Revealing past Criminal Acts to a Psychologist


I'm in the situation where I now know, from a first hand witness to what would be considered a crime, of events in the past that have, I think, affected me greatly.
I didn't commit the crimes, but someone who I care for greatly, did, against others I care for greatly.

Does that make sense?

I want to discuss all of this with my psychologist. It really has completely turned my world upside down, but at the same time makes complete sense.

I was not the victim of the crime, as far as I can remember. But I also remember nothing for large periods of my life, so can't be sure.

My question is, if I disclose historic criminal acts to my psychologist, do they have a duty to disclose those acts to police? There is no danger to anyone anymore, the main perpetrator is dead. But, I guess accomplices, to those crimes are still alive. The accomplices are people I still care for greatly, whom I don't wish to hurt, even though they've made terrible mistakes.

I don't want them to go to jail, and neither does the first hand witness/victim of those crimes.

What do I do?


  • +33

    Hey, I'm a psychiatrist not a psychologist but we basically have similar ethical obligations in these sorts of scenarios and ultimately fall under the same national registry - the Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Agency.

    My thoughts, not knowing precisely the nature of your history, is that it's probably safe for you to disclose without your psychologist feeling obligated to inform others. This is unless there is a clear sense that the perpetrators / accomplices are still at high risk of further harmful actions. The code of conduct, as you realise from others' posts are somewhat vague in this regard, mentioning only duty to disclose confidential clinical information in the case of a "legal" need to. Unfortunately, this is deliberate, as it is somewhat left up to individual practitioners to interpret - this forms a basis more for a "no fault" policy to protect practitioners when they do feel a responsibility to disclose than it does an absolute instruction to abide by to disclose everything. Practitioners are not to conflate the ability to disclose and the obligation to disclose, although there are certain circumstances where we are definitely obliged to disclose. Your situation does not seem like one of them.

    Please look at this website for further guidance: It admittedly applies more to physicians, but as I mentiined, the ethical bounds are similar. Also, feel free to contact the governing body, eg. the Psychology Board of Australia to enquire about your concerns; I think there are ways to do so anonymously.

    • +1

      Thank you so much :)

    • +9

      I am a psychologist, and luvv is spot on. Some of those on here have highlighted some key points in terms of obligation to disclose confidential information (ignoring the trolls) . Main point I think to consider is "there is an immediate and specified risk of harm to an identifiable person or persons that can be averted only by disclosing information". While not knowing your whole history and circumstances, if the disclosed information suggests ongoing or potential risk of safety to yourself or others then a psychologist may be obligated for reason of ensuring the safety of yourself and the community.

      With the idea that it is illegal and therefore obligated to disclose informstion is not totally accurate. Consider the situation of a minor that is drinking and smoking, that is illegal but a psychologist would unlikely disclose that to authorities. The legal obligation in the code of ethics, stems from the concept that a court subpoenas the psychologist, and even then, only pertinent information to the case can be released.

      I would highly recommend discussing with your psychologist her understanding and view on mandatory disclosure,and she can explain it further to you.

      On a side note, it sounds like it has been an extremely difficult time for you and for those around you. It is absolutely fantastic that you're finding an appropriate outlet to work through your issues. It's a tough road you're walking, and my 2 cents is "three steps forward, two steps back, but you're still moving forward". Your awareness and motivation to get well are huge steps forward, and while there may be setbacks, keep moving forward bit by bit.

      P.S. Forgive the username.

      • +5

        Hah, I had to scroll back up to see your username. It made me laugh.

        Thanks :)

    • Sounds a bit vague to me.
      To disclose or not to disclose.
      that is the question

      • That's philosophy, not psychiatry nor psychology.

  • +21

    Catholic priest?

    • -3

      sounds like a molestation crime

      • +3

        I was at religion by the end of the first paragraph.

        • Could be a father/uncle that passed away
          and one of the children knew about the molestation of other family members or other children
          and other family members may be involved with the molestation.

          it explain why you wouldn't want bring the issue out again considering that person has passed away
          and it would bring shame to the family if revealed.

        • If could be religion - priest or family member..

          Also this is interesting point

          "I was not the victim of the crime, as far as I can remember. But I also remember nothing for large periods of my life, so can't be sure."

          Seems like the OP may could've have been a victim but don't remember due to how young they could've been victimised
          but as they grew up they witness or knew about other victims.

          This is more likely to occur in a family than a priesthood.

          No doubt,
          I think this is a sexual molestation that was done.

