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Bruce A. Arrigo, Ph.D.
Professor Crime, Law, & Society
Department of Criminal Justice
UNC – Charlotte
Address for correspondence:
Department of Criminal Justice
UNC – Charlotte
9201 University City Blvd.
Charlotte, NC 28223-0001
Telephone: (704) 687-2686
Fax: (704) 687-3349
This chapter examines the emergence and escalation of paraphilic fantasies in relation to sadistic, sexual, and serial violence. Of particular interest is violence that results in lust murder, also known as erotophonophilia. To situate the chapter, background material on paraphilic research, sexual offending, and serial murder is delineated. In addition, the three principal theoretical frameworks that address this subject-matter are reviewed. Several suggestions about future theory testing and the direction of research on paraphilic fantasy development and lust murder are tentatively enumerated.
This chapter examines three theories of violence that result in murder. The first framework focuses on sexual killing; the second scheme addresses repetitive homicide; the third model accounts for sadistic slayings, both sexual and serial in orientation. The purpose of reviewing these theories is to assess the contributory role that escalating deviant sexuality assumes in the commission of such criminal acts. Of particular concern is the increasingly violent and complex fantasy system that fosters the emergence and progression of sadistic, sexual, and serial offending. In the extreme, this includes the act of lust murder. However, before addressing these concerns, some preliminary commentary on the development and scope of the research on these interrelated topics is warranted.
Paraphilias (or deviant sexualized thoughts, impulses, and/or behaviours) are unique, bizarre, and, often times, violent in nature (Abel, Becker, Cunningham-Rather, Mittleman, & Rouleau, 1988; Hickey, 2003). Moreover, when enacted, they constitute an exclusive category of sexual offending (Adson, 1992; Dietz, Hazelwood, & Warren, 1996). Expressions of such aberrant sexuality are diverse and manifold (e.g., voyeurism, fetishism, exhibitionism), and many of them are criminal in nature (e.g., necrosadism, necrophilia, pedophilia, cannabilism) (Abel & Osborne, 1992; Arrigo & Purcell, 2001). In his most recent research on the subject, Hickey (2006) devised a classification system concerning the phenomenon of paraphilia. Five such categories were noted and included the following: 1) non-violent, physical; 2) nonviolent, non-physical; 3) sadistic; 4) masochistic; and 5) sadomasochistic. Of these, sadistic paraphilia is most germane to this chapter, especially since it can lead to sexualized violence including serial homicide (Purcell & Arrigo, 2006).
Deviant sexual behaviour exists on a continuum (Hickey, 2003). These behaviours vary in severity from mild, to moderate, to severe. The average number of paraphilias is 4.8 per person (Holmes & Holmes, 2002). Multiple paraphilias are often found in an individual; however, one expression of aberrant sexuality typically becomes dominant until it is replaced by another such manifestation. On the most extreme end of the paraphilic continuum is erotophonophilia. This form of aberrant sexuality is also known as lust murder.
Erotophonophilia entails the acting-out of deviant behaviour by means of brutally and sadistically killing the victim in order to achieve ultimate sexual satisfaction (Douglas, Burgess, & Ressler,1995; Simon, 1996). Lust murderers are likely to repeat their offenses, thereby making them serial in disposition. Mutilation of body parts, especially the genitalia, is a standard feature of this paraphilia (Hickey, 2006). Typically, this crime is committed by men. To date, sadistic sexual homicide has typically been viewed as a perplexing phenomenon. It has defied efforts at useful explanatory and predictive models, despite being based on some systematic theory-driven conceptualizations. However, what we know thus far is that fantasy is a key component to understanding and interpreting lust murder (MacCulloch, Snowden, Wood, & Mills, 1983; Schlesinger, 2003). This notwithstanding, a cogent theoretical formulation regarding the role of paraphilic imagery as a driving force or motive for explaining this form of sexual criminality, has mostly eluded researchers.
Studies contributing to our conceptual understanding of sadistic sexual homicide include the work of MacCulloch et al. (1983), Burgess, Hartman, Ressler, Douglas and McCormack (1986), and Hickey (2001, 2006). Earlier research by DeRiver (1949) on the sexual criminal and Brittain (1970) on the sadistic murderer are also noteworthy. In their respective ways, inquiries conducted by these latter two investigators established some of the important conceptual groundwork for those studies that followed.
MacCulloch et al. (1983) were instrumental in demonstrating how a pattern of sadistic fantasies propels sexual criminals into compulsive acts, first in the form of imagery and then in the form of assaultive conduct. Their findings suggested that when erotic arousal is involved in the sadistic image, offenders are increasingly motivated to act out their violent thoughts and impulses understood in terms of habitual behaviour. This repetitive conduct, sexual and violent in nature, is linked to conditioned responses and cognitive interpretations (and distortions) regarding the fantasies themselves.
Extending the cognitive model of MacCulloch et al. (1983), the Federal Bureau of Investigation introduced a motivational dimension to sexual homicide (Burgess et al. 1986; Douglas et al., 1995). They argued that fantasy was an internal driving mechanism for serial acts of sexual violence. However, they also pointed out how the interaction of critical personality traits and cognitive mapping processes were integral to generating the sexual images that produced violent behaviour.
Unlike MacCulloch et al. (1983) who addressed sadistic fantasies, thoughts, and impulses, and unlike Burgess et al. (1986) who focused on sexual homicide per se, Hickey’s (2001) work more squarely considered serial murder. Mindful of the previous literature on cognition and motivation, Hickey assessed how certain predispositional factors and facilitators led some individuals to engage in serial murder.
His framework demonstrated how psychological and/or physical traumatic events occurring in the formative years of a person’s life could function as triggering mechanisms whereby increasingly violent images, fueled by facilitators (e.g., alcohol, pornography, drugs), produced homicidal behaviour (Egger, 2002; Giannangelo, 1996).
The models enumerated above do not specifically examine serial lust murder. However, efforts to do so recently have appeared (Arrigo & Purcell, 2001, 2006; Purcell & Arrigo, 2006). Defined as the Integrated Paraphilic Model (IPM), investigators have integrated previous work on sexual homicide and serial murder. The IPM expressly accounts for the emergence, maintenance, and development of paraphilic fantasies, including their relationship to intensified sexual offending such as lust murder (Purcell & Arrigo, 2006). As these investigators have noted, the motivational and the trauma control schemas respectively possess key components suggestive of a viable and useful synthesis. Clearly, both frameworks discuss some aspects of the paraphilic process as a system of behaviour. However, neither of them offers a detailed conceptualization of aberrant sexuality, especially when expressed through the crime of erotophonophilia. The IPM is a theory of serial, sexual, and sadistic violence directly concerned with these under-investigated issues.
Research examining the nomothetic dimensions of sexual offending is also worth noting. In particular, investigators have proposed a synthetic framework that accounts for the network of causal factors resulting in the manifestation of clinical phenomena (e.g., rape, child sexual abuse) (Beech & Ward, 2004; Ward & Beech, 2004, 2006; Ward, Polaschek, & Beech, 2005). Termed the Integrated Theory of Sexual Offending (ITSO), the model addresses the ecological and multi-systemic nature of the theory (i.e., vertical depth) and provides a multilevel analysis of sexual criminality (i.e., horizontal depth) (Ward & Beech, 2006). The ITSO examines the etiological correlates of psychopathology (e.g., genetic and environmental factors), brain functioning (e.g., mechanism linked to etiological factors that affect the brain’s development), neuropsychological deficits (e.g., psychological systems such as language production and spatial perception that result in human behaviour), and clinical symptomotology (e.g., deviant sexual arousal, mood/thought disturbances (Pennington, 2002; Ward & Beech, 2006).
