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Psychopathia Sexualis
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Friday, 06 January 2006 08:55

The murder of a human, one by another, has been with us since the dawn of time. Whether the slaying of Abel by Cain (if the bible is to be believed), ritual sacrifice, war, abortion, or other forms of murder, our history is rife with stories of life extinguished before its time. As society attempts to reconcile, perhaps even justify, we move toward legal and clinical definitions that seem to remove the human, leaving the being. Under the heading of sanctioned killing there is abortion, self-protection, mercy killing, the death penalty, and war. With abortion, the debate rages across the nation as society attempts to define the point at which a fertilized embryo becomes human and is therefore legally protected. Self-protection or as it has, in recent times, been called "make my day," is embraced as a right and just response under certain circumstances--those that involve threat of life and/or property. Mercy killing argues for the ending of suffering of those already dying. The death penalty falls under eye-for-an-eye rubric rather than the oft proclaimed, "we're doing it to keep society safe." And war honors the age-old tradition of territoriality--those who are not for us are surely against us and must be eliminated.

Indeed. The shadow--the capacity to maim and kill--lurks within each of us. It is woven through the very fabric of our society. What arguably differentiates us from them however is that we keep it in abeyance. For the most part, that is. Perhaps we feed it vicariously through horror films, true crime novels, and headline news. With the latter, as the hunger grows, we may even rationalize its temporary release--for example, the call for public execution of the as yet to be determined perpetrator (or perpetrators as the case may be) of the Harvey family murders--feeling a sense of justification by exacting just desserts in a very public way upon those who would dare murder a child. Even so, most agree that very few would engage in acts of violence against their fellow human beings without some form of provocation.

Thus, of the variety of killings, it is those which move beyond human comprehension--or rather our preconceived and romanticized notion of what humans are capable of--which elicit speculation. They were possessed by the devil! They were on drugs! They must be mad! No person in his or her right mind would do such a horrible thing! To be sure, such answers, while sadly simplistic, may help us to sleep better at night. And more importantly, dispel the idea that each and every one of us has within us the capacity, and in some cases, an unconscious wish, to exact devastation upon our fellow human being--an idea which would most assuredly offend our sensibilities. We reify the myth by furtively arguing that, for example, those who participated in Dr. Phillip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment, or the more recent Abu Ghraib prison scandal, were "good" people turned into "bad" apples who must have had an underlying predisposition to evil or were in some way mentally unbalanced.

The wide-spread belief that only crazy people could engage in such acts, that insanity predisposes intent--a key element in the determination of guilt--is not new. In fact, it has prompted us to write insanity into case law

. While the most well-known and precedent setting case was that of Daniel McNaghten"If upon balancing the evidence in your minds you should think the prisoner a person capable of distinguishing right from wrong with respect to the act of which he stands charged, he is then a responsible agent." (Rex v. McNaghten, 1843 England 8 Eng. Rep. 718; 10 C. & F. 200, 210), it is certainly not the oldest. The McNaghten ruling was preceded by the Hale Test"such a person as labouring under melancholy distempers hath yet ordinarily as great understanding, as ordinarily a child of fourteen years hath, is such a person as may be guilty of treason or felony." (1 Hale P.C. 30) in the early 1700's, further defined by Tracy"is totally deprived of his understanding and memory, and doth not know what he is doing, no more than an infant, than a brute, or a wild beast." (1724 16 St. Tr. 695) and tested in 1800 by Lord Kenyon"if a man is completely deranged so that he knows not what he does, if he is lost to all sense so that he cannot distinguish good from evil, and cannot judge of the consequences of his actions then he cannot be guilty of crime because the will, which to a certain extent is the essence of every crime, is wanting." (R. v. Hadfield [(1800) 27 St. Tr. 1281]). As legal entities attempted to define and refine insanity in the court of law to exact what was right and just, others sought to understand the underlying causes and psychological motivations of the more obscure and bizarre murders--those involving sexual sadism. The earliest and considered ground-breaking work in this area was that of Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing with the publishing of "Psychopathia Sexualis: The Case Histories. " (Krafft-Ebing, 1886)

Krafft-Ebing identified and categorized those sexual practices which fell outside of the late 19th century's social acceptance. Some of the categories as well as their labels were perpetuated and later codified in 1952 under the heading of "Paraphilias" in the American Psychatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) which is now under its 4th revision. While he is often criticized for his views of homosexuality along with his belief that it could be cured using various approaches such as hypnosis and sexual exposure to those of the opposite gender, Krafft-Ebing's work is important in that it lays to rest the myth that serial murder--especially that involving sexual aspects--is an American phenomenon.