  • +3

    Maybe its not such a bad thing to disclose the perpetrator to the law. As you have mention there are other victims that may find closure in the perpetrator (even though dead) that there voices/claims be heard

    • +2

      I understand what you're saying, though it is a very, very complicated situation. None of the victims want the accomplices to go to jail. Neither do I. It involves my family. I want to talk about it, I think it will help. But jail won't help my family right now. It would make things considerably worse for all of us…

      • +7

        I understand that. Another factor to consider is the deterrent effect. If criminals are brought to justice it deters other individuals from committing similar crimes in the future. You could potentially save some future victims from what you and your loved ones endured.

        Being an accomplice is both criminal and immoral. But if there are extenuating circumstances, the court will take them into account.

      • +1

        Obviously I don’t know the situation but I often find some short term pain is worth long term gain. While maybe this person going to jail now may cause some short term pain, it may be best for all in the long run. Not trying to trivialize it but it may be worth considering. All the best.

      • +2

        Are you sure you know all of the victims? How are you sure?

        • I personally 'know' nothing. I'm trying to remember. That's why I'm getting professional help. What I have been told would make a lot of sense for what I'm dealing with, if I was also a victim. But i can't remember. I'm trying to piece it together, a victim, who i am very close to,has told me some things that i think may put my life into perspective.
          The perpetrator is dead. There may be more victims. I don't know.

      • PS Depending what state you are in, failure to report a crime is an offence. You have admitted to this action.
        I doubt anyone will pass on this thread though.

    • +2

      I think the problem with 'getting the bad guys jailed' is that the judicial system a) may not even jail them, b) may only jail them for a short period, and c) they will always have mates on the outside. For all scenarios there is retribution. The accomplices may have small children, families may be ripped apart. We don't know and I think we need to trust when the OP says at this stage, jailing them may be worse for everyone. This needs to be worked through with a professional.

  • +8

    Is it necessary to identify the individual/s? Can you just refer to them as a family member or close friend when sharing the story rather than delving into specifics?

    • +3

      Just drop the old, "PS - Asking for a friend." all purpose indemnifier at the end of the consultation.

  • +7

    Psychologists disclose confidential information obtained in the course of their provision of psychological services only under any one or more of the following circumstances:
    (a) with the consent of the relevant client or a person with legal authority to act on behalf of the client;
    (b) where there is a legal obligation to do so;
    (c) if there is an immediate and specified risk of harm to an identifiable person or persons that can be averted only by disclosing information; or
    (d) when consulting colleagues, or in the course of supervision or professional training, provided the psychologist:
    (i) conceals the identity of clients and associated parties
    involved; or
    (ii) obtains the client’s consent, and gives prior notice to the
    recipients of the information that they are required to preserve the client’s privacy, and obtains an undertaking from the recipients of the information that they will preserve the client’s privacy.

    Source: APS code of ethics.

    Safe to disclose to your psychologist as there is no one in current danger and no duty to disclose. The only possible reason to break confidentiality in the above scenario is if records were subpoenaed, I assume legal proceedings are not on foot, so that’s not an issue.

    • +5

      (b) where there is a legal obligation to do so;

      Reading between the lines of OP's post, I suspect the victim was a minor and that would trigger the psychologist's duty to disclose.

      • +2

        Yes, all minors…

      • I think the legal obligation here would mean orders from court or officials, not by his/her moral obligation.

        • +5

          I'm referring to a legal duty to disclose. Somewhat unsurprisingly, psychologists have a much higher duty to disclose where the victims are minors, than if they are adults.

        • +1

          @HighAndDry: what if those victims are no longer minors and don't wish to prosecute?

    • +2

      “Legal obligation go fo do so” is not as open as you are sleep thinking.

      The legal obligation is where the client is at risk of further harm from a perpetrator. Especially in the case of a minor but there are other examples.

      Additionally, where there is reasonable belief that the client is at risk of harming others in the way that they have obviously dlready spoken about doing before.

      So it is not just about client st risk
      If harm.

      I certainly don’t think OP is a minor at risk of harm NOW.

  • +3

    I don't want them to go to jail, and neither does the first hand witness/victim of those crimes.

    I'm not going to tell you what you should do in terms of disclosing or not disclosing. Psychologists often have a duty to disclose. If you want to ensure the above - you can elect to keep the details vague or unspecific, so that there isn't sufficient information to trigger that duty on part of the psychologist.

    • +1

      I thought I might try that, but I can't be vague about this person. The perpetrator, who is dead, I will talk about… but the accomplices cannot be mentioned at all without revealing who they are. And if I don't talk about the accomplices, then the way it has affected me won't make any sense.
      I'm at the point where I think I may need to simply not talk about it, unless I know the accomplices won't be charged.