To date, the relevance and application of the ITSO to serial sexual homicide has not been considered. Moreover, the ITSO focuses on global risk factors (i.e., cognitive distortions linked to different neuropsychological deficits; the ecological niche and habitat of the offender) leading to multiple forms of sexual offending (Beech & Ward, 2004; Ward & Beech, 2004). Thus, the specific role of paraphilic fantasies, impulses, and actions in the emergence and progression of sadistic and erotically-charged repetitive murder is not featured.
Accordingly, based on the extant research, three models warrant further explication. These include the motivational framework of Burgess et al. (1986), the trauma-control schema of Hickey (2001), and the integrated paraphilic model of Purcell and Arrigo (2006). Of particular focus with each of these theories is the role of deviant sexual fantasy for initiating offender behaviour. As such, the ensuing sections review how each framework accounts for the emergence and escalation of eroticized imagery, and how such paraphilic development contributes to repetitive forms of violence, including sexual sadism and/or lust murder.
Burgess et al. (1986) conducted a study looking at the motivational factors of 36 sexual murderers. They developed a five-phase motivational model to help explain various factors influencing this sadistically deviant behaviour. In addition, they identified specific behavioural patterns linked to the criminal activities of their subjects. Figure 1 visually depicts the elements of the motivational model and the relationships that exist among its various constitutive parts.
Burgess et al. (1986) operationalized sexual homicide as murder in which evidence or observations indicated that the crime had a sexual component. Factors they considered sexual in nature included the following: (1) victim attire or lack thereof; (2) exposure of the victim’s sexual parts; (3) sexual positioning of the victim’s body; (4) insertion of foreign objects into the victim’s body cavities; (5) evidence of sexual intercourse (oral, anal, or vaginal); and (6) evidence of substitute sexual activity and interest in sadistic fantasy (Ressler, Burgess, & Douglas, 1988).
The motivational model focused principally on psychosocial and cognitive factors. The investigators theorized that the men in their sample were motivated to kill by their way of thinking. Research findings from the study’s respondents indicated that the subjects had developed early in their lives an actively aggressive fantasy life (daydreaming), had subsequently experienced sexual reinforcement (compulsive masturbation), and had detached themselves from the conventional rules of everyday interaction and conduct (i.e., they engaged in social isolation) (Burgess et al., 1986). In addition to these behavioural characteristics, the motivational model specifically consisted of the following five elements: (1) ineffective social environment; (2) formative events; (3) critical personality traits and cognitive mapping processing; (4) actions toward self and others; and (5) feedback filter (Burgess et al., 1986). Each of these components is summarily reviewed.
(Adapted from Burgess et al. 1986, p. 262; Ressler et la. 1988 p. 70)
This component specifies several factors that Burgess et al. (1986) believed contributed to the quality of an individual’s social environment. In particular, they considered the developmental aspects of a child’s formative years and the salience of that life within the family structure. They noted that healthy family interaction and the child’s positive perception of the environment were important aspects for a child’s prosocial development. Moreover, as children mature, the investigators explained that the quality of the attachments to one’s parents and other members of the immediate (and extended) family were critical in how one related to and valued other members of society (Arrigo & Griffin, 2004; Burgess et al., 1986). According to the research on the subject, these early childhood attachments are also referred to as bonding styles (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1969, 1973; Levy & Platt, 1999; Rothbard & Shaver, 1994).
All of the subjects within the study either failed to positively bond with their caregivers as children or developed selective and limited ways of attaching themselves to others. This is because the parents or primary care providers ignored, rationalized, or normalized various dysfunctional behaviours in the developing youth through the adult’s own criminal behaviour or illicit substance abuse (Burgess et al., 1986). These ineffective social bonds helped contribute to the child’s negative perceptions of reality, as well as to the manifestation of cognitive distortions about self, others, and social situations.
There are three distinctive elements that can influence or affect the formative events that unfold during childhood and adolescence. These include trauma, developmental failure, and interpersonal breakdown. Each of these notions is reviewed in the context of the Burgess et al. (1986) motivational model.
The investigators proposed that there are two types of traumatic experiences that can adversely impact a child’s development. In brief, these experiences can be normative and non-normative in nature. Normative events include such things as illness, divorce, or death. Non-normative events include such things as physical, psychological, or sexual trauma where the child is directly or indirectly impacted. When operating in concert with an ineffective social environment, the pre-adolescent often feels unprotected and confused about the event encountered and its significance in his or her life.
One assumption operating within the motivational model regarding early traumatic events is that the child’s memories of frightening and upsetting life experiences shape the youth’s developing thought patterns (Burgess et al., 1986). This supports the assertion that thinking patterns can emerge in the form of daydreams and fantasies, and that the child can both profoundly and thoroughly retreat into the fantasy world. In instances such as these, the socially isolated individual may come to relive (in imaginative form) the trauma he or she literally experienced or witnessed. If the child is unsuccessful in resolving these early traumatic event(s), the failure to reconcile them can reinforce feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair. Thus, fantasy and daydreaming represent socially acceptable ways in which the individual escapes the troubled and frightening reality where the child lacks control. Indeed, fantasy enables the child to have ultimate control and dominion over any situation manufactured or any individual imagined.
Developmental failure is the second factor that contributes to the formative event component of the motivational model. This failure occurs when the quality of the relationship between the child and the primary caregiver is unhealthy, negative, or dysfunctional in overall orientation. In these instances, the child is unable to attach to the parent or parental surrogate (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Bowlby, 1969, 1973), resulting in a negative social bond. As such, the child may feel generally neglected and emotionally deprived.
The third factor, interpersonal breakdown, pertains to the failure of the adult caregiver to serve as an appropriate, positive role model for the child during the course of the pre-adolescent’s development. It also refers to the primary caretaker’s lack of prosocial involvement in the child’s life. Thus, if the child’s home environment is one in which violence is routinely experienced, these aggressive acts may become unconsciously associated with the inappropriate sexual behaviour of the adult caregiver (Burgess et al., 1986).
Two subcategories are located within this component of the model. These include critical personality traits and cognitive mapping and processing. When these two elements interact with one another, they generate fantasies (Burgess et al., 1986). Personality traits can either be positive or negative in nature. Positive personality traits are a result of a growth and maturing process wherein the child engenders feelings of security, autonomy, and trust in others. Facilitating this fluid and natural evolution is the nurturing and caring relationship the parent provides and/or cultivates with the developing child. Ultimately, ongoing exposure to these experiences enables the preadolescent to establish positive, genuine, and meaningful relationships with and attachments to others. Indeed, when operating in tandem with the presence of an effective social environment, the child individuates and establishes competency and autonomy (Burgess et al., 1986).
