to anything that can reduce the heinous crime. More recently I learnt about a centre in Germany offering treatment for paedophiles ‘before’ they offend.

The article in The Guardian “How Germany treats paedophiles before they offend” was shared with me, and it really caught my eye – I read on. The Dunkelfeld project aims to allow people who feel they may sexually offend children, access to professional mental health treatment and attempts to modify their behaviour. The article is based on the real-life story of Max Weber – he has never offended, or he hadn’t when I read the article, but had come close. The article was written in 2015, it remains to be seen whether Max went on to offend.

Max reports to have never made the first appointment he had booked, because on the way to Berlin he found himself feeling sick at the thought of what he was doing. The second appointment was easier, and he managed to enter the Charite Hospital, to meet the group. He was shocked when he entered the room.
Max goes on to discuss the variety of people in the meeting room, from high-end professionals to the unemployed. And it’s this heterogeneous group that’s a point for us all to understand.

Personally, I am never shocked by the perpetrators I have come across. Sex offenders come in all shapes and sizes, it’s not one size fits all and most offenders (90%) are known to their victims – something I have discussed a million times, and of course in my TED Talk ‘it’s not just the strangers we should be careful of
Weber says “he had never met another paedophile before”, and he said “it was amazing for me to see how different everyone was”.

The Dunkelfeld project is a serious consideration in helping reduce child sex abuse. The question is, how many people would want to put themselves into therapy such as this, knowing that they are owning the facts of who they are? I don’t know how many people have taken part in the Dunkfeld project, so I arranged a meeting with Maximilian Von Heyden, Director of Health Communication and Public Relations, to find out more.

Maximilian and I chatted for over an hour, I had a lot to absorb and ask. I firstly wanted to know how many people had been to the Dunkfeld Project. He told me that since the research project had opened in Berlin, 2005, they have seen around 1,500 people walk through their doors, and of this it was predominantly men (99%) that they had treated.

He then went on to say that a high percentage of paedophiles re-offend, and this was an important study conducted by Professor Klaus Beier, Director of Institute. Professor Beier was doing a follow up analysis of convicted offenders. He defined that not all of those who commit Child Sex Abuse are actually paedophiles. In simple terms a paedophile has a psychological disorder that causes them to have a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent boys and girls -whether they have offended or not, and sex offenders have been found to be attracted to older children, from puberty. Neither make it right, but it seemed to me that what he was saying was ‘the sex offender does not have fantasies of being with prepubescent children. BUT, without necessary support a sex offender could quite easily become a paedophile’.

I researched around on this conversation and can see that some paedophiles, who have not committed a crime, can often consider themselves as ‘virtuous paedophiles’, meaning they have not acted on their attraction. My mind boggles at the mere thought of this concept: ‘virtuous paedophiles’. For now, I will consider them to be paedophiles. I have real difficulty in linking the word virtuous with paedophile.

The conversation related to paedophiles and sex offenders will forever be a difficult one to have, given that most survivors consider any child sex abuser as a paedophile. But I also take the time to appreciate it is much more complex than this, and I dig deep daily, to better understand the complexities of the conversation, all of which help me better understand how to move forward with the goal of protecting young people – which is my only focus – protecting under 16-year-olds, and reducing this tragic crime. Helping parents, and safe-guarding teams understand the difference of a paedophile and sex-offender does not change anything regarding protection, but it can help us all be more vigilant around safe-guarding children.

Maximilian went on to tell me that sex offenders might often find they cannot have relationships with adults. Some abuse due to a personality disorder.
The bigger difficulty and quite possibly the ongoing problem the world has with sex offenders is that those with a personality disorder are often harder to reach in terms of preventive measures *i.e. if they don’t see it is wrong, how can they be helped, and as I said earlier if not given correct therapy then they could find themselves quite easily becoming a paedophile, and given that he already told me that paedophiles were the biggest risk of re-offending – it is a huge problem.
Talking to Maximilian opened a new conversation around the different terms used: there are offenders such as hebephilics, often attracted to early pubescent children aged around 10-13 years old, and a paedohebephilia, who tend to be attracted to both, prepubescent and pubescent.

More terms I hadn’t come across – Paraphilia – in which an individual experiences sexual attraction limited to individuals of particular age ranges, and so the list went on… ‘Ephebophilia’ the primary sexual interest in mid to late adolescents (15-19). And lastly these terms are subsumed into the technical term ‘Chronophilia’.

