Frequently asked question

What is pedophilia? What is hebephilia?

Pedophilia is the term used to describe the sexual preference for prepubertal minors, who, in terms of bodily development, have not yet entered puberty (in general, up to 10/11 years old). Pedophilia is thus defined as sexually intense and persistent sexual interest in children with prepubertal body scheme.

Hebephilia is the sexual preference for early pubertal minors, i.e. individuals, whose bodily development already shows signs of puberty (in general, at the ages of 11 to 14 years).

There are individuals, who suffer greatly as a result of their disposition, which causes clinically significant distress.

Having a sexual interest in children with prepubertal or early pubertal body schemes does not necessarily mean that these people commit sexual assaults or automatically consume child sexual abuse images (so-called child pornography) on the internet. That is why the expressions pedophilia and hebephilia need to be notably distinguished from child sexual abuse. Under criminal law, the designation “child sexual abuse” exclusively refers to sexual acts with/involving children, whereas pedophilia and hebephilia describe sexual arousal or excitation in relation to prepubertal or early pubertal minors.

How is a diagnosis made?

A diagnosis of pedophilia or hebephilia can be made following an extensive clinical interview in which a multitude of information on sexual experience and behaviour is collected. The information gathered in this process can be supplemented with, for example, additional questionnaires and testing procedures.

However, questionnaires and tests as done on troubled desire only represent supplementary diagnostic processes and cannot reliably replace a diagnostic clinical interview.

Who is qualified to make the diagnosis of pedophilia or hebephilia?

The diagnostic investigation falls to specialists with qualifications established by a successfully completed course of study in medicine or psychology. From the point of view of various professional associations of sexology, however, further competencies in sexual medicine/sexual therapy are necessary, as neither the assessment nor the treatment of sexual disorders are yet a part of standard university education and medical or psychological training.

What are the causes of a pedophilic and hebephilic sexual preference?

Sexologists are discussing a multitude of factors (e.g. developmental of the brain; hormonal and neurotransmitter related development; early childhood attachment and relationship experiences; personal histories of child sexual abuse) to explain the phenomenon of sexual arousal in adults towards children and early adolescents. Overall, there is as yet no clear picture of the development and progression of a pedophilic or hebephilic sexual preference; more research is therefore necessary and ongoing.

How many people have pedophilic or hebephilic desires? How many of them are women?

In surveys, between 3 and 6 percent of male participants in Germany, and between 3 and 9 percent of male participants internationally, indicated having had sexual fantasies about prepubertal children or contact with them. However, there no reliable data on how large a share of the population is made up of people with pedophilic or hebephilic sexual preferences, as no large epidemiological studies have been carried out on this topic. Further scientific investigations are ongoing.

According to the current state of knowledge, the great majority of all individuals with pedophilic or hebephilic sexual preferences are men. In the context of the Prevention Project in Berlin, very few women came forward and even less could be diagnosed with pedophilia.

The criteria that must be fulfilled for a diagnosis of pedophilia are established by internationally recognized diagnostic guidelines. Here, the most important criterion is the sexual arousability of an adult by the pubertal or early pubertal body scheme of minors.

Are all people who commit child sexual abuse offenses either pedophiles or hebephiles?

No. It is necessary to distinguish clearly between people who are sexually attracted to children and/or early adolescents and commit child sexual abuse and people who are attracted to adults and offend against children. The latter often offend in connection with other difficulties as a surrogate action, or due to mental illnesses.

Do all people with a pedophilic or hebephilic sexual preference commit child sexual abuse offenses?

No, definitely not.

Could the use of child pornography lead to an increase in desire for hands-on child sexual abuse?

The current state of research makes it impossible to conclusively assess to what extent the consumption of child sexual abuse images might strengthen the desire to experience hands-on sexual contact with a child and/or an early adolescent. However, given that consumption alone is a criminal offense and represents a serious form of child sexual abuse, refraining from the consumption of child sexual abuse images is a further goal of the therapeutic efforts.