When negative personality traits are encouraged in the child’s early development, the youth has difficulties forming prosocial emotional bonds (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Bowlby, 1973; Levy & Platt, 1999). As a result, the child is unable to approach others in a confident manner, and the likelihood of social isolation increases. Social isolation allows the child to become reliant on fantasy as a substitute for the human encounters she/he is now incapable of experiencing. Moreover, the child’s personality structure is such that the youth becomes heavily (indeed, excessively) dependent on the fantasy life and its dominant themes, rather than on any routine or healthy social interaction (Burgess et al., 1986).
In addition to social isolation, these emotionally troubled children increasingly harbor a cynical and negative view toward others, as well as the society that rejects them. Thus, what emerges is a genuine lack of regard for people, institutions, and the social order. In adulthood, if these feelings of utter disregard for others and the troubling personality traits linked to them are not appropriately addressed in a therapeutic context, they manifest themselves in deviant and criminal ways. In short, the profound sense of social isolation, along with perniciously fermenting anger and hostility combine in the form of fantasy and aggression. These individuals are only able to relate to others through the use of an imaginary system. Indeed, fantasy rather than real lived experience becomes the primary source of emotional arousal. Over time, this emotion transforms itself into a confused mixture of sadistic deviance and sexualized violence (Burgess et al., 1986).
The personality traits critical to the development of the murderers examined in the Burgess et al. (1986) study are worth noting. They included a sense of social isolation, preferences for autoerotic activities, fetishes, rebelliousness, aggression, chronic lying, and a sense of privilege or entitlement. As the researchers noted, these characterological features signified the embodiment of a very disturbed individual; one capable of brutal and sadistic acts of sexual homicide.
The second component of the motivational model informing one’s patterned responses to early childhood events is cognitive mapping. This process essentially functions as a filtering system for the individual. The filtering system enables the individual to interpret new information as well as to give identifiable meaning to events that arise within the person’s life. Cognitive mapping and processing can take the form of daydreams, fantasies, nightmares, and thoughts with strong visual components. Common themes specified for the 36 subjects of the Burgess et al. (1986) study were fantasies that centered on power, control, dominance, revenge, violence, mutilation, rape, torture, and death. In addition to the presence of these themes as cognitive dimensions for the fantasy systems engendered by the sexual offenders, respondents displayed a lack of regard for established social norms, complete disdain for other human beings and their feelings, and a general attitude of self-entitlement. The themes and cognitions harbored by the subjects of the Burgess et al. (1986) investigation led the researchers to conclude that the sexual offenders possessed antisocial views of reality. Moreover, the cognitive mapping processing activities for their subjects were clearly depicted in the crimes they respectively committed.
Fantasy and thinking patterns become a substitute for prosocial relationships. The imagined world influences and supports the individual’s troubled self-concept. The fantasy realm represents a place of complete and unfettered control. The fantasy functions as a substitute for a lack of control over one’s internal and external experiences with reality. Escaping into this pseudo-reality ultimately enables the person to experience sexual stimulation. In turn, this arousal reduces the tension, stress, and anxiety the individual likely senses exists or, worse, confronts daily. This process of retreating into a fantasy world eventually contributes to further isolation from reality. Moreover, it becomes the principal source of psychic energy for the emotional life of the individual (Burgess et al., 1986).
In addition to the cognitive mapping processes and critical personality traits, Burgess et al. (1986) also indicated that the subjects of their study experienced a neuron-hormonal influence relative to their sensory arousal levels. As they observed, compulsive, aggressive, fantasy activity could account for a psychobiological mechanism in which certain stressors impacted the operation of the central nervous system, causing a more primal response. This suggests that the murderers encountered a sense of pleasure; that is, an aped response to internal or external stressors or events. Through the use of fantasy, these individuals re-expose themselves to their traumatic triggering experiences. This exposure elicited a primitive response and the individuals embodied a sense of sexual relief. As a result, their preoccupation with aggressive themes, their detailed cognitive activity and mapping processes, and their elevated kinesthetic arousal states eventually compelled the assailants to embark on sexualized criminal action (Burgess et al., 1986).
Behaviour patterns of children, adolescents, and adults reflect the private internal world of these individuals. Consistent with the various themes identified in the cognition component of the model, the behaviour patterns of the 36 sexual murderers revealed that their internal worlds were preoccupied with troublesome, joyless thoughts. These cognitions primarily focused on domination over others (Burgess et al., 1986).
Preoccupation with thoughts based chiefly on power, control, and domination manifest themselves at various stages along the developmental continuum (Arrigo, 2006). In childhood, they are expressed through negative play, cruelty toward animals, setting fires, destroying property, and a genuine disregard for others. In adolescence as well as adulthood, these dysfunctional behavioural patterns can become progressively more serious and more intensely violent in nature (Shipley & Arrigo, 2004). Examples include such things as burglary, arson, and assaultive actions toward others; rape and nonsexual murder; and, in the extreme, homicidal actions involving sadistic deviance and sexualized violence (i.e., sexual murder that includes rape, torture, mutilation, and necrophilia); (Burgess et al., 1986).
Burgess et al. (1986) believed that a failure to therapeutically intervene and address the nature of these thoughts, the content of the fantasies, the developmental failure, the ineffective social environment, and the early isolative and/or traumatic experiences to which the child was initially exposed, would significantly impair the person’s capacity to function appropriately in society. Indeed, the researchers noted that the individual’s cognitions, steeped in images of sexualized violence, would operate as a catalyst resulting in ongoing and increasingly intense abusive behaviour. Moreover, if the child was not counselled on his (or her) responsibility in the commission of these early expressions and deviant activities (e.g., cruelty to animals, setting fires), the behaviour would be reinforced. If no adverse consequences attach to negative behaviour, children continue to engage in such activities and come to regard them as normative. Juveniles who engage in negative or dysfunctional behaviours have a more difficult time with establishing appropriate and healthy friendships with others (Bowlby, 1969, 1973). This failure to make genuine prosocial contact leads to isolationism and retreatism. Moreover, as the investigators concluded, it interferes with the ability to effectively resolve conflicts, to develop positive empathy, and to control impulses (Burgess et al., 1986).
The term feedback filter refers to the way in which an individual reacts to and evaluates his or her actions toward oneself and others. The way in which the individual responds to and assesses his or her environment both affects and influences the person’s future conduct. Burgess et al. (1986) observed that the subjects of their investigation justified their wayward actions and analyzed their behavioural errors. However, in response to these failures, the respondents made mental corrections in order to preserve and protect their internal fantasy worlds. This activity was undertaken in order to avoid possible restrictions on, or limits from, the external environment.
Given these activities, the fantasy life of the individual was then escalated, especially in terms of the arousal state and the feelings of power, domination, and control that steadily materialized. The sexual murderers reported the acquisition of increased knowledge regarding the avoidance of detection and punishment. These factors were assimilated and accommodated into the self-other-society schema constituted by the individual. Collectively, then, this overall evaluative process entertained by the sexual murderers confirmed (and justified) their assessment of their actions. As such, it functioned as a feedback filter contributing to and sustaining the other elements of the motivational model.
