NeMUP research initiative

Neural mechanisms underlying pedophilia and sexual offending against children:
origins, assessment, and therapies

Frequently Asked Questions


What is pedophilia?
Pedophilia means being sexually aroused by children, whose bodily development has not yet reached puberty (in general ten to eleven years of age). This term should not be used until repeated sexual fantasies, impulses, or actions towards children are expressed. Here, according to the latest version of the DSM (the American system of classification of mental disorders), pedophilia is not considered a mental disorder, but rather as a type of sexual orientation (age preference). Pedophilia is understood as a mental disorder if the sexual preference leads to either suffering of the person or child sexual abuse.


What is hebephilia?
The term hebephilia is used when a sexual attraction is evoked by children and teenagers, whose bodily development already shows characteristics of puberty (in general eleven to fourteen years of age). Humans with a sexual interest in children or teenagers do not necessarily commit sexual assault nor use respective illustrations depicting sexual abuse (so called child pornography). That is the reason why pedophilia and hebephilia need to be distinguished from child sexual abuse.


And what is child sexual abuse?
The penal naming of child sexual abuse describes exclusively sexual acts involving children, while pedophilia and hebephilia are understood as sexual preference. Approximately half of sexual offenders are neither hebephilic nor pedophilic.



What do the terms ‘Hellfeld’ and ‘Dunkelfeld’ mean?
Individuals who have been identified as having had sexual contact with children regardless of whether or not they have a sexual preference for children are constituents of the ‘Hellfeld’ (literal translation: bright-field). Crimes, which are in any form known to the justice system, are considered crimes in the Hellfeld.
A large percentage of committed sexual assaults against children, however, are not reported and consequently not covered by judicial and law enforcement and are therefore also not listed in any crime statistics.
In criminology, this area is referred to as ‘Dunkelfeld’ (literally translated as dark-field).


Why is it important to distinguish the neurobiological basis of disposition and behavioral disorder?
A disposition describes an individual orientation towards people or objects that is projected onto objects, activities, experiences, and/or areas of life and can fluctuate in intensity and duration.
A behavioral disorder or disorder of conduct is considered a persistent breach of age-appropriate societal norms and violations of the rights of others.
Compared to men, girls and women are diagnosed with antisocial behaviors and tendencies at a far lower rate.
Dissociality is a disorder listed by ICD-10 and DSM-IV, with a duration of at least six months.
In contrast to a disposition, the behavioral disorder has a defined etiopathogenesis, symptoms, and neurobiological changes.
Therapies can teach the patient how to control his behavior.


How does the NeMUP project help pedophiles?

Many pedophilic men are not truly aware of the significance of their disposition.
They may not have sexually assaulted children, but the possibility, or the urge, is existent.
If an exact diagnosis can be made early, treatment measures can be used advantageously and in this way the sexual abuse of children and the concomitant crimes can be prevented.
The current state of science holds that pedophilia is neither curable, nor is there any causal explanation regarding its development. Previous research results point towards a combination of psychological, social, and biological factors. Further studies are required to understand both origin and course in greater detail, with the aim to improve therapy and offering extensive help to all parties concerned.
Next to crime prevention, this involves improving the therapeutic support of pedophiles. There are those pedophilic men that are able to live without therapy and/or committing sexual offenses against children, but they nevertheless suffer due to their sexual preference.

Participation in the NeMUP project through the participating institutes (also as a control subject) will actively support the involved researchers to obtain their goals.


How does the society benefit from the project?
As with any disease or disorder the best treatment is based on a thorough diagnostic axamination and should support the patient in keeping his suffering under control and relieving the symptoms.
In the case of pedophilia, one benefit of treatment support is the crime prevention effect, through which the number of potential victims is reduced.
Expenses from the government to support the prison accommodation of offenders, who were convicted of child sexual abuse, could be used elsewhere for better efect in the medical treatment and prevention of these offenders.


How is the NeMUP project linked to the Prevention Project Dunkelfeld (PPD), also known as “Don’t offend”?
Don’t-offend is a prevention project with the goal to provide a therapeutic offer for humans sexually aroused by children and hence seeking help, which is free, extensive and provides the pledge of confidentiality. Currently participating sites are Kiel, Hannover, Hamburg, Leipzig, Regensburg and Stralsund. Next to the participation in individual- and group-therapies, participation in scientific studies is explicitly desired. In this way, new knowledge regarding the development, prevalence, diagnostic, and treamtment examinations can be acquired and existing offers can be improved. The research network NeMUP is one of these scientific projects.


How is the NeMUP project promoted?
The NeMUP network project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung – BMBF) with the emphasis on abuse, neglect and violence. In 2010 the Federal Government established the roundtable “Child sexual abuse in dependent and power relations in private and public facilities and in domestic reach”. The sexual abuse of children and adolescents has long been a known problem; however the topic was not only tabooed in public but also in research until recently. The goal is to prevent children and adolescents from sexual violence and to remove the taboos from the issue of abuse.


Why are there 5 sites participating in the research association?

Each site represents a specific research interest and focus within the network association project. In Hannover the focus is on neuroendocrinological and epigenetic aspects, whereas Berlin examines empathy and regulation of emotions. Duisburg-Essen focuses on cognitive control mechanisms in the regulation of behavior. In Kiel (functional) magnetic resonance imaging will to be validated as a new diagnostic method and Magdeburg will focus on neuronal messengers and non-invasive biomarkers as a differential diagnostic tool.
Data collection in several sites makes itpossible to increase statistic the statisticalexplanatory power of research findings.


Does participation in the study have any side effects or risks?
A physician will elaborately inform subjects about the study. During the study the subjects will fill in questionnaires, have their blood drawn, and magnetic resonance imaging scanning sessions will be performed. The risks and side effects of the study are equivalent to a routine visit to the general physician. Magnetic resonance imaging is non-invasive and does not include X-ray radiation.


How can I participate in the study?

Pedophilic and hebephilic men between 18 and 55 years of age may participate as part of the experimental group. For the comparison group, healthy men without a pedophilic preference between 18 and 55 years of age are sought. Fluent knowledge of the German language is required.

If you are interested in participating in this project either as a as pedophilic or a control subject, you can directly contact the person responsible for the site in your area either by phone or by email. Of course you can do so without mentioning your name, as anonymity in combination with your participation is absolutely maintained. It is not necessary to select the site closest to your home address. Click on the site of your choice to send an email directly: Berlin, Essen, Kiel, Hannover, Magdeburg.

The respective email adress is composed of
"probanden_" + "name of the city in small letters" + "".


Anonymization and confidentiality
Data collection is anonymized from the beginning and all staff working in the project promise confidentiality.


Does the diagnosis mean it’s not my fault?
No. With today’s knowledge, being sexually aroused by children before or during puberty is not the free choice of the affected person. However, living out or suppressing desires and fantasies is a free choice. The goal of the research association is to investigate both the causes of the sexual preference and the potentially lacking ability to control sexual actions. Identifying eventual biological correlates cannot release an affected human from the responsibility to control impulses that would endanger or harm others.


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