Berlin to Treat Stalkers Like Addicts

The first ever walk-in advice center for stalkers opened in Berlin yesterday, offering support to those willing to stop harassing their victims.

"We believe that by supporting stalkers to kick the habit, we are helping the potential victims at the same time," Wolf Ortiz-Mueller, the head of the center, told reporters at the opening of the center.

"Stalking is an addiction which must be treated before the situation escalates. The perpetrator repeatedly increases the dose in order to raise the feeling of power over the victim, and that situation can quickly get out of control," he said.

Stalking is a criminal offense in Germany and a conviction for stalking can lead to jail terms ranging from six months to three years, and rising to 10 years if it results in death.

Police in Berlin now receive more stalking-related complaints from victims than ever before. Last year alone more than 1,300 cases were reported to police. There are more than 100 court cases pending and investigators suggest that in some of those cases someone's life was in danger.

Prosecutors in Berlin are currently investigating 21-year-old professional soccer player Ashkan Dejagah, who has allegedly bombarded a 20-year-old girl with unwanted text messages after he met her at a disco.

The young woman filed a complaint with police and if her complaint is considered stalking, Dejagah could face criminal penalties.

Another court case pending is that of a man accused of bombarding his ex-girlfriend with text messages and pouring hydrochloric acid over her car's engine and door handles.

Ortiz-Mueller, a professional psychologist, says the concept of the anti-stalking center is simple.

"We must reach out to those stalkers. We must certainly make them aware of the legal consequences if they continue to stalk, but our top priority is to give them the support they need to stop doing it. So far little or no help has been available to stalkers and we want to change that," he said.

The "Stop Stalking" program is being administered by Ortiz-Mueller and his team, comprising a psychotherapist and two social workers.

Financed by legal fines and private donations, the center is located in a modest apartment in downtown Berlin-Steglitz. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and a telephone helpline is available around the clock.

Ortiz-Mueller said that he was "hoping for a positive response by the stalkers."

"They can remain anonymous when they first contact us, but then we'll get to work closely together. Our anti-stalking program will be offering a series of up to 15 sessions during which we will try to redirect the stalker's inner focuses on something else."

"But, of course, we can only help people who are willing to work with us. We need those stalkers to realize they must change their own behavior in order to shake off their dark side. If we manage to do that, we're winning the battle," he explained.

The center's staff will be working in close cooperation with police who will distribute "Stop stalking – Help is near" flyers on the streets.

Berlin's Police Chief Dieter Glietsch praises the project.

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