A government-funded experiment in Germany in which homeless children were placed with known pedophiles is at the center of renewed scrutiny.
Beginning in the 1970s, the local government in Berlin signed off on and bankrolled a policy orchestrated by renowned psychologist Helmut Kentler. The project took at risk youth in the city and intentionally put them in a foster care system with documented predators. The stated goal was to provide children a friendly environment while incentivizing the foster fathers to create an atmosphere that was beneficial to the recipients.
Kentler explained in his writings that he believed sexual contact between teens and adults was largely harmless. In fact, the pedophiles in the study were given an allowance for their participation. But while red flags were raised by caseworkers, teachers, and family members, they were often ignored or even muzzled.
Recent reports detail how Kentler would push back against any concerns, maintaining that the program was so delicate that any outside interference could exacerbate the trauma that the children were already exposed to. When one of the foster parents was accused of inappropriate conduct, Kentler would come to their defense, vouching for the individual in front of authorities and other officials. He would also limit the contact third parties had with the children in the system by demanding his own presence in therapy sessions and closing them off to the rest of the world, including their families.
Family members of several of the victims took their concerns to the court system, attempting to, at the very least, regain visitation rights for the children placed in the foster care system. Kentler adamantly opposed their involvement in the subject’s life, once again stating that any outside involvement could curtail any progress that had been made. As a renowned researcher and professor at the time, Kentler would often times take the stand against the families in their efforts while evidently coaching the children into testifying against their own families.
The New Yorker profiles one of the victims who goes by Marco. In 1992, shortly before he turned 10, Marco’s biological family had attempted to regain custody. The article explains that the judge talked to the boy one-on-one, with Kentler waiting outside the door, who gave coached answers advocating against his mother’s request for more frequent visitation.
Kentler described his experiment as a "complete success" in 1998, and his project would continue for several more years into the early 2000s. It remains unknown what brought an end to the program and any answers are hard to come by since Kentler died in 2008. Nonetheless, researchers in the country are digging into archives and hearing the first-hand accounts from the victims who are now coming forward with their allegations.
The victims, however, are left with little recourse. Many of the alleged actions fall outside the statute of limitations, meaning any chance to recover damages through the court system remains virtually non-existent. The fallout from the reports is putting pressure on the government to offer some form of relief to the victims, with many local politicians saying they will find some way to compensate those who were victims of this state-sponsored program.
The nexus between the government and those participating in the controversial experiment remains the focus of the conversation. Was this merely a program gone wrong due to a lack of oversight, or were there much more nefarious motives? In a 2020 report conducted by scholars at the University of Hildesheim, they suggest it’s the latter. The authors write, "these foster homes were run by sometimes powerful men who lived alone and who were given this power by academia, research institutions and other pedagogical environments that accepted, supported or even lived out pedophile stances."
Despite saying there are thousands of documents to sort through, the scholars conclude that some of the politicians involved in the implementation of the program had been affiliated with the network of pedophile foster care parents.
Other politicians who supported the program were either uneducated about its goal, or merely going along with the message espoused by educational reform leaders at the time of its implementation. In any event, it marks a dark sequence of events that ties the German government directly to predatory behavior spanning several decades.
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