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Section 5: Lecture Content and Teaching Notes
Practical Supervision Strategies

4 hours, 30 minutes

TOPIC: HANDLING DENIAL
(60 minutes, including role play)

New Topic IconDENIAL

Some level of denial is to be expected among all sex offenders—at least in the early stages of supervision. As we have discussed, these offenders have been able to carry out their offending behavior through deception and manipulation. As noted previously, during the initial interview and very early in supervision, it may be in the probation/parole officer’s interest to allow some face-saving regarding the offender’s sexual history and offense. Once the offender has been on supervision for some time, however, it becomes extremely important to confront him or her whenever there is denial of any kind. Denial can take several forms. Examples include—

  • Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #8: Types of Denial
    [Click to Enlarge]

    Denial that the sexual abuse ever occurred;
  • Denial that the offender intended to commit the offense (assertion that it "just happened");
  • Denial that the offender is fully responsible (belief that the victim initiated the contact or was a willing participant);
  • Denial of other deviant behaviors and arousal patterns; and
  • Denial that the victim experienced any harm.
New Topic IconTECHNIQUES AND STRATEGIES

The following techniques address the issue of denial in an interview setting (these have been detailed by McGrath)3:

Use Slide # SymbolUse Slides #9-10: Strategies and Techniques to Handle Denial in an Initial Interview
[Click to Enlarge]

  • Interview collaterals separately. Officers should be very careful when interviewing an offender conjointly with his family, victims, or other collaterals, as this gives the offender an opportunity to control the responses of others. If the officer meets with each collateral individually, especially during the initial evaluation, then the officer will be—or appear to be—the most knowledgeable person in the system. This information can then be used to increase the officer’s influence over the offender.
  • Don’t tip your hand. Some offenders will try to determine what the officer knows about their offense and history, and will admit only to those facts. The officer should inform the offender that a great deal is known about his case, while at the same time remaining vague on the specifics until the offender has told his story and has been encouraged to fill in any missing details.
  • Develop a "yes set." During the initial stages of the interview, the officer should ask only those questions to which the offender’s response will be yes. Agreement and cooperation of the offender during the initial stages, even on unimportant points like birthdate or place of employment, can set the stage for cooperation during the later stages of the interview when more difficult issues are discussed.
  • Ignore untruthful answers. Eventually, the officer must confront the offender to clarify points of confusion, deception, or disagreement. It may be easier, however, for the officer to begin by acting as if a suspected untruthful answer was not heard. The officer will then be free to repeat or rephrase the question in a nonconfrontational manner.
  • Repeat questions. Asking the same question or variations of the same question at different times throughout the interview is a simple but potent interview strategy. Offenders often disclose some aspects of their histories in response to questions that are posed early in the conversation and then add more details, information, and explanations if the questions are rephrased and reemphasized later in the interview.
  • Place the burden of denial on the offender. The officer should ask questions that assume that the offender has engaged in the type of behavior that is being questioned. For example, the officer should avoid questions such as, "Have you ever...?" and instead ask, "When did you first...?" or, "How often have you...?"
  • Use successive approximations. If an offender is denying committing certain behaviors reported by the victim, begin questioning on this issue by established facts approximate to this behavior. For example, if an offender denies having intercourse with a victim, questions might progress from establishing that he was undressed with the victim, to his penis touching her leg, to his penis touching her vulva, to his penis actually entering her vagina.
  • Alternate support and confrontation. Offenders generally disclose more when they feel understood and supported. At the same time, however, they must be held responsible for presenting the truth. The skilled interviewer will move back and forth between the roles of supporter and confronter during the course of an interview.
  • Allow some rationalization. One goal of interviewing at the outset of supervision is to develop an open channel of communication with the offender and obtain information about the offender’s behavior and what he thinks about it. If the officer uses the initial evaluation to confront all of the offender’s rationalizations, the offender may resist talking about his true thinking patterns and behavior in later conversations.
  • Use behavioral descriptors. Words such as "molester" or "rapist" mean different things to different people. Ask questions concerning the offender’s specific behavior rather than using words or phrases that are prone to misinterpretation.
  • Emphasize what happened. Initially, it is more important to determine what an offender did as opposed to why an offender committed an offense. "Why" is speculation and invites excuses; "what" concerns behavior that typically can be substantiated.
  • Avoid multiple questions. Asking more than one question at a time encourages confusion, interrupts the flow of the interview, and allows the offender to dodge portions of the question.
  • Ask rapid-fire questions. This strategy enables the officer to cover interview material efficiently and forces the offender to answer questions spontaneously without having much opportunity for premeditation.
  • Frame disclosure as positive. Always stress the benefits of disclosure for the offender. This might include the relief of getting secrets "off his chest," avoiding a long incarceration, or being admitted into treatment.

As supervision continues, strategies for interviewing and handling denial will shift somewhat. While the primary goal in initial interviewing and conducting the PSI process is to gain as much information as possible so that appropriate decisions can be made regarding community supervision, the goals of supervision are different. One very important goal of supervision is helping the offender accept responsibility for his actions. Probation/parole officers find the following techniques and strategies to be particularly helpful to achieve this goal:

  • Use Slide # SymbolUse Slide #11: Interview Strategies and Techniques to Handle Denial--Ongoing
    [Click to Enlarge]

    Do not enable/allow denial. Confront each instance;
  • Confront thinking errors consistently; and
  • Do not allow any shifting of responsibility for the offender’s actions.
Learning ActivityLEARNING ACTIVITY: ROLE PLAY
(30 minutes)

Refer to Handout Symbol Refer to handout: Section 5, Exercise 2 This activity allows participants to practice some of the things they might say during an initial interview, such as how to phrase what they want to say about honesty or sex offender myths, as well as practicing maintaining control of the interaction and responding to denial. Trainers might remind participants that this is not a skills-based training and that the exercise is meant only to demonstrate how it feels to put some of these ideas into practice.

Note: At the conclusion of the exercise, trainers may choose to invite the group to share any general comments or observations about the activity-what was difficult about it, what they noticed, etc.

Invite participants to form groups of three. Ask the members of each small group to choose number 1, 2, or 3, then assign everyone who chose number 1 to be observers, all number 2s to be offenders, and all number 3s to be officers. Using the case study from the earlier sections to provide facts for offenders to speak from (provided in Section 5, Exercise 2), ask officers to perform a cursory initial interview with the goal of getting through the stages up to the offense history without getting all the information they would ordinarily need to get. Allow 10-15 minutes for the interview and then invite observers to share their observations with their small group. Observers should watch for challenges offenders present as well as techniques officers use.

If time allows, invite the groups to switch roles and repeat the exercise.