My call with Maximillian certainly opened a greater dialogue for me, of how different people’s sexual preferences were, and of course, knowledge and context are always valuable.

After speaking with Maximillian one important thing that stood out for me was how vital it is we encourage people with the sexual preferences mentioned above to come forward. To help reduce the crime and get the help they need, which in turn will protect our children, my ultimate focus. We then bolster this with primary education to young people on the importance of healthy relationships and what that means to their safeguarding.

Before my call with Maximilian ended, I was interested in knowing what type /or kind of person visited the centres in relation to feelings, i.e., were they embarrassed, shy, scared, or did they have no emotion? Leading me to then ask, “how do those with no emotion find their way to you, and are these paedophiles with lack of emotion, or acknowledgement for who they are, the most critical to get to – how do you reach them?”

Unsurprisingly there was a real mixed bag of “person” that visited the centre, ranging from emotional through to shy and depressed. Not one size fits all. Which leads to the reality that many perpetrators are simply ‘hidden in plain sight’.

The problems surrounding paedophiles is huge, not least because they wouldn’t openly want to share their sexual preferences. The more I hear, read and listen, the more I feel strongly we need to find more people willing to support and encourage conversations, to help prevent child sex abuse.

Maximilian also touched on the fact that some paedophiles do not see that they have done anything wrong, and these are the people who need to be reached. Contrarily, these are the very people who are least likely to step forward for any discussion, let alone treatment!

In the last few moments of my time with Maximilian we discussed the online world, adolescents, sexual abuse, pornography, social media, “Stop it Now” groups and the fact that the European commission is offering more funding to help stamp out the crime. All huge topics in themselves but naturally linked to paedophilia.

We also discussed.

  1. The reality of the heinous online groups out there promoting child sex abuse, and the vital needs to have these platforms closed.
  2. The role of mental impairments in both increasing the risk of offending and becoming a victim.
  3. Pharmaceutical options for reducing the risk of (re-)offending.
  4. And how the work being done by Maximilian and me was all focused on managing risks, safe-guarding children and reducing the crime.

All conversations that need great consideration.

I felt like Maximilian and I ‘were’ very aligned, just very differently, with how we performed in our day-to-day activities, him with paedophiles and me as an advocate for survivors of child sex abuse, working in schools educating children, writing, speaking and bringing awareness campaigns forward on the subject of child sex abuse – next stop a wing-walk!

I sat quietly after our call ended with a zillion things flying around my head, not to mention the enormity of the conversation, and the scale of which it was facing across the world.

Subsequently, I asked many people their thoughts on the possibility of offender rehabilitation. Is the rehab route possible.

Unsurprisingly, it was a resounding, no.

So, is the Dunkfeld project a serious consideration for this conversation across the world, or should we consider ensuring all known paedophiles are always kept away from children, and not offer any diversion treatment?

Personally, I would really like to explore the conversation of diversion treatment for paedophiles (before they offend), and those willing to step forward to share their desires and thoughts about sexually abusing children. I feel this would bring into the open ‘how wrong it is’ and acting on these thoughts would enable treatment influencing non-offending.

Three-pronged attack –educate young children to protect themselves by knowing what is/isn’t appropriate and understanding what healthy relationships mean/ AND to be able to say no, and educate/treat potential paedophiles before they offend.

There is still a myth that “stranger danger” is the biggest difficulty for young people. Wrong. As a child I was taught to not talk to strangers, to absolutely shout or scream if a stranger tried to talk to me, and would have been told off if I had been rude to an adult – something that is an irresponsible education, that needs to change. Like many others, I knew my abusers, I liked them. We need to change this thought process / education on how we teach young people, support victims, and listen to trauma.

My focus on these conversations will always be of the survivor, the innocent child and what we can do to reduce child sex abuse. I want to gain knowledge, explore conversations, and listen to the real voices, read, research, and engage in conversations – to push for positive change – and this can only be done by exploring all areas of child sex abuse, which of course does mean looking at the paedophile and what can be, that isn’t being, done.

All of these conversations put survivors of CSA at the start. This protects children and helps reduce child sex abuse: a real crime affecting millions across the world.

*Emma-Jane is raising awareness for Project 90/10, a charity being set up to reduce child sex abuse through education, workshops, campaigns and in-house safe-guarding presentations to parents, staff and young people. She is also encouraging the Nation to sign her petition to get a debate in Parliament. She also shared her TEDx talk in 2021 ‘it’s not just the strangers we should be careful of’.