Hickey (1997) proposed a trauma-control model to help explain the onset and maintenance of serial murder. His research addressed many of the aspects delineated in the motivational model for sexual homicide as described by Burgess et al. (1986). In addition, however, Hickey (1997, 2001) examined a number of predispositional factors and frequently employed facilitators that would induce an individual to commit serial acts of murder. Figure 2 graphically depicts the operation of the trauma control model. In the subsequent subsections of this chapter, the details of this framework are systematically reviewed.
According to Hickey (1997), some serial killers are known to have certain pre-dispositional factors that can influence their behaviour. They are biological, sociological, and psychological in nature, or otherwise represent some combination of these elements. An example of a biological factor is illustrated by the extra Y chromosome theory, believed to cause violent behaviour (Raine, 1993). Psychological factors include mental illness, personality disorders, or psychodynamic phenomena (Arrigo, 2006). Sociological factors focus on how the environment influences one’s developing behaviour, particularly during the formative years of one’s life.
As previously stated in the explanation concerning the motivational model for sexual homicide, traumatic events can have a profoundly adverse affect on the pre-adolescent’s overall maturation and general personality structure. This is especially the case if such traumatizations occur during the formative years of the child’s life. And, as Burgess et al. (1986) noted, examples of deeply distressing encounters either experienced or witnessed include an unstable home environment, sexual, physical, and mental abuse, or any other event deemed negative in orientation and context.
However, Hickey (1997, 2001) asserted that ongoing social and environmental issues might exacerbate these early childhood traumas. When made manifest throughout the lifecourse, these stressful issues could seriously compromise a person’s capacity to appropriately interact. Moreover, Hickey’s trauma-control model, much like the motivational scheme, addressed the debilitating effects of childhood abuse by an adult caregiver. Indeed, as he observed, the youth often feels a deep sense of anxiety, mistrust, and confusion when psychologically or physically assaulted by a parent or parental surrogate (Hickey, 1997). The adverse personal effects stemming from the experience of violent and traumatic events are also addressed in Hickey’s model.
So, what do we know about childhood trauma? First, we know that it can manifest itself in many ways (Kennerley, 2000; Sanford, 1992). However, the research indicates that the most common expression of childhood trauma is rejection (Terr, 1992). In the context of serial offenders, the rejection these individuals experience usually comes from a relative or a parent (Douglas et al., 1995). In addition, as investigators note, an unstable, abusive home life represents one of the primary forms of childhood rejection (Hickey, 1997).
Other manifestations of rejection can include feelings of personal failure, a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, ostracism in school, and exclusion from social groups and activities (Asher & Coie, 1990; Kennerley, 2000). When young children experience traumatic events in their early development, the events foster feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, low self-esteem, and worthlessness. Moreover, fantasy and daydreaming typically function as a substitute for the flawed social relationships these youths cultivate or the absence of healthy bonding they engender (Moorman, 2003; Schore, 2003). Often, these interpersonal deficiencies are traceable to low self-esteem and lack of confidence (Glenn & Nelsen, 2001; Terr, 1992). This aspect of Hickey’s (2001) trauma control model is compatible with the patterned response factor in the motivational model as developed Burgess et al. (1986).
When children experience psychological or physical trauma in their early development, they are unable to effectively confront and cope with it (Kennerley, 2000). As such, it is quite possible for these children to perceive themselves and their surroundings in a distorted way. In fact, a process of dissociation can occur (Putnam, 1997). During this process, the individual attempts to regain the psychological equilibrium lacking in and taken from the child’s life by those in positions of authority (e.g., parents, teachers). To accomplish this, the adolescent constructs a mask, facade, alter ego, or a veneer of self-confidence and self-control (Hickey, 1997). Typically, these youths want others to believe that they maintain absolute command of themselves and their behaviour. In actuality, they are mostly socially bankrupt and morally inept (Schore, 2003).
In addition, during this dissociative experience, it is also common for the individual to suppress the traumatic event so much so that the child is unable to retrieve the event’s particulars or to remember the overall circumstances surrounding it. This lack of recall is often referred to as splitting off or blocking out. In the context of Hickey’s (1997, 2001) research, he examined the work of Tanay (1976), Danto (1982), and Vetter (1990) to help substantiate the notion of dissociation as it pertains to serial murderers. For example, Tanay (1976) reviewed the phenomenon of an ego-dystonic homicide in which the murderer carried out his crime in an altered state of consciousness. Moreover, Danto (1982) observed that a dissociative reaction was attributable to a state of stress and disquietedness wherein the individual’s mind was
“overwhelmed and flooded with anxiety.”
Childhood traumas for adult serial murderers ostensibly serve as triggering mechanisms resulting in the individual’s inability to cope with the stress of certain problematic and disappointing (but otherwise routine) life events (Hickey, 1997). These routine events may be physical or psychological in nature, or they may manifest themselves as a combination of several traumatizations. An example of a triggering factor is the feeling of rejection from a girlfriend or the experience of criticism from a supervisor. When the individual engenders this feeling of rejection or criticism as an adult, he is either ill-equipped or thoroughly unable to cope with the event in a constructive manner. Consequently, the adult serial offender conjures up emotions and sentiments linked to previous (early childhood) experiences whose nature and content were negative in general structure. Moreover, the individual retreats into his internal fantasy world; this is a haven in which the relived feelings of rejection are abated and the relived feelings of criticism are eliminated. Thus, the person undergoes temporary relief from an otherwise psychically unbearable situation (Douglas et al., 1995; Hickey, 2001; Holmes & Holmes 2002).
Through the course of the trauma-control process, it is customary for the offender to immerse himself in the use of various facilitators. The most frequently used include alcohol, drugs, and pornography. Indeed, as Hickey (1997) explained,
“Alcohol [and other illicit substances] appear to decrease inhibitions and inhibit moral conscience and propriety, whereas pornography fuels growing fantasies of violence”. Generally speaking, the assailant employs a combination of facilitators in order to amplify and sustain the sadistic imagery (Hickey, 2006; Holmes & Holmes, 2002).
The serial murderer may become addicted to the facilitating behaviour. This form of addiction is similar to the habituation encountered by those who are dependent on drugs and alcohol (Cleveland, 2002; Hickey, 1997; Jung, 2000). The offender’s use of sexually explicit material helps explain the general facilitative process. Initially, the individual experiences the physiological and psychological effects of the pornographic material. This, generates stress in the daily and routine activities the person encounters (Hickey, 2006). As a result, the individual transitions into the next phase in the facilitative process identified as the escalation stage. During this period, the offender’s appetite for more intensely bizarre, deviant, and sexually explicit material is heightened (Hickey, 1997). Eventually, the individual becomes so desensitized to the graphic content, that no matter how sexually violently he acts out, he repeatedly immerses himself in sadistic imagery. For the serial murderer, failure to engage in this behaviour means that one’s sense of self will remain diminished (Hickey, 2001).
Traumatic events occurring in the formative years of a child’s development can adversely influence the youth’s perception of the world and others, as well as the juvenile’s evolving sense of self. Fantasy and daydreaming become a refuge from the world in which the pre-adolescent lives. This internal escape provides a safety net; a haven from a lifetime of external rejection. The consequence of this internal retreat – especially when coupled with the experience of dissociation, adult trauma reinforcers, and the use of various facilitators – produces a synergistic effect. This effect is what makes the emergence and maintenance of increasingly violent fantasies possible.
