Support for those who are sexually attracted to minors and who feel lonely, depressed and desperate on account of their orientation is not conspicuously available in most countries. All that is offered is brain-washing aimed at bullying so-called “offenders” and presumptive “ticking time bombs” into cowed submission to the law.

At least in the Netherlands, though, there is an alternative. It has been pioneered by an old friend of mine, Dr Frans Gieles, who is well known in the kind community as the long-time leading light of the  organisation Ipce, which has run a discussion forum and annual conferences for many years and is now of global significance thanks to its superb online library of scientific and other scholarly resources. In today’s guest blog Frans put us in the picture regarding the humane – law-abiding but non-judgmental – mutual help groups he has organised and developed over several decades, with individual therapy offered as an alternative or supplement.

Frans, a true “wise old man” of our movement, was born in 1941. A grandfather now, many years ago he used to be a house-father and a staff member in children’s homes and a foster father at home. A qualified therapist and expert in education, his PhD thesis was on conflict management and meta-methodology.  Frans has his own website.

 

HELPING PEOPLE IN THE NETHERLANDS WITH PAEDOPHILIC FEELINGS

Looking back …

… to the 1980s: we then had 18 self-help groups in the Netherlands, mostly under the umbrella of the NVSH, the Dutch Association for Sexual Reform. This organization is unique, with nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world. Early in its history it played a pioneering role in the encouragement of family planning. Supporting openness about sexuality and the acceptance of sexual diversity, the NVSH offers counselling and support for minorities. This has long included paedophiles as well as gays.

Now, all that is left is a single self-help workgroup that organizes two “encounter groups”, one for the eastern part of the country and the other for the west. These offer individual counselling and therapy. The term “encounter groups” comes from the work of psychologist Carl Rogers, who developed the idea of non-directive therapy. Participants in the groups are encouraged to share thoughts and emotional reactions that arise in response to their fellow participants’ actions and statements. The emphasis is on sharing emotions, rather than on judging people.

What happened?

Internal conflicts, conflicts with the local NVSH board, misbehaviour of members or simply lack of members or leadership. Within society, the climate changed from around the mid-1980s onwards.  Relative tolerance towards paedophilia turned into rejection and hostility, so people became afraid to join groups associated with it.

A major development in 2014 cranked up this environment of hostility, when pro-paedophile organisation Vereniging Martijn (the Association Martijn, usually called just “Martijn”) was banned by the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. Martijn had advocated for the societal acceptance of paedophilia and the legalization of sexual relationships between adults and children. The court reinstated (following a successful appeal) an earlier ruling in a lower court that the association’s actions and statements were in conflict with the accepted norms and values of Dutch society and that the ban was needed in order to protect children. In 2015, an appeal by the association to the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) was rejected.

Who survived?

The NVSH Workgroup, called “JORis”, a name which stands for “Youth-Adult Relationship, intimacy, sexuality”. This workshop survived under the umbrella of the national NVSH Board, now with two encounter groups: JON (= JORis East Netherlands) and West.

Especially after the end of the Association Martijn in 2014, more people became members of the JON group, who started a second encounter group in the West in 2015. New members kept coming in and continue to do so, so that there are now about 50 members. Regularly, both groups have to split themselves into two subgroups.

JORis and society: bridges to build

In the Netherlands, we have several institutions for “ambulant” forensic-psychiatric care. “Ambulant” means you get there under your own steam. You go along for an appointment at an office in town rather than being treated residentially in a clinic or other institution. Most of the clients are referred on a mandatory basis, sent by the court; but the care centres are also open for people going there voluntarily, most of them referred by health care institutions. But those who go voluntarily often complain that they are treated simply and solely as potential offenders, especially if they are obliged to join group sessions. So they leave.

These forensic-psychiatric institutions and the JORis groups used to exist in two almost entirely separate worlds. JORis, for their part, accepted the work of those institutions and their methodology, but the respect was not mutual. The institutions did not accept the existence and methodology of the JORis groups. Frequently, the institutions often forbade their clients from having contact with anyone else who admitted to paedophilic feelings: this made it impossible for them to join the self-help oriented JORis.

This has changed in the last couple of years.

At least, a bridgehead has been built. The forensic and mental health institutions have begun to refer clients to coordinators and therapists working with the JORis. With these professionally qualified figures seen as responsible intermediaries, clients are now being allowed to join the groups. Bridges not yet built are those over the gap between probation/rehabilitation officers and the JORis groups, and also between JORis and the closed forensic-psychiatric institutions.

The methodology: encounter groups

What kind of social setting works best for these help-seekers?

The encounter groups are primarily self-help groups. There is no “therapist” with “clients”: people help each other if they need help. Often, they are helped simply by the opportunity to speak openly.

The main methodology is narrative. Members are asked to tell their own, authentic personal story. They are asked to listen carefully, without expressing any kind of judgment or giving unwanted advice, and also without interruptions such as “Oh, in my case …” or “In my opinion …” They are stimulated to ask questions, to try to understand each other, and to acknowledge others’ contributions in their replies. Sometimes, a metaphor may be helpful: “Your story tells me you have been like a tortoise hiding fearfully under your shell; but now you are venturing out of it.”

Themes for the conversation are seldom set beforehand; rather, they should emanate from the group discussion. Sometimes, a theme will emerge in response to a topic that is clearly one of lively concern among the members.

We see this methodology working if members are asked to tell their narrative again, e.g. if a new member enters the group. We then hear that the narrative has changed, has developed itself, and thus that the person is developing himself. For instance, the first narrative is often something like, “I blame society for …” and “They” are held responsible. Later on the word “I” appears in the narrative instead of “they”.  Also, the first story is often “I am afraid of …, so I avoid …” or a story of fear, isolation or obsession. Later on, a kind of courage may appear, a kind of knowing how to live and to act – or how not to live and not to act.