      It's very serious. And so, so complicated. And it's ruined my life, honestly. But like I said above, jailing these people will make things so much worse for me…

      • +9

        It's very serious. And so, so complicated. And it's ruined my life, honestly. But like I said above, jailing these people will make things so much worse for me…

        Go and talk to someone then. Seriously screw everyone else and do what’s going to help you.

        Depending on what’s happened and from your other comments I have an idea. You need to talk to a professional and you need to do it ASAP.

        If they’ve done what I think they’ve done they need help as well. Protecting them because you care for them isn’t helping anyone.

        • +2

          What you've said makes sense, and I will consider it. I might give myself some time to think it over. I've waited this long, a few more weeks won't change anything.

          I am seeing professionals, they are helping. Thanks

        • +5

          It might not just be that OP wants to protect them, it might be that they're financially dependent on them, lives in their house, etc.

  • +2


    You 'dearly care for' the perpetrator, you also profess to 'dearly care for' the victims (plural).

    You have opted to protect the perpetrator which means you don't really 'dearly care for' the victoms.

    • +1

      Thanks for your wisdom, I've seen the light. I pray for your forgiveness.

      • +1

        That is good to hear. I hope you do OK with the Police.

    • +6

      I'll save the mods the trouble so…

      Comment unpublished. (Personal attack).

      That sums up pretty well what my reply to your comment would be.

  • You have never watched The Sopranos?

    • No… Should I?

      • +3

        watch it and you will understand

  • It's a sad fact of life. Everyone cares about the perpetrators and victims but only gives lip service to witnesses.

    • +6

      I'm working with her to learn to cope with what I have gone through.
      I talk with her…. That's what we do. And she teaches me ways to deal with everything I haven't been dealing with for years.

      I have no-one close. Trust me, I'm beyond the point of being able to talk through my worries with a friend while waiting for a train. Welllll past that point.

      • +7

        I'm working with her to learn to cope with what I have gone through.

        Ah, didn't realise you'd already started seeing a psychologist.

        That's easy then - you can just ask them directly about what they're obligated to report. Trust and patient confidentiality is a big thing in their industry. I can't see them going to the police voluntarily (unless they were obligated to).

        • +4

          Completely agree with you that the OP should simply talk to their clinician about their obligations for disclosure.

          The counsellor\psych will say something like:"Under mandatory reporting laws I am required to report X under these circumstances"

          Then the OP can make an informed decision on whether to disclose the information or not.

      • +4

        Are you okay? Please let us know. If you're really struggling while waiting for your next appointment, please give Lifeline a call, they wont disclose any of this to the police.

        • +6

          I'm ok. My psychologist is helping, has made a lot of sense, and is explaining reasons for me doing the things I do.
          I always blamed me- I am fundamentally flawed. But she's helped me understand that is what I developed in order to cope with things I couldn't comprehend.
          The problems have arisen because what I developed as a child, I'm now using as an adult. Which is causing problems.
          I've been in the mental health system for nearly twenty years, medicated most of those years.
          I hate seeing doctors. They haven't always been helpful.
          But my psychologist is very helpful to me. She is helping. A lot. But when you dredge the seafloor, occasionally you pull up some things you didn't want to. But I have her to help me.
          Thank you for asking :)

        • @imnotarobot: Relieved to hear it. You're doing good work and I hope you continue to heal through this.

  • +3

    My understanding is that if a Psychologist, as a mandatory reporter is required to disclose to authorities (I guess it would depend on the situation as to which authority) any situation where they believe that a hazard exists to a person/s safety. It’s fairly broad, intentionally so, as I understand it, to ensure that have that ability.

    Historically, my understanding, again limited to such, is that provided that there is not an immediate danger associated with this person that they would not necessarily report it.

    It’s also possible to speak with someone cryptically, if the purpose of the consult is to get things off your chest, you don’t necessarily need to provide specific details, I suppose.

    The best bet is to pose this question as you’ve stated to the Psychologist before you see them for the first time and get their answer directly IMO.

  • +3

    Shouldnt you ask the Psychologist you want to see as a hypothetical before revealing the actual story to them ? Each person is different some might not disclose, some may, you need to talk to them first to see what they would do.

  • +19

    An interesting dilemma..

    Generally psychologists don't want to deal with police, so they will only move on something if someone is at immediate risk. They deal with crazy people all day, who make up stuff for attention, so there's a fair bit of noise in their world that you can rely on. Of course thats just generally speaking. If you get a psychologist whose young, or sensitive to these issues, they might be more likely to move on this.

