Report on the “Kentler Experiment”: Abuse network larger than expected

As of: February 23, 2024 6:48 p.m

The educator Helmut Kentler placed children with pedo criminals, some of whom had previous convictions, for more than 30 years. A new report shows how a network of diverse actors operated across Germany.

Helmut Kentler was considered the Expert in sexuality education and reform education. He was an esteemed educator who advocated sexual liberation – and sexuality between adults and children. At the beginning of the 1970s, he convinced the West Berlin State Youth Welfare Office of his research idea: street prostitutes at the Zoo station should be placed in the care of foster fathers.

The three men he chose first were convicted pedo criminals. His core thesis at the time: Only pedophiles could love children who were difficult to raise. “It was clear to me that the three men did so much for ‘their’ boy because they had a sexual relationship with him.”

But Kentler’s work went well beyond these three men. There are now three research reports that also examine the involvement of the Berlin State Youth Welfare Office in tolerating, supporting and enabling sexual violence. They were “unspeakable experiments,” said Berlin’s youth senator Katharina Günther-Wünsch (CDU) at the presentation of the project Final report from the University of Hildesheim. She speaks of the most depressing chapter in the history of child and youth welfare.

abuse institutionalized, Perpetrators protected

The new report shows that Kentler’s work went far beyond what he himself described as his experiment. Men specifically took boys from Berlin homes into private care; boys were specifically placed in shared apartments and in the Odenwald School. In the 1990s, cases of abuse there became public.

Kentler was not alone. From the 1960s to the 2000s, there was a nationwide network of respected reform educators, youth welfare office employees and social workers. “The network enabled sexualized violence against children and young people across Germany, institutionalized the abuse and protected the perpetrators.” The final report names names: “It can currently be stated as proven that Gerold Becker, Herbert E.Colla-Müller and Helmut Kentler perpetrated sexualized violence.”

“There were strong signals that something was wrong”

The starting point of the alliance was the Pedagogical Center at the University of Göttingen. Several actors studied there or did youth work as social educators in the “Haus auf der Hufe” – with young people who were difficult to educate and in precarious life situations. There were also allegations of abuse against the home at the time because employees went on vacation with boys and were said to have crossed boundaries. Later, some of them sit at the interfaces of youth welfare offices and therapeutic living groups. Gerold Becker became head of the Odenwald School.

The analysis of files from the Berlin Youth Welfare Office shows that Kentler and his colleagues always turned to the same employees to place boys. The rest are not involved or look away. “There were strong signals that something was wrong at the nursing homes. This was not followed up,” describes Julia Schröder from the University of Hildesheim. The authors of the report speak of a powerful collaboration between science, experts and authorities.

Protective mechanisms Kentler continues to do so to this day

How many people were affected is still unknown today. The process was initiated by two men who, as six-year-olds, were fostered by a pedocriminal. In the meantime, other affected people have come forward and thus made a contribution to the processing of this chapter. It is important to the scientists that this is not the end, even if the state of Berlin does not promise any further funding.

After all, Berlin’s youth senator wants to promote a nationwide reappraisal of the “Kentler experiment” at the Family Ministers’ Conference, since it is now clearly proven that the focus on Berlin was far too small. Until this is decided, the research group will continue alone. She hopes that other affected people will contact them, even if it is a difficult step.

“The processing cannot be over. There is no final line,” says scientist Schröder. What the researchers also say is that the protective mechanisms around Kentler and the others are still partly in effect today. Sexualized violence was trivialized, the experiences of those affected were downplayed, made into isolated cases or described as part of the zeitgeist of the time. Until the 1990s, Kentler taught at the University of Hanover and wrote reports in abuse cases – for the defendants.

Jan Menzel, RBB, tagesschau, February 23, 2024 6:13 p.m

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