According to Hickey (1997, 2001), the experience of killing may generate new images of brutality. Each subsequent act of violence represents an attempt to completely satisfy and fully realize the perpetrator’s degrading fantasies. When interviewed, a serial murderer remarked that
“he felt good about himself and more in control of his life directly following a murder” (Hickey, 1997, p. 93). Within the same interview, the murderer also revealed that when he experienced a personal failure in his life, such as criticism at work or rejection from a girlfriend, the event would act as a catalyst that triggered profound feelings of depression and low self-esteem. As Hickey’s (2001) trauma-control model specifies, these deep-seated sentiments foster self-pity, a loss of confidence, and a general sense of rejection in the serial murderer’s life. Moreover, the frequency, intensity, and duration of these feelings significantly influence, indeed compel, the individual to engage in a behavioural pattern consisting of increasingly sadistic fantasies. Ultimately, they can (and do) result in the serial torture and killing of young women (Hickey, 2001, 2006; Holmes & Holmes, 2002).
Figure 3 visually depicts the elements of the integrative paraphilic model (IPM). The first four components of the integrative framework explain the systemic composition of paraphilic behaviour. These elements include: (1) formative development; (2) low self-esteem; (3) early fantasy development; and (4) paraphilic development. Formative development (which consists of pre-dispositional factors and traumatic events), low self-esteem, and early fantasy development are all factors investigated as etiological agents. Paraphilic development, paraphilic fantasy/stimuli, facilitators, and the orgasmic conditioning process are interactive elements. Collectively, they comprise the paraphilic process. This is a cyclical process in which increasingly violent fantasies materialize and, when insufficient to establish sexual arousal and/or gratification, give way to behavioural manifestations. Given the fundamental role of the paraphilic process in the commission of sex crimes, these behavioural manifestations include, in the extreme, lust murder.
The IPM is presented in a way that not only explains the evolution of paraphilic behaviours but also illustrates how they function developmentally, sustained by several elements of the paraphilic system itself. Thus, the ensuing organizing scheme conceptually describes both the etiology of this phenomenon as well as its essential disposition.
This initial dimension of the integrative model functions as the foundation on which paraphilic behaviours originate. Formative development refers specifically to childhood and early adolescent experiences. Formative development is comprised of several elements contained within the motivational and trauma-control models respectively. In particular, it is a direct integration of the “ineffective social environment” and the “formative events” components of the motivational model, as well as the “predispositional factors” and “traumatic events” features of the trauma-control framework. Thus, consistent with the explanations provided by Burgess et al. (1986) and Hickey (1997, 2001), one’s formative development significantly impacts the manner in which one appropriately and successfully experiences psychosocial adjustment throughout the lifecourse. For simplicity sake, the essential features of the paraphilic’s formative development are collapsed into two interdependent concepts: (a) predispositional factors; and (b) traumatic events.
The motivational and trauma-control theories implicitly recognize that there are certain pre-dispositional factors that can either work alone or in combination to influence offender behaviour. Indeed, Burgess et al. (1986) addressed how dysfunctional familial surroundings during childhood can adversely affect the early attachments youths cultivate with their primary care provider(s). Hickey (1997, 2001), too, identified this environmental breakdown as a sociological pre-dispositional factor, understood as a developmental failure. Burgess et al. (1986) contended that this disintegration had a direct bearing on the interpersonal failure of both the primary care provider as well as the maturing child. According to Hickey, the interpersonal problems that emerged represented psychological pre-dispositional factors.
As previously mentioned, Hickey (1997) also explained how certain biological factors could influence offender conduct (e.g., the extra Y chromosome syndrome) (Giannangelo, 1996; Raine, 1993). Interestingly, research indicates that certain biological factors influence paraphilic behaviour. For example, Money (1990) asserted that the cause of all paraphilias, particularly sexual sadism, was traceable to a
“disease in the brain which affect[ed] the centers and the pathways that [were] responsible for sexual arousal, mating behaviour, and reproduction of the species” (p. 27). This perspective on the psychopathology of crime in general and sexual homicide in particular investigates the limbic system of the brain. This region is responsible for predatory conduct, as well as violence designed both to preserve and defend the self and to maintain the survival of the species (for applications in the psychological and criminological literature see, Arrigo & Griffin, 2004).
Moreover, Money (1990) observed that with the disease of sexual sadism,
“the brain [was] pathologically activated to transmit messages of attack simultaneously with messages of sexual arousal and mating behaviour” (p. 28). What all of this suggests is that paraphilias are constituted by certain pre-dispositional factors (e.g., sociological, psychological, biological) that can, in some instances, produce erotically sadistic, aggressive, and even homicidal behaviour.
In addition to specific factors predisposing an individual to engage in certain erotically-charged deviant behaviours, the motivational and trauma-control conceptualizations address how particular disturbances (e.g., sexual, psychological, physical) and/or their combinatory effects, can adversely affect childhood and early adolescent development. An inability to confront constructively and to work meaningfully through the ensuing pain or torment of a harrowing event will likely foster feelings of self-doubt, hopelessness, and helplessness. Ultimately, this inability will interfere with the positive development of one’s ego-identity.
Research on the paraphilia of lust murder indicates that the early years of psychological adjustment
“are crucial to the personality structure and development of these offenders” (Douglas et al., 1995; Hazelwood & Douglas, 1980; Holmes & Holmes, 2002). Indeed, it is unusual for the lust murderer to come from a nurturing family environment free from abuse, alcoholism, drugs, or other factors that could cause a great amount of childhood pain and suffering (Hickey, 2006; Money & Werlas, 1982; Simon, 1996). Thus, it follows, consistent with Burgess et al’s (1986) and Hickey’s (1997, 2001) assessment of trauma, that paraphilias originate, in part, from largely unresolved or inappropriately addressed debilitating life circumstances, occurring during the impressionable period of one’s early adolescence.
The events occurring in the formative stage of the life course are critical for creating a solid basis on which a child can develop a positive self-image and learn prosocial behaviour. The largely dysfunctional background of the paraphilic mitigates this possibility (Abel et al., 1988; Douglas et al., 1995; Holmes, 1991; Holmes & Holmes, 2002). The motivational and trauma-control explanatory frameworks acknowledge the consequence of traumatic events in an adolescent’s life. The child is likely to experience a deep-seated sense of personal failure and a genuine lack of regard for others and the society from which he feels rejected. Ultimately, this interferes with the child’s ability to form positive attachments with other youths. Daydreaming and fantasy become a stand-in for the social relationships the maladjusted individual is incapable of forming.
In the Burgess et al. (1986) model, they explain how negative personality traits, in conjunction with a contrary and cynical attitude toward society, act as catalysts generating fantasies. These fantasies become patterned responses fueled by incessant pangs of inadequacy and self-doubt. The anger the individual feels as a result of previous trauma and rejection is expressed in the content of their image-making. According to Hickey (1997), the anger and hostility the person repeatedly engenders, in combination with the social isolation the individual routinely confronts, interact to form violent fantasies.
