Child abuse and serial killing

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Abstract

The paper will focus on reviewing serial killers to find answers to the question whether childhood abuse prompts people to be serial killers. The paper will be divided into four major topics namely childhood abuse, antisocial behaviors, causes of serial killing and serial killing itself.  It is from these that the paper will find out the contribution of child abuse to serial killing. Furthermore, the topics will provide an explanation of the motivating factors that drives people to indulge in serial killing. This will enable the reader to understand more about serial killers, their motives, and the causes. In addition, this paper will present a review of the various classification of serial killers. It will also give a valid example of each category. Moreover, the conclusion, to a greater extent suggests that much as many factors such as mental and psychological disorders contribute to serial killing, childhood abuse plays an integral role in causing the crime.

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Introduction

Serial killing is a crime that many people in the society would rather not talk about due to its chilling nature. Over the years, the world has seen several serial killers. With each passing day, serial killers continue to murder people in various countries. Notably, in most serial murder cases, the killers have sexual intercourse with their victims either before or after killing them. Most governing bodies like that of the United States have invested a lot of time and resources to ensure that serial killers are curbed. Specifically, this is one of the reasons as to why those found guilty are usually convicted. For decades, psychologists, behaviorists, researchers, and criminologists have grown the interest of wanting to find out what drives a person to kill others. Many have focused on investigating the link between childhood abuse and serial killing. It is from the findings that they draw conclusions that abuse indeed makes people serial killers in their later life. This paper’s literature review indicates that childhood trauma has the capability to cause antisocial behaviors and lead to serial killing.

History of Serial Killing

According to an article authored by John Philip Jenkins, serial killing has been in existence since 69 AD (Jenkins 2007). This is evidenced by a documented case of Locusta who was a Roman. She was allegedly hired to poison the imperial family members. She successively managed to do so in collaboration with Martina and Canadia. Notably, the trio constituted one of the most notorious serial killers in Roman Times. Locusta and her accomplish killed people through poisoning.  She was executed in 69 AD. Furthermore, in Italy, Medieval England, Hungary and Germany, serial killers were also documented. The execution of Gilles De Rais in the 15th century acts as proof that serial killing has been in existence since the ancient days.

Historical evidence reveals that incidences of serial killing increased in the 19th century as compared to the preceding centuries. During this time, Europe reported more cases of serial killing than any other part of the world. Some of the earliest documented cases of the worst serial killers in this century were William Hare and William Burke. They are believed to have murdered approximately fifteen people in the 1820’s. Jack the Ripper was one of the most renowned serial killer of the 19th century specifically in 1888. Soon after, the United States of America documented Herman Webster Mudgett’s case. He pleaded guilty to at least twenty-seven murder counts. Mudgett was executed in 1896 in Philadelphia. Nonetheless, existing evidence about the history of serial killing is somewhat scarce making it hard to ascertain when it really began. This calls for more research to be carried out on the topic.

Serial Killing

Serial killing is basically the act of murdering three or more individuals for no apparent reason. The murders usually take place for more than a month with a break in between the murders. As Siegel and McCormick (2010) explains, serial killing is an appalling crime that leaves many people shocked. Specifically, the primary reason as to why this is the case is because it leaves many people wondering why someone would take away a person’s life so horrendously.

Serial Killers

Serial killers are characteristically people who murder a sequence of people in a period not exceeding one month. They majorly do so in a pattern in such a way that it becomes easy to identify that it is one and the same person killing. That is; they use same signs, signatures or techniques to murder their victims. For example, one of the history’s most horrifying killers, Ted Bundy was referred to as the Green River killer (Keppel, 2010). This was because he usually lured his victims to Green River, fulfill his sexual desires and later kill them. Essentially, research shows that psychological gratification is one of the motives that makes people murder others serially. In addition, some of them become killers as a way of revenging for their unhappy past and nasty experiences.

