7.10.2011

Investigative Psychology – What Does It Mean And How Can It Help Law Enforcement Investigations? Sexual Offenses Part III


By Lawrence W. Daly, MSc


There is no slowing down of the sexual offenses which are being conducted across the United States. The use of Investigative Psychology (IP) provides law enforcement with a new tool when investigating any type sexual offense.

Sexual offenses are complex to investigate and due to the complexity law enforcement officers need to receive the highest quality of investigative and interviewing tools available. IP provides these innovative and creative tools for law enforcement to utilize when performing an investigation.


Law enforcement officials do not have the ability to pay for a full time trainer in the field of sexual offense investigations. However, someone has to step up to the plate and take charge in your community and provide the funds necessary to bring in a former or current police officer who understands the need for training in sexual offenses. This former and/or current training officer needs to understand IP to the point where he/she has the knowledge, training and experience where he/she can convey IP to other law enforcement officers.

Child sexual abuse cases have a multitude of ‘motives’ which come along with the sexual allegations. The law enforcement officials must understand the ‘motive’ can be the key to the unraveling of the claims that have been made against an individual. Too often the attitude by the law enforcement officials is if the child said the sexual assault occurred, then it occurred. Children don’t lie and the alleged perpetrator should be taken into custody and incarcerated.

The belief system by the law enforcement official cannot be black and white i.e. the child victim said it happened, so it happened. Neutrality and objectivity is the key to ascertaining what occurred. How many law enforcement officers does it take to get them to approach an investigation with a proper investigative state of mind and the willingness to consider any and all hypothesis.

Patience is something the law enforcement official must demonstrate at all times. The officer will learn from being patient as he/she takes a step forward and backwards. In child sexual abuse investigations there will be information which will come from out of nowhere. It doesn’t mean the information wasn’t there from the beginning, but generally, someone will point the law enforcement official in the right direction.

The new information will generally change how the law enforcement officer visualizes the case. It is interesting that the law enforcement official had to have one of the witnesses explain to him/her where to find the information and what the information is.

In using Investigative Psychology (IP) in dealing with an allegation of child sexual abuse, one must understand the strengths and weaknesses which IP has to offer. Remember, IP is only as effective as the law enforcement official who understands it. If the IP Detective utilizes the criteria(s) and element(s) of IP to investigate major crimes, such as child sexual offenses, the success of the investigations should be informative and positive.

The leading expert in the field of IP is Dr. David Canter. He has developed a complex framework of varying roles assigned to the victim and simplifies them into three main emphases: victim as Object; victim as Vehicle; and victim as Person.

The victim as Object, “…offenses are those crimes in which the offender sees the victim as having little, if any, human significance or emotions and towards whom he has no feelings (Canter, 1994).”

The victim as Vehicle, “…a rather different style of offenses is those in which the victim is a Vehicle for the expression of the offender's desires and anger. Rather than just being bodies to use these victims often carry particular meanings by what they represent, possibly symbolizing significant people in the offender's life story. In these offenses there is sufficient recognition of the humanity of the victim that attacking and exploiting her serves the offender's purpose (Canter, 1994).”

The victim as Person, “A large group of violent offenses are those in which there is a full recognition that the victim is human, a person. What draws together these crimes is the way they emerge out of a general style of human interaction in which others are to be taken advantage of or abused and violence is the normal natural strategy for achieving this. In victim as Person offenses then, the target is usually that particular person, the victim from whom the offender is trying directly to obtain something, whether this be money, sex or simply to hurt that person as part of an unfolding destructive relationship (Canter, 1994).”

Like the ‘motive(s)’ of the crime, the ‘theme(s)’ of the criminal act need to be identified in the law enforcement investigation. In order to utilize the knowledge and elements of the victim as Object, Vehicle and Person, the law enforcement official needs to understand a combination of how the alleged perpetrator approached the alleged victim and how much rage and anger the alleged perpetrator demonstrated prior to, during and after the alleged acts.

If the law enforcement official understands the assignment the alleged perpetrator gives the alleged victim, the officer can then pursue a specific direction which will give him/her the necessary information to apprehend the alleged perpetrator, file criminal charges and take the perpetrator to trial.

The criminal charges are only as strong as the IP investigation. The law enforcement official must understand that the work he/she places into the investigation, may provide the prosecutor with the ability to make decisions, specifically in the prosecutor’s mind, a crime was committed and/or was not committed.

Tomorrow, I will delve into the mental framework which the alleged perpetrator brings to the table as he/she commit crimes against children. Using Dr. David Canter’s paradigm is a useful tool for law enforcement officials and should be a stepping stone for everyone involved in investigating the criminal allegations.

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