A cyclical conceptualization of paraphilias is unique to the integrated conceptual model in that the focus is on several factors occurring simultaneously, essentially producing a synergistic effect. Social isolation arising concurrently with the early development of sexualized fantasy, mobilize the paraphilic system into operation. Eventually, however, this mobilization becomes a process in and of itself. Fantasy, compulsive masturbation, and facilitators, along with paraphilic stimuli (e.g., fetishes, unusual objects, sadistic and erotic rituals) function to sustain the paraphilic process.
Burgess et al. (1986) specifically identified personality characteristics within the patterned response component of the motivational model. These are indicative of the paraphilic process described above. These characteristics include, among others, social isolation, a preference for autoerotic activities, and fetishes. Indeed, as others have noted,
“the internal behaviours most consistently reported over the murderer’s” three developmental periods were daydreaming, compulsive masturbation, and isolation” (Ressler et al., 1988, p. 30).
Moreover, in the Burgess et al. (1986) sample, they examined killers who were sexually abused as children, versus those who were not similarly violated. Eighty-three percent of the sexually abused offenders engaged in fetishistic behaviours versus 57% of the non-abused offenders who did not. This finding strongly suggests that paraphilic stimuli (i.e., fetishes) are introduced at some point in the context of social isolation and fantasy.
It is difficult to ascertain the exact process by which an individual experiences paraphilic stimuli and engages in erotically sadistic behaviour; however, fetishes have been described as symbolic links to persons of importance in the life of a sexual killer (Hickey, 2001; Holmes, 1991; Simon, 1996). One theorist suggested that a fetish possesses some quality associated with a person the offender was closely involved with during childhood. This significant other is both loved and needed; however, the individual is also responsible for the adolescent’s traumatization (Bancroft, 1985). The analysis implies that in the formative years of the offender’s life, he makes a connection between the paraphilic stimulus and a traumatic event.
As a component of the IPM, that paraphilic process illustrates how it becomes a system of escalating sadistic fantasies that result in increasingly violent behaviours. As previously stipulated, the paraphilic process is cyclical and consists of the following mutually interactive elements: (1) paraphilic fantasy and stimuli; (2) facilitators (e.g., alcohol, drugs, pornography); and (3) orgasmic conditioning process. Each of these elements is reviewed below.
In their research, MacCulloch et al. (1983) examined the sadistic fantasies of sexual offenders. They found that their subjects experienced difficulty in both social and sexual relationships at a young age. As previously described, a lack of social sexual bonding produces feelings of inadequacy. These profoundly troubling sentiments drive a person into a world of fantasy and isolation (Burgess et al., 1986; Hickey, 1997). Over time, the images become more violent and erotic, incorporating assorted fetishes, rituals, and/or unusual and sexually-charged objects as stimuli. The repetitive nature of the fantasy furnishes a sense of personal relief from the internal failures one experiences. The felt sexual arousal, in conjunction with the sadistic fantasy, reinforces one another by means of classical conditioning. The conditioning increases the likelihood of escalation and habituation. The conditioning model of MacCulloch et al. (1983) explains not only the strength and permanence of sadistic fantasies in abnormal personalities, but their progression from non-sexual to sexual. This research lends support for the notion of a paraphilic process of ongoing sadistic and erotic behaviours.
Fantasy is very influential in facilitating the paraphilic process. Its sustained presence represents a safe, private, and powerful pursuit. Individuals become so ensconced in the images they create that they dwell in their image-making, losing all contact with reality. With a rich fantasy world free from any rejection, the sexual deviant has complete control over his own erotically imagined encounters. When examining the fantasy systems of lust murderers, it is apparent that they associate sex with aggression (Douglas et al., 1995; Hazelwood & Douglas, 1980; Holmes & Holmes, 2002; Liebert, 1985; Schlesinger, 2003). Common themes associated with their fantasies include power, domination, exploitation, revenge, molestation, and the degradation and humiliation of others (Simon, 1996).
The use of drugs, alcohol, and pornography are important components to the paraphilic process. Hickey’s (1997) trauma-control model examined the use of these facilitating behaviours in relation to serial murderers. Ressler et al. (1988) studied a sample of sexual killers. They found that over half of their subjects reported interests in pornography, and 81% indicated
“interests in fetishism, voyeurism, and masturbation” (p. 25). Other investigators have similarly commented on the role of facilitators in sustaining and contributing to the manifestations of sadistic sexual homicide (Hazelwood, Reboussin, & Warren, 1989; Hickey, 2006; Holmes, 1991; Prentky et al., 1989; Schlesinger, 2003; Simon, 1996).
Consistent with Hickey’s (1997) analysis of serial killers, these facilitators manifest themselves as addictions for the sexual deviant. The paraphilic becomes firmly entrenched in a cycle of addiction, experiencing dependency, and craving more of the stimulus for sexual gratification. The reliance on the alcohol, drug, and/or pornography escalates, until the person becomes desensitized to the facilitator. In these instances, the paraphiliac may eventually act out his depraved and erotically-charged fantasies, engaging in brutal displays of sexual criminality including lust murder.
Compulsive genital stimulation enables the individual to experience a sexually satisfying result. The person fantasizes and rehearses the paraphilia, and then masturbates to the point of orgasm. This is a conditioning process in which the sexual deviant eventually loses all sense of normalcy, and depends on the paraphilic fantasy for both erotic arousal and satisfaction. Initially, a person might experience “normal” paraphilias; however, as the nature and content of the fantasy becomes increasingly violent and sexual, the paraphilias progress in intensity and frequency.
Burgess et al. (1986) described the manner in which the offender is motivated to respond to circumstances based on how the person thinks. These actions are steeped in formative and unresolved traumatic experiences. As the adolescent matures, the precipitating events that constituted the youth’s harrowing childhood, and the feelings associated with them, may function as
“trigger mechanisms” (Hickey, 1997).
The integrative model proposes that triggering factors – whether internal or external (e.g., rejection, isolation, ridicule) – are stressors. They constrain or thwart one’s capacity to cope adequately with everyday life. These stressors are akin to Hickey’s (1997, 2001) trauma reinforcers, making it impossible for the person to deal effectively with routine conflict or strife. Depending on the nature and severity of the triggering mechanism, the person may experience a momentary loss of control. Indeed, the stressor activates childhood trauma, and rekindles the negative and vile feelings associated with them within the individual (Douglas et al., 1995; Ressler et al., 1988). This triggering effect cycles back into the paraphilic process of behaviour by way of a feedback loop. The behaviour is sustained by masturbation, facilitators, and fantasy. In extreme cases, the response to the stress may manifest itself in erotic and sadistic conduct, including erotophonophilia.
The feedback loop has the potential to escalate into behavioural manifestations, if the person is compelled to execute his sexually sadistic fantasy. By enacting the paraphilic fantasy and stimuli, the individual attempts to satisfy, complete, and reify his illusions. The sexual deviant experiences an exhilarating rush of carnal satisfaction, as well as an increased need for stimulation each time the behaviour is inaugurated. The behaviour, whether criminal or not, functions as a reinforcer, and sequences back into the fantasy system.