Types of Serial Killers

Serial killers are primarily classified into four major categories. In order to correctly classify a killer, their motive, gains, behavior portrayed and the methods used are put into consideration. This is because it is distinct from one category to the other. Visionary killers are the first type of killers. Essentially, these are individuals who kill as a result of visions and voices demanding them to act lethally against specific groups. Next, there is the mission type. These are the kind of killers whose goal is to eliminate certain people from the society especially those they believe practice immoral behaviors. A good example of people killed by this type are prostitutes. Moreover, the Hedonistic type are those killers who find pleasure in murdering. They find it fulfilling and will kill someone just to enhance their personal and social status. Jensen (2011) expounds on this by giving examples of Bell Gunness and Nannie Doss who serially murdered their suitors and family members for materialistic things. The last is the Power killer. This murderer kill so as to be in control and to feel that the power of life and death belongs to them. Again, Ted Bundy is an example of a serial killer under this category (Keppel, 2010).

Child Abuse

Child abuse is neglect or mistreatment of children. It manifests itself in sexual, psychological and physical forms. Child abuse is practiced by parents, caregivers, and siblings amongst others. Markedly, child abuse can take place in homes, learning institutions, in the society a child lives in and in various organizations such as in recreational facilities. It potentially harms affected children. This is because it makes some of the affected children develop deviant behaviors such as serial killing. It has been argued the reason as to why this happens is because children develop the perspective that no one cares for them. This is according to Reder and Duncan (2013).  In their book, Lost Innocents: A follow-up Study of Fatal Child Abuse, the two explain that most children who suffered child abuse in their childhood develop unwanted behaviors in their adult age. Also, a journal published in Sage Journals (2011) reveals that the likelihood of children to develop antisocial behaviors is higher in children who experienced abuse at a younger age as compared to those who did not (Sousa et.al 2011). To a greater extent, anti-social behaviors largely contribute to serial killing as will be discussed in the progress of the paper.

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Causes of Serial Killing

The motive of the paper was to ascertain whether childhood abuse causes serial killing. As of this, though there are other causatives of the crime, they will not be discussed as they contribute very little to the success of this paper. Instead, it will explain into detail using existing evidence how childhood trauma caused by abuse makes people serial killers.

Antisocial Behaviors

Antisocial behaviors are character traits that depict characteristics of convert and overt hostility. People who suffer this kind of behaviors intentionally become aggressive and are very hostile to other people. Fox et.al (2014) research shows that antisocial behaviors lead to many adverse impacts in the society. The major one being a crime.  According to the journal which was published by Sage Publications, serial killing is one of the crimes that results from antisocial behaviors. The authors too give discrimination and alienation as some of the factors that may cause these characters (Fox et.al 2014). This publication is of great significance in this research as it explains how people can understand serial killers particularly those with Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD).

Antisocial Behaviors contribution to Serial Killing

Children who undergo abuse tend to be withheld and lonely. They rarely enjoy being in the company of other people (Currie and Spatz 2010). In other words, they find being alone more satisfying rather than being with others. Also, such children spend much of their time behind closed doors. This acts as warning signs that the children are developing or have already developed antisocial behaviors. According to Fox et.al (2014), extreme antisocialism can cause Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD). People with the condition are very aggressive. They also indulge in criminal activities more as compared to regular people. Sousa et al. (2011) explain that abuse largely results to antisocial behavior which later aggravates to serial killing. The fact that those affected live in solitude wondering why they have to go through bitter experiences slowly develops to anti-socialness.

Parents and caregivers are always urged to stay on the look-out for their children so as to know when they display worrying character traits. In accordance to Sousa et al. (2011), this will help them counsel their children or register for them for guidance and counseling session to ensure they do not develop undesirable personalities. Further, research carried out by Mitchell and Aadmot suggests that child abuse can adversely affect children to the extent of making them be serial killers. According to the findings of the study, the highest percentage of serial killers went through abuse were young. This was in contrast to those who had a normal childhood.

Serial Killing and Child Abuse

The setting that a child grows in has the power to influence how they will behave in their adult age. Mitchell and Aadmot believe that serial killers are one of the most dangerous criminals to handle (Guy, 2015). Since they behave like regular people and may be hard to tell if one kills serially or not, it becomes hard for one to recognize the. For this reason, most of them comfortably live in our society. Fox and James argue that child abuse is one of the major causes of serial killing. According to them, children who are mistreated withdraw from others in the society. They find ways to keep them busy and occupied so as not to think of the hard times they are going through. In the course of this, children develop psychological desires. Therefore, in the process of seeking psychological gratification, they develop the urge to kill people (Fox and James 2013). This, in turn, makes them serial killers as some of them find pleasure in the crime and are unable to quit.

