Ummm – Сustom Literature essay

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The criminal homicide rate for the United States is currently at its lowest rate during the last forty years (6.3 per 100,000 people in 1998: Bureau of Justice Statistics); yet according to the media and entertainment fields, homicide is reaching epidemic proportions. Unfortunately these fields tend to exploit the concept of homicide in American society, rather than attempting to understand and control it. No where is this more prevalent than in the study of a small subset of criminal homicide referred to as serial murder. This area of serial homicide specifically refers to the murder of several victims by a single person, generally unknown to the victim, over a designated period of time. Serial murder and those who commit it have always been around but have only really come to national attention in the last thirty years. Since the 1970's people have been fascinated with and horrified by serial murderers. Despite the enormous amount of coverage of serial killers by video and print media, television, and movies, relatively few sources of information about them exist and even less is known.

The details of ones crimes tend to be sensationalized, making rationalization very difficult, but what is lost among the horror and gore are the motives and reasons that lead a person to do this. What causes a person to kill again and again? An attempt to explain, rationalize and predict has plagued law enforcement and medical personnel for a considerable amount of time. If law enforcement is to create proactive, rather than reactive, strategies to this type of criminal behavior then they must be able to understand why it happens. Unfortunately we still do not have a clear understanding for the motives of murder, thus making understanding serial murder that much more difficult. Coming to any definite conclusions or making any definitive statements is not currently possible, the best that experts can do is make broad generalizations and educated guesses. Current literature on the subject comes to a number of fairly educated (and a few non-educated) conclusions that help to explain serial murder. Only a relatively few studies have been done that include in-depth first hand interviews with the perpetrators of the crimes themselves. This analysis of past offenders has elicited several key behavioral and childhood similarities among this sub-group of homicide perpetrators including: physical and psychological abuse, neglect, and violent fantasy creations

These conclusions tend to dominate the study of serial murder and its creation, often neglecting other possible contributions. This data brings up the question then of why only a handful of the many abused children become serial murderers. This and other theories of childhood socialization, including a critical analysis of current ideas and theories regarding the construction of serial murderers, are the focus of the following work. Due to the inability of professionals to reach a uniform consensus on the definition of serial murder, those murderers in whose homicides involve trolling, or roaming and lust (those who murder for the sheer desire of it)(Keeney & Heide, 1995) will be the focus of this work. For the purposes of this paper, nurses who murder patients, contract killers and babysitters or parents who murder children, as well as other similar such types of multiple murder, will be eliminated because they are currently not considered within the field of serial murder.

First-degree homicide, or murder, is defined as "intending or knowing that the person's conduct will cause death, such person causes the death of another with premeditation" (ARS 13-1105). The key points being intending and premeditation. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (FBI UCR), the two federal record keepers of criminal reported activity, just under 17,000 people were victims of homicide in 1998. Of those, only twenty two percent (3,800) were women murdered by men. The most likely victim of homicide is a young male (18-24 years old); three times more likely than a female of the same age bracket (U. S.

Department of Justice, 1999). Mental illness or abnormality has been examined as a possible corollary to violent criminal acts, though research currently shows that there exists "no pattern matching any psychiatric diagnosis category with..criminal violent behavior" (Steadman, 1987). It must be emphasized that there exists no general or specific relationship between violent crime and mental disorders. In most issues involving the prediction of criminal violence, mental illness remains rather irrelevant. Child socialization, or the way in which a child is raised (including home environment, parental interaction, and parent-child interaction), influences and shapes the individuals behavior (Akers, 1998), and has been used as a corollary to violent activity.

If violence is used or exhibited in the home, whether among the parents (domestic abuse and violent arguments) or directed at the child (physical punishment or physically manifested child abuse), then the child will become violent when they get older, as the current ideology states. Current findings have shown that a number of violent criminals were raised in violent or abusive homes (Steadman, 1987), but what has not been found is that child abuse is directly linked to or is a cause of future violent behavior. This analysis, from a retrospective viewpoint, provides a false sense of hope for the prediction of violent criminal behavior. Unfortunately, current research can offer no better than one accurate prediction in three (Miller, 1987).Applying the term serial to murder raises further problems and questions. Serial implies that several murders have taken place at different times (Lester, 1995). Currently there is no universal definition as to what defines one as a serial murderer, though the general consensus is a killer who methodically slays three or more people over a period of thirty days (Lester, 1995).

The three key factors are the time period, number of victims, and the fact that it is methodical and systematic. Each of these three parts is important because without any one of them, a different label would be attached to the perpetrator. Without the methodical premeditation, simply slaying three or more over a period of time is considered a spree killer because there is no 'cool-down' process for the planning to occur. Without the timeframe component, the assailant who kills three or more methodically is labeled a mass murderer due to the relatively large number of victims over a short period of time. Without the specific number accounted for, the crime is labeled simply as homicide. Serial murder, as a phenomenon, encompasses an extremely small portion of the criminal category of murder.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that only four percent of all homicides committed in 1998 involved multiple victims, with the percentage of crimes falling rapidly for three or more victims: 0.5% involved 3 victims, 0.1% involved 4 victims and 0.05% involved 5 or more victims (U. S. Department of Justice). These numbers illustrate the true rarity of the crime, the victimization and number of offenders, in contrast to what the media presents. Viewers are led to believe that serial killing is a common type of homicide due to the increased number of media presentations (Fox and Levin, 1999) The media puts forth and perpetuates the notion of the need to be in constant fear because any stranger could cause harm, where as in reality strangers were identified as offenders in only thirteen percent of murders in 1998 (FBI - Department of Justice).Although argued by many scholars, serial murder is nowhere near epidemic proportions. Regrettably, it is virtually impossible to measure with any degree of certainty the scope of the problem simply because many crimes committed by serial murderers are unknown to authorities.

Many victims are simply reported as missing persons due to the fact that many serial murderers target those in marginal groups (runaways, prostitutes, and drug users), whose disappearance may not be noticed or fretted over (Fox and Levin, 1999). Past studies have often looked at childhood and home environment to establish a corollary to their current behavior. Ressler, Burgess, Douglas, (1988) in a study of serial murderers for the FBI, found a number of similarities among the family environment of their target group. Factors involving the home and family environments as well as relationships among and between family members were examined. Nearly seventy percent of the families had histories of alcohol abuse. Seventy-four percent endured some form of psychological abuse in the home at the hands of their parents and almost were exposed to physical abuse.




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