Clinicians often regard the excuses of child molesters as important indicators of remorse, rehabilitation potential and the likelihood of recidivism. Despite the implications for clinical decision-making and judicial deliberations, relatively little is known about the content and structure of these explanatory statements.

This study was an attempt to delineate the range of thematic content and logical structure of the excuses of child molesters. Over 250 justificatory statements were examined from the clinical records of 86 child molesters referred for psychiatric assessment. A total of 21 distinct excuses and six thematic categories were identified. An ‘excuse syntax’ was devised to define the structure of the offenders' reasoning about their sexual improprieties. The excuse syntax has the advantage of formalizing clinical judgements about the individual's level of denial and personal responsibility, his degree of defensiveness and the logical consistency of his justifications. Implications for clinical practice and research are discussed.