    Even if they did make a report though, against your wishes, the police are unlikely to move on it where the only evidence is an uncooperative witness. Thats hard to hear for a lot of people, but its how it is.

    Something to think very, very carefully about, is the judgement that this is all in the past. In my (limited) experience, nothing stays in the past. If there has been abuse, you don't know how far it extends. Ask yourself, if someone ends up killing them self because of the choice you made to keep this quiet, can you live with that?

    Now I'm not recommending you go out and make a report yourself, for all you know that could make things worse, but talking things though with someone who can help you organize your thoughts because that will allow you to 'see the board', which will show you the best move to make and how its likely to effect everyone involved.

    Your in the moral grey zone know my friend. Good luck with your decision. Hopefully its one you can live with

    • Brilliant advice

    • Great advice. If OP, as a witness, has had life long issues dealing with what he has "merely" witnessed, how does he know how the the victims feel?

      They might not want to press chargers, etc because they are ashamed and embarrassed of what happened and blame themselves.

      I have no answers only opinions.

      • I don't think I'm merely a witness… I dissociate. A lot. I remember nothing of my childhood, until about 16 years old.

        Trust me, I'm aware of the implications…
        But as I said, it's very complicated.

    • +5

      Hold on this is a little bit unfair. It is not on the OP to take on the responsibility for another victim's mental health or suicidality in this - that is on the perpetrator and their accomplices. They are the ones who committed the crime. As a witness, the OP is a victim here too.

      There is no moral grey zone here. OP wants to disclose this so they can start to recover from it, and work through what happened which I think is a sensible move. It's unfair to suggest this is a morality issue at this stage of the OP's recovery. I do agree that talking this through and working through it will only bring benefit, although it will be a painful process.

      As long as no one is at risk currently, the OP can safely discuss with their psychologist without fear of it being reported.

      • We also have legal (and moral) responsibilities to report crimes that we witness. In NSW (and probably all other states) witnessing a major crime and not reporting it is a serious crime in itself. The psychologist isn’t a witness, so they’re not bound by this, but the OP is.

        I do feel for the OP in this situation and I’m glad to hear you’re getting help.

        • But i haven't witnessed anything personally, as far as I can remember. I might remember eventually, but right now I've simply been told information from somebody.

  • +1

    Has the psychologist been able to help you remember the periods that you have forgotten. It is quite common for victims of abuse to suppress trauma as a coping mechanism which might suggest that you too are a victim of the same person you are trying to protect.

    Anyway, the whole saga sounds terrible and I hope you can resolution from it.

    Best wishes.

    • +2

      Yes, but I dissociated and don't remember any of it. The mind is an amazing thing. I walked in, said hello, started talking for ten minutes, blinked, then it was 40 minutes later and she was standing at the door, smiling, saying she'll see me next week.
      So I actually don't know what I've been telling her most sessions. I'm working on mindfulness and grounding, but it will be a lot of work.

      Amazing and terrifying.

      • Have you mentioned your dissociation to your psychologist? Would she like for you to be able to recall your sessions in greater detail?

        I have some ideas on how you could achieve that, but I'll keep them to myself if your psychologist thinks it could be harmful.

        • +2

          Yes, she knows I do it. Sometimes it's obvious (I shutdown) other times not (I simply can't remember the session).
          She's taking a slow and steady approach to me.

        • +2


          Thanks for sharing some of your story with us. I'm glad to hear you're on the path to recovery and I admire your courage.

  • +1

    I think you need to do what is right for your mental health. If you're suffering from this, it is not selfish to do what's right for you, it's necessary for your self preservation.

    I understand the difficulty of the situation but the consequence of protecting someone else is the potential for lifelong suffering. That's only a choice you can make and it's a hard one (because you care about the ppl) even though it should be easy one (look after yourself).

  • I think you better watch Hannibal.

    • -1

      I think he has already watched too much

    • +13

      Just my opinion, but having psychology as my second major, I don't believe you know either the difference or its relevance…

  • +1

    How about online and anonymous.possibly offshore, maybe on holiday?

  • +1

    There is actually no point to therapy unless you deal with the root cause.

    Your case (& hence behaviours and thoughts) will never make sense either - not unless they are unprofessionals.

    Sure, check their obligations to report first. I would even start with the perpetrator is dead. Noone is at risk of harm. We are all just trying to deal with it and I need your help to do that.

    • +5


      confess to a priest that probably did the same crime?

