Could someone tell me please the word for when someone reports a crime, but under extreme questioning they change their story as they are made to doubt the other persons intentions and relents and changes their story to what the interrogator wants to hear?

There is a particular word or paraphrase which describes the coercive questioning that leads a victim to change their story. I saw it on a crime programme a while back – but I can't remember the phrase used. The show I saw was based on a young lady who was raped whilst at a college party in the USA – she went to the police and they basically said, well were you dragged into the room – NO. Did you go into the room of your own free will – YES. The coercive questioning actually made the girl doubt that she had actually had unconsenting sex in the first place – so she was charged with lying under oath and sent to prison.

  • 2
    The third degree. – Dan Bron Jun 5 '19 at 17:35
  • 2
    On the witness stand, leading the witness? – Dan Bron Jun 5 '19 at 18:33
  • 1
    That said, are you thinking of 'badgering the witness'? – Mitch Jun 5 '19 at 18:47
  • 2
    My daughter is being bullied at school and has been in for questionning with the headmistress. I drill it into my girl not to tell lies as the truth will always out. But as the headteacher kept asking the same question over and over again, my 9 year old got upset and changed her story as it was obvious - she kept giving the 'wrong' answers. Now my daughter is being treated like a liar and lets just say I'm not happy with her badgering my girl. – Sheila Webster Jun 5 '19 at 19:49
  • 1
    Your awful experience makes me think of what I tell my family always...if you are being interrogated for some perceived infraction, ALWAYS ask for representation. It is inexcusable for a school administrator to do something something like that to your child. It is a form of "memory tampering" – Cascabel Jun 7 '19 at 19:27

browbeat intimidate (someone), typically into doing something, with stern or abusive words.

Google top hit used a witness under cross-examination as the example:

a witness is being browbeaten under cross-examination


gaslight to cause (a person) to doubt his or her sanity through the use of psychological manipulation

Usually it involves more than just talking, but talking quickly and sternly, and forcing yes-or-no answers is a form of psychological manipulation; and leading a witness to question their assertions is a doubt to sanity, so it fits.


A possible word would be duress.


  • Thank you Jens. – Sheila Webster Jun 5 '19 at 19:46
  • No problem, if you like the answer, please accept it so that other people can see that the question has been solved. – Jens Krüger Jun 6 '19 at 7:28
  • 4
    Duress refers to the emotional or physical state of a person being forced to do something, like a hostage holding a gun at a bank robbery for fear of being killed. Although 'duress' probably describes the victim's emotional state, the question title refers to the act of questioning, not the victim's state. You could say the interrogators caused her to speak under duress. – Rich Moss Jun 7 '19 at 20:17
  • As a police interviewing technique in support of eventual prosecution duress would need to be explicitly avoided. Otherwise any confession would be vulnerable to exclusion as evidence. Admittedly, for use in court is not the only reason the police interrogate people. Here however the asker described a scenario where the information elicited was used to charge the interviewee. – Trevor Reid Jun 8 '19 at 23:22

Interrogation. Extreme questioning.

“The woman was subjected to an interrogation by authorities after she reported a crime.”

“The man was interrogated for hours after the murder weapon was found in his home.”

  • 1
    Agree. Although interrogation doesn't necessarily imply coercion, it does imply being treated as a suspect rather than a witness or victim. – Rich Moss Jun 7 '19 at 20:01
  • Technically, you are correct. In reality, interrogation can and does result in suspects admitting to crimes they did not commit. In fact, some interrogations are done precisely to achieve that. – mml Jun 7 '19 at 21:00
  • Agree @mml et al. It’s because that connotation of interrogate has taken such a strong hold that police throughout the United States commonly refer to all sorts of questioning, including intentionally stressful custodial interrogations, as interviews. – Trevor Reid Jun 9 '19 at 10:35

Grilling is a common informal term in the US. Cambridge:

an occasion when someone is asked a lot of questions for a long time


This technique is known in law enforcement practice as behavioral analysis interviewing. Its efficacy in eliciting confessions that yield just results is debatable.

From a law enforcement perspective the objectives of this approach are:

  1. To develop investigative information, including statement inconsistencies or procedural/policy violations that may have contributed to the problem, as well as insight into the relevant activities of others.

  2. To develop behavioral information indicative of the suspect’s truthfulness or deception regarding the issue under investigation.

  3. To determine whether or not the person being interviewed did, in fact, commit the act that is under investigation.


Perhaps it's the "interviewing technique" known as the "Reid method" or "Reid technique?" This is frequently considered an extreme version of questioning and interrogation that can more frequently result in individuals changing their story. It is also frequently criticized as a method that often results in false confessions.


  • 1
    You really should provide more context...This answer is not convincing when future users may find only broken links: please include quotes and the source. – Cascabel Jun 7 '19 at 20:40
  • 1
    @Cascabel, I doubt wikipedia is going anywhere anytime soon. At any rate, the Reid method is widely known in the psychological literature and so my answer which references it by name (i.e. outside of link) should be sufficient to give the OP (or future readers) a way to springboard to additional information. Are you suggesting I simply copy and paste from Wikipedia? If so, I'm happy to do that. – StatsStudent Jun 8 '19 at 16:30
  • 2
    You can choose, either copy-paste or write your own. Whatever you think would strengthen your answer more effectively. Don't force people to click just in order to get a first idea what you're talking about. – aparente001 Jun 8 '19 at 23:52
  • 1
    The answer as written includes the most salient points of the term in answer to the question. The link provides additional information. You can expand on it if you wish StatsStudent. But the answer stands well on its own already. A very small improvement would be to link to a specific version of the Wikipedia article, reducing the chance even further that the link will go stale or evolve in a confusing way. – Trevor Reid Jun 9 '19 at 10:41

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.