The theme of “self-acceptance” is especially important and basic. Only with at least the beginnings of self-acceptance will people be able to search for ways of living that are legal, social, and maybe even happy. The members are mostly men, ranging from 18 to 81, so to say. Most questions come from our members in their twenties. The older ones may be a model for the younger ones, but also the younger ones for each other.

Also, downloading pictures is regularly a theme – not with the question “How can I do it?”, but “How can I stop it?”

The ethics of the group imply avoiding sexual contact with children, at least  in future. Most members do not even want such contacts; they want contact with children, not sex with children. Some say “I might want this if it were ever to become legal, but in reality I actually avoid sexual contacts”.

The group conversation is quite strictly led along these lines. This is to prevent the conversation from running in all directions, in which case members might complain “my head is getting overloaded”. This is an especially important consideration for members who are on the autistic spectrum but it applies to others too. They will say, “This group and what I am hearing here confronts me with myself. This is heavy. My head is quickly full.”

In the individual contacts, self-help and the narrative method is the first form. In some of the contacts, if these are more or less therapy, other methods may be used as well. The first is the non-directive way, but sometimes a more directive or cognition-led way may be better.

Our methodology is described in more detail here.

How does the group work in practice?

In 2015, the structure of both groups was changed. Both groups have a small team of coordinators, together with one central coordinator who is also the conversation leader of both groups: that person is me. Both groups have professional therapists connected to the group. We are able to give therapy to those who ask for it. I am a qualified therapist with a PhD.

The possibilities offered are:

  • Participating in one of the two encounter groups;
  • or in a smaller subgroup;
  • individual contact with one (or two) coordinators and/or active members;
  • individual contact with a professional counsellor or therapist, within JORis or without JORis;
  • partner interviews with (a pair of) professional counsellors.

All combinations are possible.

The individual contacts, offered in connection with group attendance or instead of it, were started because some members felt the group sessions were often “too heavy”. The individual sessions or subgroups allow the full groups to be lighter in tone.

Both groups meet each month on a Sunday from 3pm to 9pm, including a long pause and a dinner; these breaks provide opportunities for mutual contacts and for speaking about whatever one wishes.

Membership is free. Members are asked to make a donation towards the costs of running the group and for the dinner; their travel costs may be subsidised or fully covered. From last year onwards the NVSH has been providing a subsidy and a modest degree of financial recompense for the otherwise entirely unpaid voluntary work of the coordinator/therapist.

Whoever comes along to the groups makes their own personal introduction to the central coordinator. This introduction must be truly personal in the sense that their full identity must be given: that is, with their real name, address and photo ID, such as a passport. The coordinator listens carefully to the new person, without any judgment. The types of help on offer are described and there is a discussion as to what would be the best option for the newcomer. Using a nickname to participate in the groups is allowed, as long as the coordinators know the real data.

There is often anxiety over going into a group. In those cases, individual contact with the central coordinator, or a small subgroup, is offered. Such contacts can be lengthy, even lasting several years, before the person dares to enter a group – if ever.

Themes

Some important themes are:

  • Fear
  • Parents
  • Self-acceptance
  • “There is a monster within me”
  • Diagnoses
  • Isolation

These themes are mentioned with an explanation in our Report 2016 A.

  • “A group is scary and heavy”
  • Again: Self-acceptance
  • Therapists
  • “Downloading”

These themes are mentioned with an explanation in our Report 2016 B.

Secondary Problems

A number of people arrive with a history of problems, including “helpers” who failed to help. So they often have plural diagnoses and are on medication. There are also secondary problems: depression, suicidal thoughts, (severe) autism, neuroses, attachment problems, borderline personality disorder, psychosis, addiction – and more.

These problems are not inherently connected with paedophilic feelings, but, in our current society, they may occur in combination with it and so are said to be co-morbid. We do not know what causes what. It is hard to distinguish cause from effect. Causality could even run in both directions, or the association between different types of problem could be random.

Young people

Recent research confirms quite exactly our experience with young people.

The mean age for becoming conscious of one’s paedophilic feelings is 15. The mean age of “coming out” for the first time is … 22. To whom? Usually to one’s mother or a friend.

Note that between the mean of 15 and the mean of 22, lies a mean of seven years: seven years of lonely worrying and puzzling.

How many people in their teens or twenties are left facing all this anxiety on their own? We must reach out a hand to them.

Sooner or later they may reach the point of self-acceptance, and gradually find a manageable, and perhaps even happy, way of living sociably and within the law. Members in their thirties or forties, maybe in their mid-life crisis, as well as older people have also found that way.

They are not “offenders” and they surely do not want ever to become a perpetrator. They do not recognize themselves as in a “treatment” programme that approaches them only as a potential offender. They need to be approached as “non-offenders” – thus they need a methodology and an underlying theory quite different to that of current offender treatment.

Their narrative, and that of the JORis groups, is given above and in our annual reports.

Reports

Here below: (a) the recent research report just mentioned, (b) again our methodology described, (c) our three most recent (half-)annual reports, followed by (d) my website about “Helping People with Paedophilic Feelings”, in which I combat the current offender treatment methodology and offer alternatives for it.

  • (a) Cash, Brian Martin; Self-identifications, sexual development and well-being in minor-attracted people: an exploratory study – A Thesis – August 2016 – Faculty of the Graduate School of Cornell University.
  • (b) The narrative that may be told … in the self-help groups JON and JORis West.
  • (c) JON report 2016 a.
  • (c) JON report 2016 b.
  • (c) JON report 2017; and:
  • (d) Helping people.