03.10.2022

The call for ever harsher sanctions against padophile offenders does more harm than good

Tougher prison sentences, preventive detention and internet blocking are convenient proposals for politicians. These amptions are easy to communicate to the broad mass of voters, and it is also easy to win over the regulars’ table. Therapy services easily get the reputation of being expensive feel-good services for offenders. Under justice senator roger kusch (cdu at the time), a new prison was opened in hamburg "hard" course – and, among other things, closed the nationally recognized social therapeutic institution altengamme. Only the grune senator of justice, till steffen, reversed the wrong decision.

Instead of addressing the obvious need for improvement in therapy, the federal government is trying to solve the problem through preventive detention. After the european court of human rights overturned preventive detention, it was reintroduced through the back door via the therapeutic placement act (thug). The law was created solely for those persons who must be released from preventive detention as a result of the ruling of the european court of justice – in the future, they are to be released from preventive detention "for the protection of the general public" to be placed in therapeutic facilities.

After all, the law provides for a "individual treatment plan" and the quickest possible release from prison. The thug is an indictment of the legislator, because it obliges him to make up for what he should have done long ago. After all, the penal code already stipulates that persons in preventive detention are to be helped, "to integrate into the life of freedom."

But even in preventive detention, far from everything is being done to pave the way back into society for prisoners as quickly as possible. A delegation from the european committee for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (cpt) was able to see this during a visit to preventive detention in berlin tegel in 2005. Although the prison management told the delegation that the goal was to get the prisoners out of preventive detention, the measures taken to achieve this were not sufficient. The staff in the department, including the social worker, was absent during the visit "rather by absence" the contact between the prisoners and the staff was merely a "minimal", as it is stated in the report.

Therapeutically, practically nothing happens to the prisoners "practically nothing", according to lawyer sebastian scharmer. Preventive detention becomes a life sentence. If, however, there is a lack of sufficient offers for resocialization, the constitutional state loses its capacity for restraint – and this applies to a measure such as preventive detention, which was introduced into german law shortly after the nazis seized power and which in any case pushes the limits of what is constitutionally possible and even threatens to permanently exceed them. The committee for the prevention of torture considers the development of a humane treatment strategy for preventive detention to be a task of high urgency.

Despite criticism from human rights activists, preventive detention remains in place for old crimes committed before the new legal regulation of preventive detention. Also strengthened is reserved preventive detention, which must be declared at trial along with the verdict. This forces the courts to look again at the danger of the offender after the end of the imposed prison sentence and to decide on the implementation of preventive detention. However, the law does not provide for offenders to be given a chance at a place in therapy.

In this way, the new regulation merely caters to the regulars, but ultimately does nothing to help society. Offenders who may be released without therapy due to a positive prognosis have an increased risk of recidivism. For those who have to be placed in preventive detention due to the lack of therapy, it is in fact a prolongation of the prison term.

The aspect of punishment is in the foreground

Certainly, a certain percentage of offenders – judge bohm estimates it at ten percent – cannot be treated. In most cases, however, therapy can be successful, as the low recidivism rate of three percent in zurich shows. The right time is also important. In most socio-therapeutic institutions in the federal republic of germany, the start of therapy is timed so that the end of therapy and the end of imprisonment coincide as much as possible. The reason for this is the particularly high risk of recidivism that arises shortly after release. The therapy should prepare the prisoners to keep their urges under control in freedom.

For an offender sentenced to 15 years in prison, this can mean spending ten years in prison without therapeutic support. But "the longer people are in custody, the harder and more violent their sex fantasies become", says supervisor kramer. At some point it is too late for the therapy, the tendency solidifies. Waiting for years for one of the places is not a solution. But when is the best time? The experts disagree on this. It is clear that without the willingness of the offender to participate in therapy, nothing is possible.

Klaus bohm suggests to start the therapy already at the beginning of the imprisonment, because then the motivation is still rough. At the end of the detention it should be intensified again to avoid a relapse. Kramer disagrees: "after the verdict, though defenses are down, people are ready to talk. Therapy is something completely different." very seldom someone came at this time who really wants something from himself. Because what therapy really is, they often do not know. "They have to get a taste for it first."

It is possible that completely new ways have to be found to meet the interest of the victims to be protected from the perpetrators and at the same time to meet the interest of the perpetrators for adequate treatment. Because the right time to start therapy varies. Psychologist wobner therefore advocates placing offenders in therapy facilities as early as possible and shortening prison sentences according to success. However, the german judicial system is not equipped for this at all. The aspect of punishment is in the foreground and thus stands in the way of the needs of a therapy geared to rough success. "What is the point of this long prison sentence, except that the world says: great, it serves him right?", wobner wonders.

The call for longer prison sentences also sends cold shivers down kramer’s spine. These claims were popular, the supervisor said, but the victims were not helped by them. On the contrary, it has been shown that in countries where prison sentences of 40 years are threatened, the victims are killed much more frequently.

"In order to get a chance for therapy, people first have to go to jail"

Prevention work has also come up far too short so far. Services such as kein tater at the berlin charite are not yet financed by the health insurance companies, although they can be in individual cases. A scandal, thinks not only kramer. As a result, many padophiles who are looking for help do not get support.

Special projects such as the one at the charite are currently not available across the board, and many psychologists are overwhelmed by the problem. Gunda wobner remembers a court hearing in which the perpetrator described that he asked for help from two therapists before committing the crime. Both sent him away again, one even with the reasoning that almost everyone has padophilic fantasies. Lack of knowledge is not the only problem. Often the therapists simply do not want to have anything to do with the perpetrators.

Supervisor kramer sums up the result: "in order to get a chance at therapy, people first have to go to jail." and often not just once, but several times – because the time the first offender spends in prison is usually too short for therapy. Behind every conviction, however, there is a crime that could possibly have been prevented by therapeutic offers. If the policy were to be improved here, much would be achieved, also for the protection of children.

However, concrete decisions by the federal government along these lines are not to be expected for the time being. There is a joint key point paper by the legal politicians christian ahrendt (fdp) and michael grosse-bromer (cdu), which also takes up the demands of the victim protection treatment initiative. It already emerged after the fdp parliamentary group’s hearing on child abuse in march 2010 and has the status of a coalition agreement. The paper gives a rough priority to the prevention of crimes through therapy, but will not be implemented for the time being, as was heard from coalition circles.

The federal government wants to act in a rough overall package within the framework of the round table against child abuse. There, however, one is not yet so far. There are still numerous open research questions, a spokesperson explained in response to a question from telepolis. Therefore "the possible crime prevention benefits of counseling and therapy services for people with pedophilia" currently only "intensively discussed".

Therapy and prevention, in contrast to populist measures such as preventive detention or internet blocking, would be a real help not only for the perpetrators but also for the victims. Because these measures are actually capable of preventing crimes and thus reducing the number of children who are victims of sexual assault. The cost of this measure, if only because of the legitimate public interest in protecting children, should not be a reason for not expanding therapy in the penal system, but also for at-risk individuals who have not committed a crime. Moreover, experts like klaus bohm agree, more therapy services could even save money in the medium to long term. Because if therapy helps to avoid crimes, it relieves the judiciary and the prisons. In the end there is a profit for the whole society.

Sexual violence against children – part 1

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