Getting Child Molesters to Confess

A child molester might just give it up if you give him permission to confess. (iStockphoto)

Child sex offenders are a diverse group. But many of them share something in common--something investigators can use to give these offenders permission to confess.

Most child molesters try to justify their behavior. They do this by using distorted rationalizations or, as I prefer, "rational lies." The investigator who understands these lies can use them to establish rapport and to elicit reliable admissions and confessions. (For more reading, see Kenneth V. Lanning, Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis. Get a free copy from the web link below.)

The lies molesters tell themselves include:

Blaming the conduct on outside forces.

  • I was drunk.
  • I was under tremendous stress.
  • I was seduced (by the victim).
  • My girlfriend (or wife) wasn't having sex with me.

Minimizing the extent and nature of the abuse.

  • A professor claimed he was distributing child pornography for scientific research.
  • A father claimed he was teaching his daughter the difference between good touching and bad touching.
  • An offender claimed the children made a sexually explicit videotape without his knowledge and he kept it only to show their parents.
  • An offender claimed he was merely keeping the child warm in his bed on a cold night.
  • A church youth leader, prosecuted by this author, said his tongue could have accidentally slipped into the boys' mouths while he was wrestling with and tickling them.

Claiming the abuse was not harmful.

  • The victim was a willing participant and did not suffer from the abuse.
  • The offender was unaware of any unwillingness or trauma to the child.

Using Rational Lies in Interviews

Offering offenders these rationalizations can establish rapport and give them permission to confess. Let's look at how to do this in an interview:

It Was Situational

Offer the defendant an explanation based on his circumstances. If you know that he had his 5-year-old niece sit on his lap during Saturday cartoons:

"She was probably attractive when she sat in your lap in her baby doll pajamas. Kids that age squirm a lot. People could understand you reacting to such stimulation. Especially since your girlfriend had broken up with you."

This may voice the defendant's rationalization and provide him with the permission he needs to admit it.

Drugs/Alcohol Made Me Do It

If you suspect alcohol or drugs are involved, offering this as a possible explanation may get the offender confiding in you. For example:

"Is it possible you don't precisely recall what happened because you were under the influence? Isn't it possible then that you touched her chest area and between her legs? I understand you would never do anything like that sober/straight but ...."

Getting the suspect to acknowledge the possibility of abuse is a big admission. Jurors who have been under the influence know it didn't turn them into child molesters. Alcohol and drugs are disinhibitors for those who want to offend. They are not a cause of such offenses. (Salter, Anna, Treating Sex Offenders: A Curriculum for Corrections Mental Health Professionals 229, 1989).

It's Not Like You're a Criminal

While many sex offenders admit to other crimes, most who come to the attention of authorities have no official criminal record. This is an opening to establish rapport in the interview by telling the suspect:

"Look, it's not like you're really a criminal. Not like the guys we usually have to deal with. I mean, you might have made some mistakes in judgment, probably because of some understandable reasons, but you're not a thug, you're not a murderer/drug dealer/robber/criminal type."

You Were Just a Kid...

Some molesters began to offend in adolescence. This information can be used to suggest,

"Maybe this first got started when you were younger, a kid yourself and not really to blame, and it just kind of went on from there."

"HE" Made You Do It

Less research is available on female offenders. There is no empirical basis for assuming female offenders differ significantly from male offenders except they are statistically more likely to have been abuse victims themselves and are more likely to offend in conjunction with a male offender. (Female Sexual Abuse of Children, Michelle Elliot ed., 1993). Both these factors could be used to establish rapport and open the door for admissions and confessions when interviewing female offenders.

You Were a Victim, Too

Studies indicate that many convicted molesters were abused as children. (Robert J. Kelly et. al., Theories of Pedophilia, 1 The Sexual Abuse of Children: Theory and Research 173, 1992). Consider with the offender:

"Is it possible something like this happened to you when you were a kid? That would explain a lot. I could understand what [the child] said happening if it had happened to you when you were a kid. Kids learn what they live, right?"

Keep in mind that most abuse victims do not later become abusers. Indeed, the majority of sexually abused children are female and yet very few abusers are women. Also, the percentage of abusers who report having been abused as a child drops significantly when such reports are subject to polygraph examination.

I Was Just ...

Offenders will try to rationalize the abuse by calling it hygiene or sex education; asserting all mommies or daddies show love this way; or claiming "accidental" contact during play. Sometimes the abuser will say nothing to the child or pretend the child is asleep. In addition to asking the victim about such statements or conduct, broach them in the suspect interview:

  • "Is it possible you 'accidentally' touched the child in the genital area while playing or wrestling and the child just confused that?"
  • "Maybe you were just trying to teach her proper hygiene or prepare her for when she started going out with boys."
  • "Is it possible you did something like that just trying to teach him how to take care of himself and he got confused about it?"
  • "Was he asleep when it happened? If he was asleep, it's not the same. It couldn't hurt him, right?"

At Least You Didn't ...

Offenders often minimize their conduct -- "I touched her but I didn't rape her." Whatever the defendant's conduct, the interviewer can give him or her permission to admit or confess by describing other conduct and embracing the offender for not having committed the other conduct.

  • "It's not like you forced yourself on her."
  • "It's not like you beat him up or stabbed him or threatened him with a gun."
  • "It's not like you killed him."
  • "It's not like you tortured her before you killed her. Things just got out of hand."

Take It to Them

There are numerous pedophile organizations. For a list, visit the web link below. Their overall mandate is to legalize sexual relations between adults and children. They prepare pamphlets and newsletters that contain their rationalizations. Amongst them:

  • Children are sexual beings with the right to pick their partners (one organization refers to child sexual abuse as "intergenerational intimacy").
  • The quality of relationships, not age, determines the value of sex. (One group apparently thought age was important, coining the motto, "Sex by eight, or it's too late.").
  • Most pedophiles are gentle and harmless.
  • The damage of pedophilia comes from the shock communicated by society, not from the sex itself.

Visit the web sites or review the literature of such organizations to learn the details of their rationalizations. These can be useful when interviewing child molesters who feel no remorse and do not believe their conduct is criminal. They know society has criminalized their conduct so they keep it secret, but they don't believe it should be criminalized. Reflecting the views they advocate may well give them permission to confess.


Thinking like a child molester should qualify you for hazmat certification. Your interview of the molester must be an Oscar performance. You must share their rational lies without judgment or disapproval for them to feel they can confide in you. If you've read this article, you've already found your motivation -- the kids. They need a champion like you.


Leadership From the Line

What is it that officers need from their supervisors? What do they expect?  

Lessons By the Decades: Virginia Tech Massacre

Law enforcement lessons learned from the 2007 shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech continue to inform our response to tactical incidents today. 

North Charleston – Patience Under Fire

The video released this weekend showing a North Charleston (S.C.) Officer shooting an un-armed Walter Scott looks bad. That was the first thought I had, and ...

End of Watch, March 2015

Longest streak without an LODD due to gunfire comes to an end

Madison Police Shooting Response Contrasts with Ferguson

Actions taken have been done so to avoid Ferguson problems.

Dealing With Trust Issues

In a tight-knit unit, you can't abuse trusting relationships