Founded in the early 2000s in Berlin, Violence Prevention Network is one of Europe’s largest civil society organizations working on preventing and countering violent extremism. Over 120 staff members work in 10 regional offices across Germany, which include researchers and trained specialists.
In fall of 2022, we founded a Pittsburgh, PA based organization—Violence Prevention Network USA, Inc.—and filed for our 501c(3) status. While waiting for IRS approval, we are honored to be working with New Sun Rising as our fiscal sponsor.
RESTORE is our inaugural pilot project in the United States.
Our motto best summarizes our unique, practice-oriented approach to preventing and countering violent extremism: We talk to extremists, not about them. We fight extremism and create a safer society by working directly with ideologically motivated individuals. Thus, we are precisely not preaching to the choir, as many well-intentioned initiatives and theory-heavy policy recommendations often do.
Our knowledge of what works is informed by thousands of individual cases across the spectrum from (violent) far-right to Islamist extremists and their journey to let go of hate and violence and embrace more democratic ways of thinking and acting. We know from experience that change is possible.
What We Do
Through a referral network, we support community leaders to intervene as early as possible in the process of radicalization. We support them in strengthening their relationship with and influence on individuals, thereby decreasing the likelihood of radicalization to violence.
We help individuals tempted by (homegrown or foreign) violent extremism to take a different path by offering coaching, prevention workshops and discussion spaces – online and offline.
We use a combination of social diagnostics and individual needs assessment to identify biographical, social, as well as environmental factors that can contribute to their distancing, disengagement, and deradicalization. We speak with radicalized individuals – without humiliation – about the ways in which they justify violence and build capacities to choose a different future.
We leverage incarceration as a critical point of intervention by working directly with inmates who have been convicted of terrorist offenses, ideologically motivated violent crime or have radicalized within the prison setting.
Key Insights of our Work
- Deradicalization is possible — With the right support and focus on their needs and resources, radicalized individuals can change behaviors and mindsets and embrace more democratic thinking and acting.
- Everybody has a role to play — A 2015 study found that — even in attacksthat are considered “lone actor” — in 79% of the cases, others were awareof the individual’s commitment to extremist ideology. Our experiencesimilarly confirms the tremendous potential for family, friends,colleagues and/or other contacts such as teachers or social workers to playa crucial role in preventing radicalization to violence. Working towardstheir empowerment has an outsized impact on prevention efforts.
- Non-state actors are central to success — Radicalized individuals will only open up to, and work with, people they trust. State actors can rarely win the trust of radicalized individuals as a result of a mindset focused on risks and deficits rather than opportunities and resources for change. Thus, civil society organizations have a critical role to play in the countering and preventing of violent extremism.
- Data-driven professionalization is urgently needed — There is an urgentneed for culturally-sensitive and professionally trained specialists to do thework of deradicalization, intervention and prevention using data-driven,proven methodologies and tools to track progress. In response to this need,we have developed comprehensive training and tools to professionalize thework.
What We’ve Achieved
- Because of our success, the German federal government appointed ViolencePrevention Network to coordinate the development of quality criteria and standards with and for all German NGOs working in the field of prevention and deradicalization in prison and probation.
- We have successfully lowered recidivism through our work with over 1,800individual cases of incarcerated extremists. The re-incarceration rate of violent offenders in Germany is 41.5%. In contrast, the re-incarceration rate of radicalized individuals, who have participated in our programs, is 13.3%. Even when accounting for our per case programmatic costs, this results in potential savings for the German prison system of 45 % per case.
- As an implementation partner of the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN), we have supported the European Commission since 2011 in bringing together over 6,000 practitioners in countering and preventing violent extremism to share their lessons learned and best practices. We advise the UNODC, UNOCT, CTED and the OSCE, among other international organizations, on improving policy and implementation in the management of returning foreign terrorist fighters.
- We were the first civil society organization to develop programs in prisons for ideologically motivated offenders. Over the past 20 years, our approach has become a structural part of the prison sector in Germany: we offer programs in over 25% of German prisons.
The expert advisory council consists of a carefully selected and diverse group of experts. The council’s goal is to ensure that the US training curriculum takes into account the unique opportunities and challenges of the current US social and political environment, as well as historical and cultural specificities that must be considered when working with ideologically motivated individuals in the US context.