Brain scans used to detect paedophilia

A study by German scientists shows that it may be possible to identify paedophiles by scanning their brains as they look at pictures of adults and children.

Brain scans used to detect paedophilia
Photo: DPA

In the study, which appears this month in the Archive of General Psychiatry, the scientists showed pictures of naked people of different ages to a group of diagnosed paedophiles and a normal control group. The researchers then scanned the subjects’ brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

The differences in brain activity could pinpoint who was a paedophile and who was not at a rate of roughly 90 percent, according to the study.

The research, which involved professors from universities in Kiel, Berlin and Denmark, may have ground-breaking uses in the treatment of sex offenders, said Jorge Ponseti, one of the study’s authors at the Christian Albrechts University of Kiel.

It is important to verify whether a first-time sex offender is truly a paedophile – in other words having an inherent attraction to prepubescent children – or merely committed a crime of opportunity, because treatment strategies are different for both groups Ponseti said.

“You can offer a paedophile drugs to lower sex drive or teach him in psychotherapy to avoid situations involving children, but you waste your time if you explain how to have a relationship with adult women,” Ponseti said. “You can approach someone who is not a true paedophile differently. It is important to know what kind of sex offender this is.”

Current techniques to determine whether someone is a paedophile, such as by using a device attached to the penis to measure arousal levels, are notoriously imprecise and not widely used in Germany. Some paedophiles are able to fool such devices by controlling their arousal levels.

Ponseti said he thinks the fMRI technique will be much more precise, although researchers are currently developing another study to see whether its possible for paedophiles to somehow fool it.

“Brain response to an emotional stimulus is very fast and it happens most likely before conscious acknowledgement of a picture takes place, so I think it is unlikely that faking will be successful,” Ponseti said.

Moises Mendoza

[email protected]

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Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

The German government says it is in talks over further compensation for victims of the attack on the Munich Olympics, as the 50th anniversary of the atrocity approaches.

Germany in talks on further payout for 1972 Olympics victims

Ahead of the commemoration in September, relatives of the Israelis killed have indicated they are unhappy with what Germany is offering.

“Conversations based on trust are taking place with representatives of the victims’ families,” a German interior ministry spokesman told AFP when asked about the negotiations.

He did not specify who would benefit or how much money had been earmarked, saying only that any package would “again” be financed by the federal government, the state of Bavaria and the city of Munich.

On September 5th, 1972, eight gunmen broke into the Israeli team’s flat at the Olympic village, shooting dead two and taking nine Israelis hostage, threatening to kill them unless 232 Palestinian prisoners were released.

West German police responded with a bungled rescue operation in which all nine hostages were killed, along with five of the eight hostage-takers and a police officer.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists  held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972.

An armed police officer in a tracksuit secures the block where terrorists held Israeli hostages at the Olympic Village in Munich on 5th September 1972. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Horst Ossingert

The spokeswoman for the victims’ families, Ankie Spitzer, told the German media group RND that the amount currently on the table was “insulting” and threatened a boycott of this year’s commemorations.

She said Berlin was offering a total of €10 million including around €4.5 million already provided in compensation between 1972 and 2002 — an amount she said did not correspond to international standards. 

“We are angry and disappointed,” said Spitzer, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer who was killed in the attack. “We never wanted to talk publicly about money but now we are forced to.”

RND reported that the German and Israeli governments would like to see an accord by August 15th.

The interior ministry spokesman said that beyond compensation, Germany intended to use the anniversary for fresh “historical appraisal, remembrance and recognition”.

He said this would include the formation of a commission of German and Israeli historians to “comprehensively” establish what happened “from the perspective of the year 2022”.

This would lead to “an offer of further acts of acknowledgement of the relatives of the victims of the attack” and the “grave consequences” they suffered.