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Sexual homicide can be descriptively referred to as a form of homicide that contains a sexual component in the sequential events progressing to a murder. The sexual meaning and the elements contained in the whole episode are distinct and different for every individual offender. This may be perpetrated before, during or after the murder of the victim. Alternatively the sexual meaning may be actual sexual activity or in some cases a symbolic sexual activity such as the insertion of foreign objects into the body of their victims. Many serial killers fall into the category of sexual homicide. Children molested by pedophilic killers, women killed in the course of rape ordeals and any other individual whose death is believed to have been associated with a sexual component are considered to be victims of sexual violence(Hickley 2003).
The image of the sexual murders conjures up concomitant feelings of both horror and extreme fascination. With the current media craze, the image of the multiple victim murder have even been carried far and wide through psych-thriller films and in some cases true crime books have been written detailing the lives of these serial killers. Basically the perpetration of sexual homicide is believed to be a function of the breakthrough of the underlying sexual conflicts; especially in instances where the act of murder is sexually gratifying(Schlesinger 2003). This aspect of sexual homicide has been put through critical analysis by sociologists, behavioral scientists and forensic scientists but the paucity of a solidly reliable body of scientific literature still trudges on in contrast to the voluminous literature in non sexual homicide. This paucity is partly a product of the uncertainty of sexual motivation in murder.
Many murders that had earlier on been taken as sexually motivated have been proved otherwise. Moreover, the distinction between sexual homicide and other cases of criminal homicide is often blurred. However for sexual homicide to be categorized in isolation from other forms of homicide, crime theories have to be employed classify sexual homicide under three broad categories: biological, psychological and sociological.
Biological Aspects of Sexual Homicide
Criminal activism as a biological theory indoctrinated by Cesare Lomboso opines that there are certain constitutional and hereditary characteristics that prevent a crime offender from advancing far beyond the evolutionary scale of what is considered a normal action. According to this theory criminal orientation is hereditary and an individual has no choice but to accept that condition. Curiously, Lomboso even believed that the skull and the brain of criminals were more like those of prehistoric primitive savage man(Schlesinger 2003).
As the 20th century ensued this theory adopted from the 19th century had to be discarded due to lack of anatomical differences between criminal groups and non criminal groups(Schlesinger 2003). However, Lamboso’s theory was partly resurrected by Sheldon(1940) who disregarded his predecessors obsession with anatomical differences but maintained that criminals and non criminals differ in physical development and internal brain activity; that abnormal brain activity was much higher in criminal groups than non criminal groups.
Despite the paucity of data on the biological orientations of sexual murderers, it is nonetheless conceptualized as a form of disease. The diseased brain transmits messages of sexual arousal, murderous attack and mating behavior simultaneously. This transmission is theorized to operate akin to an epileptic seizure which usually involves the temporal lobes. However, this theory is not supported by medical evidence supporting the ability of epileptic seizures to perform goal directed multi step criminal behavior(Myers 2002).
When sexual homicide is analyzed from a neuroanatomic perspective, the interconnection and proximity of limbic structures associated with feeding and aggression; amygdala with the neuroanatomic structures controlling sexual functions: the septum and the hiccocamopus may be used to support the existence of biological underpinnings in sexual homicide. Additionally the association of hormones and neurotransmitters has been suspected to play a role in sexual homicide even though this association has not been critically investigated. Studies on testosterone and its role in sexual violence have yielded conflicting results.
Serotonin levels is a more interesting avenue of research. It has been demonstrated that husbands or boyfriends who kill their sexual partners have lower 5- HIAA celebrospinal fluid levels. 5-HIAA is a metabolite of serotonin and it can be used to determine the levels of serotonin(Myers 2002).
In other cases, the existence of brain dysfunction has been pointed as a causative factor. Some works concentrating on perpetrators with histories of heat trauma, brain injury and brain abnormalities on CT and MRI scans of the head as well as electrocephalograms(EEGs) and neuropsychological tests have yielded significant results associating sexual violence with varying degrees of brain function deficits. However, not even these studies present specific results because these abnormalities are also prevalent in the general populace of non sexual offenders.
Although not directly intended to the analysis of brain function and its associations with criminal homicide, Raine et al(1998) carried out a study analyzing the effects of subcortical and prefrontal brain functioning through PET scans in predatory verses effective murderers. These two broad categories were used in the study due to their common usage in other previous studies. The authors hypothesized that among the predatory murderers, brain functioning would be relatively normal while in the latter, higher subcortical activity and lower prefrontal activity would be recorded(Myers 2002).
The results of the study supported the hypothesis in that emotional, unplanned impulsive perpetrators of murder had a reduced capacity in the regulation and control of aggressive impulses originating from the subcortical structures. This reduced capacity to exert control is due to a deficiency in the prefrontal regulation. On the other hand, excessive subcortical activity predisposes an individual to aggressive behavior. While predatory murderers possess good prefrontal functioning to be able to regulate the aggressive impulses, the latter lack prefrontal control over the regulation of emotional impulses(Myers 2002).