    • +5

      I think this is one of those answers that in theory and isolation must seem like they make a lot of sense…but you are talking about the same clergy that have been blaming the victims for crimes committed to them as children. And the ones who would prefer to go to jail than break the confessional seal even if it means saving children from paedophiles. Not controversial, just highly highly unlikely to be of any therapeutic benefit to our brave OP.

    • +5

      "Instead of not coping, have you tried coping?". - Equally good advice to assist someone with severe mental health issues.

  • +2

    I'm really sorry to hear this OP and I do think you should disclose this to your psychologist. If no one is at risk, then the psychologist is not duty bound to report this - the only way in which they would, would be if someone else opened an investigation and they were to be subpoena'd. The way reporting works is that if the reporter feels that there is an immediate risk to you, or someone close to you, then they would have to report. Especially if a minor was at risk. If the accomplices are still putting someone at risk, then there may be an obligation there - but that said, you don't have to give details and the psychologist doesn't have the right to ask them from you anyway. I think you can discuss the situation with your psychologist in as little or as much detail as you like, and it sounds to me like the time is right for you to tackle this.

  • +2

    They won't disclose historical crimes*, and if you are concerned then don't reveal direct identities.

    They would (and have a duty to) disclose certain things, such as if there is ongoing or recent abuse where children/minors should be taken away from guardians etc.

    If you are concerned then have a chat with the psychologist beforehand about what information they are required to disclose to authorities.

    A good example - a previous person in my life (28 years old) went to a psychologist frequently to deal with how to cope with some serious childhood trauma events inflicted by people who had a duty of care to this person. These people were still alive and still in the life of the eprson in question. The psychologist knew all the identies of these people and what had occurred but did not (could not) disclose this to the police without permission. The psychologist has a duty of care, but at the same time is there to assist with their patient and work through these psychological issues, whereby 'mandatory reporting' would often NOT have a positive impact in the long term for their patients. If they disclosed every bit of trauma etc then no-one would see them or open up for fear of consequences.

    *Unless there is a legal obligation to do so. depnding on your situation it may be worth looking this up, but it would need to be pretty serious.

  • +1

    My question is, if I disclose historic criminal acts

    You may want to research your state legislation regarding reporting alleged offences.

    • +1

      To put the OP's mind at ease though:

      Under section 316, anyone who knows or believes that a serious indictable offence has been committed and has material information that could assist with the apprehension or prosecution or conviction of the offender must bring that information to the attention of police or another appropriate body.

      That point is moot - the offender is dead. And secondly, no charges have been made - these would need to be made with the victim's (although I don't like that word, prefer survivor), consent here.

      I think it is far far more important for the OP to work through this vicarious trauma than worry about this stuff - I know their psychologist will tell them the same thing. No one is at risk from the offender anymore, and unless the survivor wants to press charges, no one is going to prosecute the accomplices at this point in time. That may change but I think the OP's mental health is the #1 priority here.

  • +1

    According to AIFS, of the children under 15 who were sexually abused, 80-90% (depending on gender) were abused by people known to them.
    Report the prick(s).
    Also, this sort of crimes against children shouldn't have a statute of limitation.

    • +1

      In most, if not all states, that statute of limitation has been lifted as a result of the most recent Royal Commission.
      But there are still practical limitations as to whether there is enough there for a 'fair trial' between all the parties involved.

  • +1

    It sounds suspiciously like the Dorothy Hewett allegations.

  • +4

    Life is a complex web which we weave to get to our final goals and sometimes we succeed and sometimes not. Small steps in the right way eventually get us where we need to be.

    OP, you've taken the right steps already by talking with your psychologist - as most of our esteemed hosts have already advised - most professionals will not report based on age of offence (eg. 2-4 decades ago) and death of perp so no likely active reason to report - so talk it through with your psychologist first as a hypothetical - she may have already suspected it but merely waiting for you to highlight/admit it - so it may be a sort of release and some action plan based on this information. I'm not an expert in this field but sharing this with someone (your psychologist) will benefit you.

    Nonetheless, you're strong to highlight such a sensitive topic here and I wish you all the best in your endeavours my friend.

    And thanks to (most of) the other responders who have responded with sensitivity and compassion.

  • +3

    Sorry to be nosey but I found this thread very fascinating to read. While I cannot offer any professional advice on the situation, it does sound very complex and i'm sure none of us can even begin to fathom the dilema you are facing, I do believe however what has taken place sounds truly dark and would recommend speaking to someone without restrictions to relieve the burden from yourself. The type of situation you're in sounds to me almost like a Stockholm syndrome type situation. I hope you can find some relief and some way to get past this and enjoy your life as it sounds like your childhood has been taken from you :( All the best OP!

  • What would the victim want you to do?

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