Both the motivational and trauma-control frameworks depict this process. The former focuses on the offender’s need to evaluate his actions toward others and toward one’s self by way of a feedback filter (Burgess et al., 1986). In addition to examining the homicidal behavioural component of the motivational model, the latter specifies how the fantasy life of the individual escalates, sustaining existing images and generating new ones (Hickey, 1997).
As the fantasies become increasingly violent in nature, the paraphilic stimuli also progress in intensity, duration, and frequency. Each time an individual carries out the erotic and sadistic fantasy and stimuli, the need for progressive stimulation becomes apparent. This need for continued violent arousal is a part of the paraphilic feedback loop and cycles in the process accordingly.
The trauma-control model specifically designates an increasingly violent fantasy component when explaining the behaviour of serial killers (Hickey, 1997). This theoretical component serves a similar function for the integrative paraphilic framework. Moreover, the motivational scheme supports the inclusion of increasingly aggressive imagery in the assailant’s escalating sexual and criminal behaviour. Burgess et al. (1986) indicated that when the actions-toward-others factor occurs
“in adolescence and adulthood, the murderer’s [conduct] becomes more violent: assaultive behaviours, burglary, arson, abduction, rape, nonsexual murder, and finally sexual murder involving rape, torture, mutilation and necrophilia” (p. 266). Thus, the offender’s behaviours grow more intense, crazed, and predatory as a direct result of an increasingly violent and complex fantasy system.
In addition, the feedback filter component explains how the sexual deviant reacts to and evaluates his actions toward others and himself. Feelings of dominance, power, control, and an increased state of arousal all cycle back into the offender’s
“patterned responses and enhance the details of the fantasy life” (Burgess et al., 1986, p. 267). Here, too, we see how violent imagery is sustained and intensified by the sexual killer. This is consistent with the integrative conceptual analysis regarding the paraphilic process.
Although the proposed organizing schema on lust murder synthesizes several elements of the classical conditioning, motivational, and trauma-control models respectively, it is not without its own shortcomings. Generally speaking, these deficiencies are the basis for future theory testing. As such, scholars of sexual homicide and serial murder are encouraged to investigate these limitations in greater detail, as well as to assess the explanatory and predictive properties of the overall integrative framework. The following observations summarily delineate the more noteworthy limitations of the integrative paraphilic model.
First, the literature on serial, sexual, and sadistic murder is not clearly delineated. Often, theses offenses are classified as types of murder without a systematic assessment of their unique as well as similar properties. Although a focus on paraphilic murder specifies the inherent problem with this practice (especially on a conceptual level), the proposed IPM on lust murder does not provide any further categorization for these separate forms of homicide. In other words, the organizing template does not specify how the paraphilic process is distinctively implicated in sadistic homicide, serial murder, or sexual killing. This is problematic, particularly when considering the fact that sadistic deviance, serial and predatory behaviour, and violent sexuality are all a part of the pathologically driven paraphiliac.
Having said this, the thesis examined in this section was whether a synthesis of the motivational and trauma control models (and, where appropriate, the classical conditioning typology), provided a more comprehensive theory for and better predictor of erotophonophilia. Future investigators would do well to conceptually examine the discrete personality and behavioural factors of the paraphilic process, especially in their ability to account for sadistic, serial, and sexual murder. Moreover, these respective formulations should then become the basis for ongoing theory testing. This recommendation is generally consistent with efforts to create an integrated theory of sexual offending (Beech & Ward, 2004; Ward & Beech, 2004, 2006).
Second, many of the constructs specified in the integrative paraphilic framework are not fully or discretely operationalized. Instead, a more global account of the paraphilic process as a system of increasingly aggressive and erotic fantasy (and behaviour) is enumerated. Additionally, this more nomothetic explanation, as principally developed from the Burgess et al. (1986) and Hickey (1997, 2001) frameworks, is only broadly linked to the crime of lust murder through the integrative exercise. Subsequent examinations on the topic of erotophonophilia would do well to provide greater and more precise definitional clarity on the etiological and interactive elements constituting the proposed synthetic framework. Efforts such as these are essential, particularly if the model is to represent a reliable and valid measure of the emergence, progression, and maintenance of lust homicide, as well as to function as a useful and dependable forecaster for those individuals likely to engage in such behaviours.
Third, the integrative paraphilic typology is based on limited studies exploring the phenomenon of sexual homicide and serial murder. Indeed, much of what we know about these offenses is anecdotal or otherwise stems from very small data sets. The absence of more robust and statistically animated investigations potentially leads to theory construction that materializes in something of a vacuum. This is problematic, especially if the goal is to develop a logical and sensible theoretical framework: one that possesses significant explanatory and predictive capabilities for the social and behavioural science communities.
This concern notwithstanding, the integrative framework clearly builds on the prevailing research. Moreover, although certainly limited, both the motivational model and the trauma-control formulation are routinely identified in the extant literature as the approaches that account for sexual homicide and sexual murder respectively (Douglas et al., 1995; Egger, 2002; Giannangelo, 1996; Holmes & Holmes, 2002; Schlesinger, 2003). As such, synthesizing the most salient aspects of these two very promising perspectives represents a strategic and useful model building enterprise, especially if the goal is to account for escalating deviant and sadistic sexuality in the commission of serial murder.
To summarize, the unique aspect of the IPM is that it specifically addresses the progression of aberrant sexual deviance such that a person can become fixed within this cycle of behaviour. This process is comprised of the paraphilic stimulus and fantasy; compulsive masturbation; and certain facilitators such as drugs, alcohol, and pornography. When an internal or external stressor occurs in the life of the paraphiliac, then those pressures are exacerbated by past feelings of rejection or anxiety stemming from a harrowing event experienced in the person’s early childhood development. As suggested, the individual lacks the necessary skills to effectively resolve the tension that surfaces, and feels profoundly debilitated by the situation encountered. Given that the person perceives that no other outlets exist in which to address the anxiety producing circumstances, the troubled individual retreats into the paraphilic cycle of behaviour. Withdrawing into this pathological sequence creates a sense of relief, satisfaction, and control. The cognitive processes of the individual, in conjunction with the orgasmic conditioning of the fantasy and the paraphilic stimulus, sustain and perpetuate not only the aberrant sexual and sadistic behaviour but also the nature and content of the violent fantasy.
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The author thanks Catherine Purcell, Ph.D. and Academic Press for granting permission to use some material previously published in the following book: Purcell, C. E. & Arrigo, B. A. (2006). The psychology of lust murder: Paraphilia, sexual killing, and serial homicide.
Carter: Sometimes I have seen cases where there is an absence of traumatic events in early childhood and early adolescence. Some sexual killers would appear to come from quite nurturing families and there is an absence of abuse, alcoholism and drugs. On examination, there are arguably still debilitating life circumstances that seem to interrupt the child’s ability to form positive attachments with other youths, and thus make them slip into low self-esteem. I am thinking of cases where there is a very domineering and over-protective mother who seems to prevent the child from interacting and developing relationships, particularly outside of school. I would consider this to be trauma, and I was wondering what you thought of that and whether there are other categories of less obvious trauma that people using this model should be aware of and look for?