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Moreover, the history of some of the most famous serial killers in the United States like Ed Gein and John Wayne Gacy reveals that they experienced childhood abuse. Mitchell and Aadmot bring to our attention that individuals who went through child abuse somewhat become psychopathic (Guy, 2015). Such people display psychopathic character traits. Arguably, these traits act as driving forces to serial killing. In most instances, killers under this category tend to manipulate others by seeking attention from them. About these, it is apparent that child abuse leaves children lonely which makes them want to be pitied by others. As soon as they do so, they capture their victims and kill them after torture and harassment (Hickey, 2013). Hence, based on this, child abuse largely contributes to people becoming serial killers.

Furthermore, children who are abused at a tender age grow up with the perception that violence is the best solution to any problems or challenges they may face. Elliott (2016) writes that childhood abuse makes people serial killers as it develops in them violence behavior. She further explains that much as killers may kill due to their state of mind, childhood abuse makes those affected grow up with negative views of life that are malignant. This negative views about the world make them believe that the world is a bad place full of hate, neglect, and vengeance. Further, according to Reder and Duncan (2013), children who are abused develop the perspective that human relationships are not based on love, unity, respect and care but rather on suffering, humiliation, and power to control. As a result of this maltreatment and constant torture, those affected seek revenge by inflicting pain to others (Reder and Duncan 2013). The reason being, the abused become psychologically confused by their past experiences in such a way that they find pleasure in inflicting pain. In other words, causing death makes serial killers feel alive.

Conclusion

To sum it up, there is a link between childhood trauma resulting from abuse and serial killing. Abused children grow in them a negative point of view about life in which they view it as a place filled with sad moments. Moreover, child abuse leads to antisocial behaviors and psychopathy which in turn shapes people into killers. There are different groups of serial killers. However, psychological gratification acts as the primary motive that drives people to kill and become serial murders. Lastly, existing information on child abuse trauma and serial killing is quite limited, particularly in its history. There is, therefore, the need for further and extensive research on the topic.

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  1. Currie, J., & Spatz Widom, C. (2010). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect on adult economic well-being. Child Maltreatment, 15(2), 111-120.
  2. Elliott, M. (2016). The Man in the Monster: Inside The Mind of a Serial Killer. New York: Penguin Books.
  3. Fox, James Alan, and Jack Levin. Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. Sage Publications, 2014.
  4. Fox, James Alan, and Jack Levin. Overkill: Mass murder and serial killing exposed. Springer, 2013.
  5. Guy, Fiona. (2015). Serial Killers and Childhood Abuse: Is There a Link? Crime Traveler.  https://www.crimetraveller.org/2015/07/serial-killers-childhood-abuse/. Accessed on 14 February 2017
  6. Hickey, E. W. (2013). Serial murderers and their victims. Cengage Learning.
  7. Jenkins, J. P. (2007). Serial Murder. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/serial-murder. Accessed on 14 February 2017
  8. Jensen, V. (Ed.). (2011). Women Criminals: An Encyclopedia of People and Issues [2 volumes]: An Encyclopedia of People and Issues. ABC-CLIO.
  9. Keppel, R. (2010). The Riverman: Ted Bundy and I Hunt for the Green River killer. Simon and Schuster.
  10. Reder, P., & Duncan, S. (2013). Lost Innocents: A follow-up study of fatal child abuse. Routledge.
  11. Siegel, L. J., & McCormick, C. R. (2010). Criminology in Canada: Theories, patterns, and typologies. Nelson Education.
  12. Sousa, C., Herrenkohl, T. I., Moylan, C. A., Tajima, E. A., Klik a, J. B., Herrenkohl, R. C., & Russo, M. J. (2011). Longitudinal study on the effects of child abuse and children’s exposure to domestic violence, parent-child attachments, and antisocial behavior in adolescence. Journal of interpersonal violence, 26(1), 111-136.
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