Tips for interviewing men who pose a sexual risk

Drawing on professional experience, Emma Belton shares her tips for interviewing men who pose a sexual risk to children

People being interviewedInterviewing men who pose a sexual risk - due to current or historic convictions or allegations of sexual offences - can be a daunting prospect for researchers, particularly if they haven’t worked with this group before.

Interviewers can have a range of concerns and worries about these interviews.

They may worry about what these men will be like as people or how they’ll react if the men start telling them details of an allegation or offence. They can also be concerned about the men trying to groom or manipulate them.

These concerns can have a major bearing on how an interview is conducted: everything we’re taught about interviewing, including establishing and maintaining rapport and keeping a neutral, objective interviewing stance, can suddenly feel unachievable.

Based on my own experience of carrying out interviews for NSPCC evaluations, I’m offering advice for researchers interviewing men who pose a sexual risk.

Putting the interview into context

In reality, interviewing these men is much like interviewing any other group of vulnerable service users.

Some don’t want to talk and are reluctant to provide much detail. Others are verbose and give long, detailed descriptions of their experiences without prompting.

Of course a few interviews are challenging.

Some men want to talk about their offence and try to prove their innocence. Others get angry about the outcome of their assessment or try to manipulate the interview.

I hope my tips will help if you need to conduct similar interviews.

Top tips for interviewing men who pose a sexual risk

    1. Be prepared: read up on conducting similar interviews and speak to colleagues who’ve done it before, or people who work with sex offenders. This helps reassure you that other people’s experiences aren’t that bad, giving you more confidence when you go into an interview.

    2. Do your safety checks: speak to the last person who worked with the interviewee so you’re aware of any important issues - mental health problems or substance misuse, for example. Find out how they felt when they last had contact with the service and any changes to their circumstances since then that could affect the interview. 

    3. Be clear: when you arrange the interview, explain exactly what it will cover and what it won’t (details of the offence, for example). Make clear that the interview is independent to their assessment and you can’t follow up any actions or complaints raised. Also, explain the limits of confidentiality. Stress that they can skip any questions they don’t want to answer.

    4. Stick to the focus of the interview: don’t be afraid to move the conversation on if the interview starts veering towards an area you’re not comfortable with. Have standard lines ready to use if you need to stop talking about a particular topic or behaviour. For example, if the interviewee strays into talking about their offence, and this is not relevant to the interview, say something like: “I know you’re very busy, and we’ve got lots of topics to get through, do you mind if we move on?”.

    5. Don’t hesitate to stop: if either you or the interviewee finds it too difficult, you should stop the interview.

    6. Report concerns: you need a clear process for reporting any concerns that come out during the interview. This includes child protection concerns, but also adult safeguarding concerns. For example, during my interviews, some men talked about having suicidal thoughts or self-harming. You need to know where and how to refer these concerns, and have support numbers for relevant services to hand.

    7. Debrief: talk to someone as soon as possible after the interview about how it went. Discuss any difficult situations, how you managed them and how the interview left you feeling. It’s important to have debriefing sessions with someone who has previous experience of interviewing or working with sex offenders throughout your interview period. It helps make sense of mixed messages you may hear during interviews, possible attempts at manipulation and strategies to manage this.

Managing your analysis

Interviewing men who pose a sexual risk can be uncomfortable. After you’ve conducted an interview think about how you’ll manage the analysis, particularly if the interviewee gave extreme views you feel unsure about.

Make sure you read how other researchers have dealt with this situation and speak to people with previous experience in this area: such support is invaluable. Have a look at the evaluations of our Assessing the Risk, Protecting the Child service for more information.

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