Middlesbrough lecturer says empathetic questioning techniques should be used on sex offenders (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Middlesbrough lecturer says empathetic questioning techniques should be used on sex offenders
EMPATHETIC techniques used by a Nazi interrogator should be used to interview child sex offenders, according to a leading psychologist.
Dr Gavin Oxburgh, a lecturer in forensic psychology at Teesside University, has looked to Nazi Germany’s “master interrogator” Hanns Scharff for inspiration in dealing with offenders.
Scharff was an interrogator during the Second World War who managed to obtain information from prisoners without using physical force.
Former RAF police senior detective Dr Oxburgh said: “The unique thing about Hanns Scharff was that he was able to talk to captives and extract information without them even realising it was happening.”
Inspired by Scharff’s work, Dr Oxburgh rejects torture, brutality and interrogation and suggests that the use of empathy together with appropriate questioning was the most effective way of exploiting a suspect’s weakness and extracting information.
According to Dr Oxburgh, who has analysed hundreds of police interviews with child sex offenders, interviews with suspects are frequently obstructed by police trying to maintain power and relying on closed questions.
He said: “If you ask open questions, the interview generally lasts for longer and with the use of empathy and appropriate questioning, in terms of phrases such as ‘tell me more’, ‘explain why’, ‘describe how’, the suspect is more likely to open up and you can extract more relevant information.
“There is a big difference between empathy and sympathy.
Empathy is showing understanding and trying to tell the suspect you can help them to bring a situation to a conclusion.
Sympathy is feeling sorry for the suspect, and that is something completely different.”
Scharff opposed abusing prisoners to obtain information and instead was known for treating his prisoners with respect and dignity and by using an approach that favoured empathic questioning rather than force.
Many acts of kindness were documented concerning Scharff’s treatment of US prisoners. After the war, he was invited by the US Air Force to speak about his methods to the military.
He later moved to the US and became a successful mosaic artist. His art is on display at Cinderella’s castle in Disney World, and many of his techniques are still taught in US Army interrogation schools. He died in 1992.
Dr Oxburgh was speaking ahead of the Radio 4 documentary Interrogators Without Pliers, which examines interrogation techniques used in the UK and abroad to gain high-quality information from suspected offenders. It will be broadcast at 8pm on Monday.