Of the 238 case histories, 13 were categorized as "lustmord"The quality of sadistic acts is defined by the relative potency of the tainted individual. If potent, the impulse of the sadist is directed to coitus, coupled with preparatory, concomitant or consecutive maltreatment, even murder of the consort( "Lustmord" ), the latter occurring chiefly because sensual lust has not been satisfied with the consummated coitus." (Krafft-Ebing, 1886 [1996 reprint], p 20)" among which "Jack the RipperOn December 1, 1887, July 7, August 8, September 30, one day in the month of October and on the 9th of November, 1888; on the Ist of June, the 17th of July and the 10th of September, 1889, the bodies of women were found in various lonely quarters of London ripped open and mutilated in a peculiar fashion. The murderer has never been found. It is probable that he first cut the throats of his victims, then ripped open the abdomen and groped among the intestines. In some instances he cut off the genitals and carried them away; in others he only tore them to pieces and left them behind. He does not seem to have bad sexual intercourse with his victims, but very likely the murderous act and subsequent mutilation of the corpse were equivalents for the sexual act. (McDonald, le criminal type, 2 edit., Lyon, 1884; Spitzka, le journal of Mental and Nervous Diseases, 1888, December; Kierman, The Medical Standard, 1888, Nov. and Dec.)" was only briefly mentioned. (Krafft-Ebing, 1996 reprint, cc 15-22, 215-218, and 221, pp 31-37, 228-234, 235) Of these cases histories, perpetrator ages ranged from 14 to 55 with the majority involving multiple victims. Some of the multi-victim perpetrators (MVPs) resorted to evisceration and cannibalism, while others--in context of these particular cases histories--involved the more mundane (rape, kill, dispose of body). The earliest noted MVP is Vincez Verzeni "I had an unspeakable delight in strangling women, experiencing during the act erections and real sexual pleasure. It was even a pleasure only to smell female clothing. The feeling of pleasure while strangling them was much greater than that which I experienced while masturbating. I took great delight in drinking Motta's blood. It also gave me the greatest pleasure to pull the hair-pins out of the hair of my victims." (Krafft-Ebing, 1886 [1996 reprint], p 35) (c21), a spree killer. The longest undetected MVP is Cruyo"A certain Cruyo, aged forty-one, with a blameless past life, having been three times married, strangled six women in the course of ten years. They were almost all public prostitutes and quite old. After the strangling be tore out their intestines and kidneys through the vagina. Some of his victims he violated before killing, others, on account of the occurrence of impotence, he did not. (Krafft-Ebing, 1886 [1996 reprint], p 37) (c22), whom Krafft-Ebing speculated, killed several people over a 10 year span. The youngest and perhaps most disturbing, due to his age, is that of K"K. would lure them into a hidden place, strip them naked, bind them hand and foot, tie them against some object, gag the mouth with a hankerchief and then beat them with a stick, a strap or a piece of rope, slowly, pausing for minutes, grinning all the time without uttering a word." (Krafft-Ebing, 1886 [1996 reprint], pp 232-234) (c218), a 14 year old boy who tortured and killed 9 children ranging in ages from 7 to 10 years old.

Another myth that Krafft-Ebing dispels in his work is the perception that perpetrators are victims of their circumstances, of lower intelligence, and/or insane. In fact, if the case histories are to be considered valid and reliable, they support the contention that these individuals were natural born predators. A view that psychopathy researcher, author of "Without Conscience" and developer of the various Psychopathy Check Lists, Robert Hare, Ph.D. holds.

Decades have passed since Krafft-Ebing first released his work. And with that time, society has come again to focus upon the sexual psychopath, moving from nature to nurture and back to nature, as a cottage industry of SVO programs promulgates the landscape, promising rehabilitation. And yet we, as a society, are no closer to understanding the shadow than we were over a century ago.


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