Psychological Aspects of Sexual Homicide
The most prominent psychological theory was posited by Freud’s notion that crime is caused by unconscious guilt. This theory was derived from the understanding of the male superego which continually demands for payment and the Oedipus complex which details two prominent criminal intentions of the male species: that of killing the father and having sexual relations with the mother. Additionally he reiterated that criminal acts are perpetrated simply because they are deemed or prescribed forbidden and that guild must always precede transgression. Later on Glover(1960) attributed crime to depression. While maintaining the precedence of guilt, he supported Freud’s theory that crimes seek retribution by committing a crime as a result of crime and that the negative feelings of guilt are due to depression.
However, the most known and scientifically supported connection between the psychological functioning and the exhibition of criminal behavior is the case of psychopathic personality. Also representative of moral imbecility and moral insanity, individuals with a psychopathic personality are depraved of moral principles and conduct and as such as unable to conduct themselves in a law abiding manner. Biologically, these individuals are suffering from constitutional psychopathic inferiority. This is the understanding behind the concept of referring to these individuals as sociopaths. Implying that their lack of socialization predisposes them to criminality( Harvey & Gow 1994).
In 1976, Cleckley ushered in the understanding that psychopathy is but a form of psychosis; that a psychopath’ emotional components isolated and not integrated with the rest of the personality. BY 2000, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-IV-TR) had described psychopathic disorder as an antisocial personality disorder that is marked by a notable pervasive pattern of complete disregard for others including behavioral characteristics such as manipulation, conning, lack of remorse, deceit, and unlawful conduct(Schlesinger 2003; Heckel & Shumaker 2001).
Most importantly psychological discussions of sexual homicide stress that sex before, during or after murder serve as a way of satisfying the killers fantasies. In these regard, these fantasies act as both a form of personal entertainment as well as adding a motivational value to the criminal act(Caputi 1987; Green 2003). It has been demonstrated that in the case of serial killers, these men ritually replay these fantasies on each and every victim. Therefore when they murder for the thrill of the act, they are emotionally and sexually satisfied after some duration after which these satisfying effects fade away giving way to the need of a new victim.
Usually the elements of brutality, power and callousness. These elements are resident in the perpetrators personality and they are revealed through various psychological clues left in the crime scene. Drawing from the definition of sexual homicide as murders with evidence that demonstrates a sexual component, this component is usually portrayed as sexual interest or sadistic fantasy. These may be inclusive of removing the victims clothing, sexual positioning, exposing the victims sexual organs, in addition to evidences of vaginal, oral or anal intercourse or any form of sexual exploitation. There are cases where the actual sexual act is absent but a symbolic sexual act like the inserting an object into the victims orifices(Van Hasselt & Hersen 1999). These manifestations not only attest to the perpetration of the crime but also give an insight on the psychological functioning of the offender.
Some studies have specifically categorized homicidal aggressors into two distinct categories: the vindictive or the displaced sexual murderer on one hand and the lust or sadistic sexual murderers. The former murder after raping specifically to avoid detection. This class of murders rarely report any form of sexual satisfaction from the act of murder. The latter kill their victims as an act of ritualized sadistic fantasy. In this case, both the murder and sexual assault are part of an already fantasized sexual entertainment. Aggression and sexuality are fused into one psychological experience; that of sadism and this psychological experience is erotisized(Van Hasselt & Hersen 1999). For this category of the murder to achieve full satisfaction, the victim has to be subjugated. Therefore the murderer employs cruelty and the infliction of pain to achieve victim subjugation.
Sadistic homicide involves bondage and, humiliation aimed at not only subjugation of the victim but also in the fulfilling of an offenders personal sexual desires. Gratification is achieved by responding to the victims response to the infliction of pain or torture. Psychologically, bondage and the victims response to it escalates the assaulter’s appetite over a spate of time which ultimately ends in the killing of the victim. Curiously,there have been cases where serial killers have been known to maintain associations with fellow offenders(Bryant 2003). This association models preference of victims based on age, locality, complexion, dress styles and such kinds of attributes. Killers who target specific victims usually have a history of fantasizing about sexual gratification by continually studying their victims. Due to the killers knowledge of the locality and the victims unknowing motivation of the killer, the situation works in favor of the criminal in perpetrating the fantasy driven homicidal desire.
The predominance of sadism in sexual homicide lays focus on paraphilia; a psychological disorder. Sadism lies at the cornerstone of sexual sadism. Paraphilic individuals derive sexual arousal from the observation of psychological and physical suffering of their victims. Psychologically, the disorder of sexual sadism manifests mildly as sadistic behaviors, and fantasies. In most cases these manifestations never materialize into behavioral enactment. Other forms of mild sadism may involve mild forms of abuse like restraint or paddling with a consenting partner(Hall 1999). In case the partner is also masochistic then sexual sadism may be pushed to higher level. In most pronounced cases of sexual sadism disorder, fantasies and sadistic behaviors evolve into behavioral enactment.
The relationship between sexual homicide and biological orientations is vague due to the paucity of scientific literature. However, there exist limited and non specific research materials supporting the link between an individuals’ biology and the sexual violence. Notably, brain dysfunction, hormonal balance, and the interconnection and proximity of limbic structures associated with feeding and aggression; amygdala with the neuroanatomic structures controlling sexual functions: the septum and the hiccocamopus may be incriminated. This association needs critical analysis aimed at the evaluation of current data and the commissioning of more comprehensive highly controlled research. There is a wealth of evidence supporting the role of psychological elements in the development of sexual sadism ans homicide.