Psychiatrist Jack Kreutz: Interview "You can't reverse the polarity of a paedophile"

Kleve · How can paedo-criminals be treated? What do they regret? And how to deal with them professionally? The criminal psychiatrist Jack Kreutz has answers.

 One of the crime scenes of the presumed main perpetrator in an abuse case: The now dismantled summer house near Münster. Photo: dpa/Marcel Kusch

One of the crime scenes of the presumed main perpetrator in an abuse case: The now dismantled summer house near Münster. Photo: dpa/Marcel Kusch

Foto: dpa/Marcel Kusch

Lügde, Bergisch Gladbach, Münster - time and again new cases of child abuse shock the state. The forensic psychiatrist Jack Kreutz was head of forensics at the LVR Clinic Bedburg-Hau until January and has more than 30 years of experience in dealing with sex offenders. The 66-year-old also prepares psychiatric court reports on the culpability of perpetrators.

Mr. Kreutz, when cases of child abuse become known, the horror in society is always great. How can it be explained that the perpetrators' partners often don’t notice anything for years?

Jack Kreutz: The signs are often not taken seriously: The child bedwets again, does not sleep through the night, and an explanation is constructed - also because as a mother you cannot imagine that her partner would abuse her child. Sometimes, however, one does not want to see anything for the sake of comfort - even material comfort. To still have the breadwinner in the family on board. That is not a rare situation. But we also often still have the image of the paedophile who throws himself at children as a drooling monster. In truth it's usually the supposedly nice ones. The perpetrators are able to convince people of themselves. This can also be noticed in the Bergisch Gladbach abuse case: two men with two three-year-old girls come into a wellness spa and rent a séparée room, and nobody becomes suspicious?

And when a child confides in its mother?

Kreutz: There are quite a few women who say: Don't talk nonsense. Then the child might say something again, and then it knows: Nobody helps me. The psychological damage is then much greater. Father and mother are the persons who are supposed to protect the child. If they do not, the basic trust is gone. The child will not be able to trust anyone for the rest of his life.

Can a father who abuses his own child still have fatherly feelings for it?

Kreutz: No. Fatherly feelings mean that the father wants to protect his child. But the urge a paedo-criminal has given in to is above all. Anyone who loves his child can't break such a taboo.

Many paedosexual acts are obviously not committed by paedophiles. What then is their motivation?

Kreutz: Often the perpetrators are simply concerned with the exercise of power. Or they use children because they can't establish relationships with adults. Often the sexual abuse is the result of a parentification, the child is made a substitute partner. One discusses things with the daughter that one would actually discuss with the partner, spills one's heart. Little by little the boundaries become blurred. This can happen after separations. Of course it's not a partnership, it's never a partnership.

How long does it take to treat a paedo-criminal in such a way that he no longer represents a danger?

Kreutz: Very, very long. 20 years on average. Especially if someone is a nuclear paedophile, i.e. exclusively fixated on children, the child remains the object of desire. You can't simply reverse the polarity of someone like that. But you can get them to realise that 'I have to find ways of behaving that keep me from doing things'. He must block even the thought of it. Sometimes, in addition to psychotherapy, it's necessary to give drugs that dampen the urges. Nowadays these drugs also influence the fantasy world in the brain on a hormonal level. But the patient needs a high level of insight and the will to cooperate. Without this, it is not possible at all.

In the past, people believed that castration could help. In their anger, many people still demand such measures today. What do you think?

Kreutz: Today we actually know: That is total nonsense. A mechanical castration lowers the drive, but it can't influence the world of thoughts. I have seen two men who were castrated in the early 1970s. After they had served their sentences, they relapsed and wanted to offend children again. Because that didn't work, they became so angry that they killed the children. They unloaded part of the violence that society had inflicted on them onto the children. That is no excuse, they were fully culpable, but castration only made them more dangerous in my eyes.

How do you even make the perpetrators realise what they have done?

Kreutz: First they have to develop an empathy for the victims. They talk about their deeds in a nice way and say that the children have seduced them. It is important to confront the perpetrators with like-minded people - like with the anonymous alcoholics. The others in law enforcement say: "We've been here ten years longer than you and believe one thing: We're in a bad way and you will be too, when you finally understand what you've done to the child.“ That's a lot more impressive than talking to a shrink.

Does it make sense to put paedo-criminals in prison?

Kreutz: Not at all without therapy. Even preventive detention is over at some point. That is different in the psychiatric approach. Some still believe at first that they can disguise themselves. When they realise after six years that they still haven't been able to set foot outside the door in the sense of loosening up, things look different. Then they cooperate, but when the penny has dropped and they realise what they have done, many become depressed. Then it takes a lot of time before they can be treated again. But that is the price that we as a society can ask of these people.

What do the perpetrators regret the most?

Kreutz: In the first phase, they regret that they feel bad because they are in prison. Almost all perpetrators have that, including arsonists and burglars. Then comes the phase in which they change, reflect and recognise - which is the best case scenario. A serial killer once told me: "Please don't let me out! It might be six months, but the next woman will be dead." So he sacrificed his freedom because he never wanted to hurt another human being. That was a very mature statement, but it took him ten, twelve years to make it. He recognised his demons.

What do you do to keep your soul safe from harm at work?

Kreutz: On a purely professional level I take part in counselling as part of a group of colleagues as well as doing individual supervisions. And in private life, a good work-life balance with good friends and my family helps me. I like gardening and walking our dogs in the forest. I haven't read much about the new abuse case from Münster either. I have enough on my plate with the perpetrators I am investigating.

Definition: Sexual disorder paedophilia

By definition, paedophilia is considered an incurable disorder of sexual preference and describes the focus on pre-pubescent children. A realistic therapeutic goal is to achieve a responsible approach to the disposition so that paedophiles do not commit assaults and do not consume child pornography.

Original text: Claudia Hauser. Translation: Mareike Graepel

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