Child Pornography Cases: Obtaining Confessions with an Effective Interview Strategy

By Bowling, Randy; Resch, Dave | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Child Pornography Cases: Obtaining Confessions with an Effective Interview Strategy


Bowling, Randy, Resch, Dave, The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


An effective interview strategy is paramount in gaining a confession during a child pornography investigation. But, interrogative techniques can prove difficult because they require the exhibition of compassion for individuals that investigators may consider contemptible. Developing a comprehensive interviewing strategy will make investigators feel more comfortable at the critical initial stages of the interview and increase the likelihood of eliciting a confession. (1)

Most subjects in child victimization image cases are preferential sex offenders--many of these individuals have molested children; however, their backgrounds often do not identify a molestation conviction. While most of the subjects possess and distribute child pornography, only a few produce it. Further, child pornographers are increasingly using the Internet to facilitate their criminal activities. (2) The following interview strategy has proven successful when dealing with preferential sex offenders in child pornography cases. (3)

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Investigative Interview Preparation

In addition to basic investigative practices, investigators can prepare for a successful interview strategy by obtaining information from the FBI's Innocent Images National Initiative program, search warrants, and informants or witnesses. Investigators should obtain personal information regarding the subject's marital status, criminal and employment history, and, especially, community service because many subjects actively seek occupations and volunteer opportunities where contact with children is certain to occur. Further, investigators can conduct ruse telephone calls, as well as trash and mail covers, to determine whether the subject listed on a particular Internet account under investigation actually resides at a specific residence. These types of thorough preparation increase the probability of gaining a confession. Once confronted by investigators, the subject will know that his illegal activities have been discovered and thoroughly investigated. (4)

Initial Approach

After investigators show appropriate identification and detail the purpose of the interview to the subject, they should state their accusation. A direct accusation statement must be convincing in its delivery. Typically, the suspect then will deny involvement and protest his innocence. If the subject states his denial (e.g., "I didn't do it"), investigators immediately should interrupt him. For example, they can turn their heads, possibly raising their hands with palms facing the subject in a dismissive motion. Investigators should remember that denial by the guilty usually weakens over time, whereas an innocent person likely will become more enraged at each accusation of criminal activity. The subject also may protest his innocence through such statements as "I could not have done this; I am a religious man" or "I would not have done that; what would my family think?" Investigators should not interrupt these types of protests because they usually are based, in part, on the truth. Following the subject's protests, investigators should incorporate these partial truths into the interrogation process by using statements, such as "I'm glad to hear you say that; I know you're a good man" or "You are a religious man who is devoted to his family." After clearly accusing the suspect, interviewers should detail evidence against the individual. Further, investigators should follow the accusation, denials, and protests with a series of theme-development strategies.

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Theme Development

Many child pornography suspects fear that their activities will be revealed. Therefore, investigators should address this concern through theme development as they approach the interview. Interrogation themes consist of rationalizing the crime, projecting blame onto others, and minimizing the offense (RPMs). Investigators can use the following examples as a guide in theme development:

* Rationalization: "I understand your situation; you love kids so much that you were just reaching out to help any way you could.

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Child Pornography Cases: Obtaining Confessions with an Effective Interview Strategy
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