Arrigo: How do we operationalize the experience of trauma for individuals who are identified as sexual assailants? That is not a question that can be easily answered and it does indeed require treatment and various forms of intervention to ascertain what it is that leads one to engage in this kind of destructive behaviour. I’ve given you the worst case scenarios, but its not easy to unpack what those traumatizations are because it does require a willingness to engage in some psychodynamic intervention. It’s not cognitive behavioural intervention that would make the difference here, at least not in my estimation. It would require some sort of more probing examination of the person, probing in the sense of looking at the person’s history, early childhood, and events that transpired. While you and I might be able to argue that less severe traumatizations can be identified, it does not follow that just because they were less intense that they do not give rise to the behaviour that was manifested.
Proulx: In your model you emphasize low self-esteem, deviant sexual fantasies, and social isolation as key factors for sexual killers. How is your model relevant to organized versus disorganized offenders, and more specifically to the sadistic one, considering your model may be useful for both types of sexual murderer?
Arrigo: Purcell and I never addressed that particular question in the research that we’ve done, largely because we haven’t quite figured out how we best classify our schema. I think it’s closest to the sadistic type but we have not ourselves looked to determine how to compare this theoretical model with Burgess and colleagues’ (1986)1 model which is more inline with the non-violent versus violent type of assailant. We didn’t do that. There is room to think through where this theoretical model might relate to theirs. Part of the reason we didn’t do it is because we were concerned with understanding more of the dynamics of fantasy and the way in which those fantasies got lived and how they gave rise to behaviour.
Proulx: Based on your model, we can see that the problems in sexual murderers are strongly present in early life, like social isolation. One of my patients at Pinel, a 7-year old boy, went into his aunt’s bedroom with a knife and wanted to kill her. He felt no sexual arousal but was very excited about it, and he was 7-years old. Deviant sexual fantasies start very early in adolescence. With such a strong pattern, you talk about a loop of factors that interact with each other and reinforce each other. What is the possibility of treatment?
Arrigo: It depends on the structure of the illness. It depends on the extent to which predispositional factors, whether they are biological, psychological or sociological in nature, are so ingrained in the individual that even though one might have insight into those events or those experiences that trigger this process, the person may or may not be beyond return. I would be interested to learn more about the nature of the illness or the nature of the condition that my patient experiences. I would like to know more about the particular traumatic events and how the person interprets those events. If behaviour of this sort is unresolved, or unaddressed through adulthood, it’s very difficult to attain success with intervention.
Bradford: If you look at the comorbidity studies on paraphilias, you’re going to find people that have none of these features in their backgrounds and some of them go on to be sadistic serial killers. I’d question the consistency of it. The other issue is the co-morbidity and cross-over between the different paraphilias.
Arrigo: Many studies tend to be fairly anecdotal and they tend to have limited data sets, so our position has been to encourage researchers to see whether or not this particular theory does indeed have any predictive characteristics. What we’re looking for would be the next wave of research that would require some theory testing and would require us to look at people who are identified as pedophiles, or persons who are identified as serial rapists and then at what manifestations of paraphilias they exhibit and to what extent are these problems chronic, severe or mild. Our theory may have some explanatory or predictive properties, or it may find its way into the intellectual dust heap of abstraction.
Harris: We have implicitly accepted that the development of fantasy and paraphilias escalate through time. Things probably start as a mild fetish, and move through, voyeurism, frotterage, to a violent or coercive assault, to necrophilia. We believe there is a progression, yet I have to say that it is not consistent with some of the cases I have seen clinically. I was really quite sure in a couple of cases that this escalation process hadn’t happened. How does your model account for the guys that appear to jump from pornography use to necrophilia?
Arrigo: The model outlines the spectrum. It doesn’t look at particular instances where the offender’s behaviour isn’t chronic, or may be acute. One of the research questions then becomes much like you have just proposed. In the model, how do we account for an individual who’s degree of sadistic fantasy, which gives rise to sadistic acting out behaviour, isn’t as extensive or severe as, the person who engages in necrophilic sex? Our position would be, had they had the opportunity to continue on with their fantasy system, it would have escalated to the point that they had to act out on their fantasies.
Harris: I am actually talking about somebody who was at the relatively low level and then we got the sexual homicide and the necrophilia, and we didn’t seem to have the intervening progression or escalation of the fantasy life. Those of you who have been heavily schooled in the ways of cognitive-behavioural analysis assume that there is a cognitive driver to most behaviours. There seems to be a disconnect where you get a relatively tame fantasy life and then you get this unexpected spike of behaviour which is necrophilia.
Arrigo: That’s another area where I think research is warranted because it does beg the question to what extent does this particular model, or any of the models have explanatory capabilities to encompass instances like the one you just described? Our model does not address that.
Mossman: In the model that you present, you have distinctive pathological feature. This may not apply to everybody but maybe applies to a large number of people in which you are positively reinforcing an ultimately non-satisfying process. In some studies of people with paraphilias, medications that work for obsessive-compulsive disorder, the SSRIs, are effective in addressing their paraphilic behaviour while leaving their “normal sexual behaviour” relatively untouched and therefore more available to them. Do you feel that one potential virtue of your model is that it might elucidate, at least for a subset of individuals, that one has a process that is analogous to obsessive-compulsive behaviour. With OCD, people engage in behaviour over and over again that is unsatisfying or at least satisfying only briefly until the obsessions and the compulsions arise again.
Arrigo: It may very well be that the model offers its most explanation or has its most predictive property for a particular subset of assailants. Let’s not forget that we are particularly interested in the lust murderer and those who engage in a cycle of abuse, a cycle of sadistic behaviour.
Mossman: Your model contains a description of a pathological process as opposed to just pathological things graphed on to what otherwise would be one way of describing personality development.
Arrigo: That is the process that we wanted to capture, in theoretical or model form. I think questions about individuals who have some characteristics of a fantasy system, which is no longer satisfying to them, so they act out on their unfulfilled sexual desires. I don’t believe that our model can capture every individual.
Fernandez: Looking at the paraphilic process, I was wondering if the orgasmic part of it is a necessary or critical aspect or if there are other things that might reinforce and maintain that process. This might actually speak to Andrew Harris’ question about guys who don’t have that fantasy trajectory.
Arrigo: Our feeling is that the orgasmic conditioning process is very much a part of the overall paraphilic process. In other words, the fantasy element is in place. Thinking about the person who is on the extreme end of paraphilia, to the extent that the goal is sexual satisfaction that does not occur, our argument is that the person is in search of ways to experience sexual satisfaction.
Fernandez: I was thinking about fantasy and having a retreat or an escape component to it, which could be quite satisfying for some people, or perhaps women’s sexuality where orgasm isn’t always the major goal of it, that there are other satisfying parts.
Arrigo: So, your argument would be the desire to retreat and to escape itself is what helps sustain the cycle?
Fernandez: I’m just wondering if that is an option in the model.
Arrigo: It’s not something we expressly identify in that way in the model. We talk about the retreat and the escape into fantasy life as a basis, as a way of coping with the world the adolescent or the adult finds to be entirely unforgiving and unacceptable. We talk about how that retreat or escape gives a sense of agency and power to the individual, but we don’t go as far as I think you are proposing.
Fernandez: But not necessarily saying that retreat or escape in itself would be reinforcing enough to maintain this paraphilic process?
Arrigo: We have not sat down to work that particular element through that way. I think it’s worth considering.