“It is a disease, it is a trait, it is not a choice. They haven’t chosen to change, but they can learn how to live responsibly with their sexual desires,” Petya Schuhmann, a psychologist at the project, told the Independent.
One of the applicants to the program, “Max Weber” (name changed for confidentiality), 30, has been attending therapy for a year, for three hours every week.
“It's painful to acknowledge that you are a pedophile. It was like standing in front of a mirror, and on the one hand thinking: 'What kind of a monster are you?' But it was also very healthy to stand in front of the mirror and say: I'm a pedophile, but that's OK, I won't do anything bad,” Weber told BBC.
The therapy is also available — controversially — for men who have abused children in the past, even if the cases remained unreported. German legislation, unlike that in the US and UK for instance, obliges doctors to follow the principle of patient confidentiality even regarding crimes and abuse.
“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 behavior to not do that again,” clinical psychologist and sexologist Anna Konrad of the Charite hospital in Berlin told BBC.
Since Project Dunkelfeld was first set up in 2005, over 5,300 people have contacted the network for advice or to find out more about the therapy. Now there are long waiting lists because of lack of space in treatment centers.The German authorities hope to draw in more potential pedophiles to apply for the program, advertising it via various media sources.
According to recent research, between 3% and 5% of men, from all social and economic backgrounds, may be sexually attracted to children.