There must be a scapegoat

Pitfalls, traps and mistakes in forensic personality examination

Short version,

presented in Prague in June 2006 at the Congress of the European Federation of Sexologists, by Gieles, Dr. Frans E.J., The Netherlands.

The full text version is here: <  >


Formulating several problems in the diagnostic process in forensic examination of suspected sex offenders.

Design and method

Content analysis of 25 reports made for the court about suspected pedosexual people, known by me as a counselor.


The forensic examination of a suspected person inherently creates a difficult situation for both the investigator and the investigated.

At least three types of paradoxes have to be recognized. Also five pitfalls are formulated.

Six diagnostic problems are mentioned, as well as three clear mistakes to avoid.

It appears that at least four underlying assumptions play an important role in the background.

Only two of the 25 reports show a consciousness of the paradoxes, pitfalls and other problems; in the other 23 reports a lot of mistakes showed up.

See the list here below. 


Too many mistakes appeared in 23 of these 25 reports.

Investigators should have an eye for the paradoxes, pitfalls, problems and possible mistakes.

The background vision might be criticized, along with underlying assumptions. Revision of the vision should start at the philosophical level of the view of the human being.


1. Recognize the difficult situation at the start

Stressful; it is not therapy but examination. The investigator has no oath of secrecy, but will indeed speak. Facts that would not count in court, count clinically as facts.

2. Recognize paradoxes 

a. 'By all means, speak frankly' – but all you say can be used against you, also what you do not say.
b. The paradox of shame: There must be shame, but speaking with hesitation will be used against you.
c. The paradox of having insight: Having no insights is wrong, but having insights is ‘psychologizing,’ thus wrong.

3. Other pitfalls 

a. Wrong roles: The investigator in the role of police officer, prosecutor or judge.
b. Extrapolation to other situations: Here hesitating, always an avoiding personality. 
c. Extrapolation in time: If the suspect is here dominating, he is thus always dominating. Does he show here a lack of emotions, thus he will always avoid emotions.
d. Selection of the negative: Good cases and heterosexual feelings are not mentioned.  
e. Enlarging of and interpretation in the negative: The investigated person has pedophilic feelings, thus he will show such behavior, thus there is a risk of recidivism.

4. Difficult diagnosis 

a. DSM: Egosyntonic feelings are, according to DSM, not inherently a distortion, but factually, they are the worst to have and a sign of severe distortion. 
b. Routine diagnoses: Narcissism, Oedipal complex, PDD-NOS, terms that nobody can understand or explain, but which sound quite serious. 
c. Hidden aggression: Behind the peaceful mask hides subconscious aggression. He who denies this gives the 'proof' that the aggression is subconscious.
d. Political correctness: He who has wrong ideas has a cognitive distortion.
e. Narrative conflicts and narrative force: Your narrative is incorrect and refers to mental distortions. Your narrative could not be true because it should not be true.
f. Subjective impressions: Normal shyness, dominance, hesitation are seen as character disorders.

5. Mistakes that should not be made 

a. Recidivism risk: Always estimated as high, in contrast with the rates found in research.
b. Tendentious and suggestive use of language: ‘Young friend’ becomes "so called young friend;" arguments become "a mess of arguments." 
 c. Speaking 'blind': Declaring someone distorted or harmed without speaking with him.

6. Underlying assumptions 

a. 'The recidivism risk is high'  - in spite of the research done.
b. 'Those feelings are a distortion' – A statistical deviation is not the same as a mental distortion.
c. 'There is always harm' – No, far from always, says research.
d. A mechanistic view of the human being: Feelings, cognition and stimuli are seen as automatically leading to offense behavior: The human being as an engine.


Start, if I may invite you, profoundly thinking about a vision of the human being, his feelings, thoughts and acts, and the best way to approach his fellow humans, also in the forensic field, hoping to avoid the mentioned pitfalls, traps and mistakes.


The report describes a man as "very dominant" during an interview in which the young psychologist (actually a psychology student) was not able to speak much. The young lady concludes that the man is a dominant personality, thus he must be dominant in contact with the children he had contact with, thus he must have used his power as an adult. The man is "essentially aggressive," which is subconscious and which works as a mechanism. The human being as a machine - the vision the student has learned or understood. 

A suspect did not say much about his youth. "That wasn't asked of me," he later said. The psychiatrist draws the conclusion that the man must have repressed his youth, thus those years must have been problematic. The (student-)psychiatrist draws conclusions from data he does not have. 

An investigated person was found to be intelligent. Thus, the danger exists that he can manipulate community treatment and simulate cooperation. Thus, compulsory and closed treatment is indicated. 

The primary defense (sub-aggression) might fail, and that aggression, acting-out and crimes might be the next behavior. Thus, the risk of recidivism is "very high," thus treatment in a closed setting must be the advice. 

A report says that it concerns a man who is normal in every respect. However, as soon as the man, on being asked, speaks frankly about his pedophilic feelings without the required shame and distress, he is diagnosed as "an egosyntonic core pedophile" and thus heavily distorted, so that a compulsory treatment in a closed clinic is the only solution. 

Concerning another man, the report first said that he has no cognitive distortion. His mind is clear, conscious, intelligent, and his test scores are in good order. Then the man spoke, on request, of his political ideas about child-adult (sexual) relationships. From then on, the man has a cognitive distortion.

A man had, as a child, had sexual contacts with an adult. He said, on being asked, that he experienced it as positive and consensual. This is his experience, honestly given in response to a request to speak frankly. The report claims he has "a distorted view of reality," which must be cured in ... compulsory treatment. 

A 12- to 14-year-old Boy Scout should not (want to) sit on the lap of a Scout leader, a man, at the camp fire. The investigator concludes from this story that the investigated suspect "is not able to distinguish between fantasy and fact," thus needs treatment …, etc. But he, the Scout leader, was present at that camp fire, not the investigator. Clearly, the investigator has the opinion that such a scene should not be true, thus cannot be true. In Scouting this is, at least in the Netherlands, completely normal and usual.