Group hopes to treat pedophiles before they act

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A newly formed organization wants to line up health care providers willing to treat latent pedophiles and prevent them from acting on their fantasies.

Carroll County-based B4U-ACT Inc. - whose mission statement promises "compassionate assistance in prevention of offending" for those sexually attracted to children - expects to create and publicize a list of psychiatrists, social workers and counselors who might try innovative approaches to treating potential pedophiles.

"We are not trying to protect people from the consequences of their actions," said Russell A. Dick, a licensed social worker at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville who is chairman of the nonprofit group. "We are trying to prevent those actions by getting help to them ahead of time."

Another B4U-ACT official draws upon his experience in arguing that more outreach is needed. Michael Melsheimer served a three-year prison sentence several years ago in New Jersey for sexually assaulting a teen-age boy.

"We are," he said, "trying to reach people like myself."

But Ellen Mugmon, a member of the state Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, questions why any group would want "to reinvent the wheel" on treatment. She referred to criteria established by the Association for the Treatment of Sex Abusers.

"There are excellent guidelines and practice standards in place," she said. "Why should this group want to make up its own?"

She pointed out that prominent among the guidelines is the admonition that "community safety takes precedence over other considerations." The association also stresses that there is no known cure for pedophilia and that "management of sexually abusive behavior is a lifelong task."

Melsheimer lobbied state officials and legislators for more than a year, urging them to offer those with sexual disorders easily accessible information and counseling.

"I want information publicly promoted that says it is OK to talk about this with a professional who can help," said Melsheimer, 60, who has made his disorder known to his neighbors in Westminster.

State health officials responded to Melsheimer's requests by saying they would create a directory of available treatment for sexual disorders and post a list of providers with their specialties on the state Web site - information the state routinely makes available to the court system. But the state gave those responsibilities to Mental Health Partners, an organization that identifies all providers in the state and lists them according to specialty.

Larry Fitch, director of forensics services for the state Mental Health Administration, gave B4U-ACT a list of providers. The organization mailed about 850 letters last month to health-care and counseling services, seeking applications from treatment providers and a pledge to support B4U-ACT's "principles of practice with individuals sexually attracted to children," according to a letter written by Dick.

Eight providers from different areas of the state have responded so far and expressed a willingness to work with those individuals, Melsheimer said last week.

B4U-ACT plans to set up a toll-free number and Web site that those who are attracted to children can contact for help. The organization would refer these people to health-care providers.

Fitch is not overly optimistic about the effort.

"Most pedophiles come into the mental-health system because the law makes them," he said. "I would be surprised if this group has people volunteering for its services. Not many people on their own will seek treatment for something they enjoy. But there may be some so bothered by the deviancy, they will want treatment. Then, the best you can do is help them cope with urges."

How successful the effort will be is impossible to guess, said Dr. Fred Berlin, founder of the Baltimore-based National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma, a research and treatment center. Melsheimer came to Maryland for treatment with Berlin. A member of Berlin's staff is serving on the board of B4U-ACT.

"It is important that this effort is coming from the public-health perspective rather than through the criminal-justice system," Berlin said. "Some people may respond, given there is this opportunity. But it is a tremendous challenge, not the least of which is that the provider would have to report any actual sexual abuse."

Many latent pedophiles are "looking and hoping" for help and not intent on committing a crime, he said. Few statistics exist on how many people are afflicted with pedophilia, Berlin has said.

"In any other area, you know where to go for help," Berlin said. "But when it comes to sexual disorders, some people are reluctant to even talk to the family doctor. This is the most ignored area of mental health."

Baltimore Mental Health Services, a city-government program, has paid about $2,000 in startup costs for developing B4U-ACT and had promised the organization about $10,000 next year, but that sum may decrease because of state budget cuts.

Sue Diehl, director of adult services at Baltimore Mental Health Services, says B4U-ACT fills a need.

"There is no clear place for a pre-pedophile concerned about his attraction to go for help," she said. "We have to get a handle on this. Let's try something that might work. Revulsion does not help."

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