What do the german terms “Hellfeld” and “Dunkelfeld” mean?

Offenses registered through the legal system are described as offenses in the “Light field” (in German: Hellfeld). The great majority of sexual offenses committed against children, however, go unreported to the authorities, and as a result never appear in any criminal statistics. In criminology, these acts are described as taking place in the “Dark field” (in German: Dunkelfeld). The term may be reinterpreted as anything going on invisibly and in the meanwhile it has been established as a brand for primary prevention of child sexual abuse in the international community of professionals.

Isn’t a therapy offer simply a way of protecting offenders?

The therapy being offered to individuals with a pedophilic or hebephilic sexual preference, who are aware of their problem and seeking help, is aimed at preventing sexual offenses against children and/or early adolescents and at avoiding the consumption of child sexual abuse images. In this way therapy programs as the Prevention Network “Kein Täter Werden” (Meaning: Don’t offend)” actively contribute to the protection of children and early adolescents by addressing the problem before children become victims, thus preventing repeated abuse and counteracting their ongoing traumatization. Troubled desire is an online tool that can not replace therapy but offers a low level self treatment approach for people who are sexually attracted to children.

How does the therapy work?

The therapy usually integrates psychological and sexological, as well as pharmaceutical approaches.
The therapeutic points of entry are oriented towards spheres of life that research has identified as decisive for the prevention of (further) sexual offenses:
• Strengthening of the motivation to be able to permanently control one’s own behavior
• Strengthening of resources
• Taking responsibility for one’s own actions
• Working on problems of self-worth
• Obtaining the ability to control sexual impulses by successfully coping with emotions and problems
• Recognition and management of risky situations
• Development of social and cognitive capacities needed in a life without sexual offenses
• Improvement of relationship skills (e.g. building up or stabilizing social networks; strengthening of the capacity for intimacy)
• Development of visions of and prospects for the future

The online treatment approach of “troubled desire” is based on the expierence during more than 10 years of treatment in the prevention project Dunkelfeld in Berlin and gives a basic support for self management of sexual attraction to minors.

What are the requirements for successful therapy?

Successful therapy is primarily achieved when therapists and participants both carry out their designated tasks over the course of the therapy.

On the part of the participants, openness, regular participation, and the taking on of responsibility for making decisions significantly influence the goal of the therapy. Decisive is the motivation to not commit any sexual offenses towards children and to refrain from consuming child sexual abuse images.

On the part of the therapist, reaching the therapeutic goal is supported by the therapist’s own qualifications concerning the assessment and treatment of sexual disorders as well as regular supervision.

Do people with a pedophilic or hebephilic sexual preference regard the consumption of child sexual abuse images as an alternative?

The use of child sexual abuse images (so-called child pornography) provides an opportunity to satisfy sexual needs without having direct physical contact with children. However, there is often no awareness of the inherent problem that the production and distribution of child sexual abuse images relies on the sexual abuse of the depicted individuals. Being aware of this, some consumers of child sexual abuse images feel bad about their behavior.

Would patient confidentiality still be maintained in the event of a participant committing an act of sexual abuse?

The therapists are bound by professional confidentiality in relation to all currently reported and past cases of child sexual abuse they are made aware of during therapy. There is no mandatory reporting law in Germany. The violation of confidentiality is a legal offense. Patient confidentiality is a basis for the preventive approach of the project. In this way, therapeutic offers can also be made to individuals seeking help concerning their sexual attraction to children and who are unknown to the authorities, in order to prevent (further) offenses.  

In other countries there are mandatory reporting laws. Even offences in the past can be or have to be reported to the authorities. These individuals who do have already offended will remain out of reach for therapy. From a preventive viewpoint, the legal situation in Germany (no mandatory reporting law) is therefore very beneficial.

In cases of acute danger to self or others, the welfare of the person or persons in danger is put first. In such cases, the therapist and the participant work together to develop strategies to terminate the acute danger.