Sexual homicide is among the most peculiar offenses, about which sociologists are increasingly getting concerned. This is because, among the extreme cases, sexual homicide is executed as a sadistic endeavour while others are a result of various reasons. According to DeFronzo & Prochnow (2007, p. 25), sexual homicide is defined characteristically. This means that a certain characteristic or even several of them must be exhibited by the offender. For instance, these may be relevant to the victim’s attire or lack of it, sexual parts exposure, sexual position of the victim’s body, presence of foreign bodies inserted into the victim. Other characteristics may include evidence of sexual activities in all forms and evidence of substitutable activity in relation to sexual interest in sex, or sadistic fantasy that mostly involve genital mutilation (Clinard & Meier, 2010, p11).
However, Proulx et al. (2007, p. 15) notes that the definition of sexual homicide does not necessarily include sexual implications but that the term might be applied even in the absence of overtly expressed sexual activity at the crime scene. This is noteworthy because it allows prosecution of offenders, who might be motivated by reasons other than sexual sadism or lust. However, some offenders are likely to kill their victim accidentally or during a struggle with the aim of concealing the evidence. As such, Proulx et al (2007, p. 16) point out that most studies comparing homicidal and non homicidal sex offenses have discovered more similarities than differences. The similarities between the two broad categories of the offense are more essential in understanding the intention of each offense than their differences. Another crucial factor during the analysis of sexual homicide is that its definition does not encompass assumption that a plan or premeditation was carried out before committing the crime. In their study, Mieczkowski and Beauregard (2009, p. 9) found that sexual assault resulted in homicide, majorly in cases, involving an older victim, and the offender was a stranger, who acted with a weapon under the influence of drugs.
Types of Sexual Murder
According to Firestone & Bradford (1998, p. 6), there are four types of sexual murder, all resulting in a criminal offense, though they are different in the way they are carried out. One of the types is the outgrowth of sexual conflicts, sometimes described as catathymic, between people who are publicly known to be lovers. However, this variety of sexual conflict is triggered by an event or a turning point, which may lead to impulsive, explosive, and sudden outbursts from one of the disgruntled lover leading to murder (Purcell & Arrigo 2006, p. 103). Another variety of sexual murder is caused by the integration of sex and aggression. Purcell and Arrigo (2006, p. 103) define aggression in sexual homicide as the quest of inflicting pain or harm on a target. In this case, the quest only gets quenched by the accomplishment of this intention. Compulsive sexual murder is least influenced by environment, but rather, it is only that the aggressive motives are eroticized and then develop into a repetitive feeling from the side of the offender.
The third variety of sexual murder can be said to be that which results from the need to cover up for the offense that is already committed. Geberth (2003, p. 15) notes that research shows that 40% of the sexual homicide offense did not intent to kill their victim. However, they ended up killing the victim in the attempt of concealing evidence against the first crime. This happens especially if the offender knows that he or she can be identified by the victim.
The forth type is the widely studied sex related homicide, where the offender may rape the victim before or even after murdering the victim. This condition is sociologically known as necrophilia, and it is hard to come by apart of being considered as the most strange form of sexual homicide.
However, Montaldi (2007, p. 69) indicates that this typological classification of sexual murders does not possess theoretical ground and empirical support. This is because some of the offenders are offenders for the first time, while others lack expertise as outlined in the typology. For instance, an offender committing a sexual homicide does not decide to commit a sex related homicide and not a cover up a murder. The crime comes out involuntarily, and the classification can be said as arbitrary allocation by sociologists. Wolfe and Mash (2006, p. 9) argue that classifying offenders rather than the offense is easier. He thus classifies them as serial sexual homicides, competitively disadvantaged offenders, psychopathic, and finally sadistic offenders.
Prevalence of Sexual Homicide Cases
According to Nelson (2004, p. 19), sexual homicide cases account for between 1% and 4% of all cases of homicides reported in the US, Canada, and Britain with the percentages remaining fairly stable for several years. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) data shows 597351 people arrested for homicide between 1976 and 2005; only 0.6% (3868) of these was sexual homicides. Sewall and Krupp (2012, p. 33) indicate that according to statistics, in 2003, there were 3500 men in prison who were convicted of murder and out of this only 6% had sexual related motive.
Characteristics of Sexual Homicide Offenders
FBI (2012, p. 1) information on the characteristics of the arrested sexual homicide offenders shows that 88% were over 18 years old while 12% were aged under 18; 59% were whites while 41% were blacks. On the other hand, of all the victims which characteristics were studied, 77% were over 18; 64% were adults; 13% were elderly; 23% were under 18; 11% were children; 12% were adolescents; furthermore, 72% white while 28% were blacks.
Furthermore, the FBI provides extra deducible data, for example, white offenders selected victims intra-racially in 95% of cases while black offenders in 61% of cases. This variation can be pointed to the availability of the victim, in that the whites could easily access their victims compared to the blacks. It is also notable from the data that juvenile offenders selected adult victims in most of the cases. More than 75% of child victims were killed by the white adult offenders, and 53% of elderly victims were murdered by adult offenders (Chan et al 2011, p. 45).
Statistics in necrophilia are also available even though this form of sexual homicide is rare even among the smaller number of sexual homicides. A study of 122 sexual homicide cases showed that only 12% committed homicide with the intent of obtaining a corpse, while 27% committed the murder for reasons other than obtaining a corpse but ended up committing necrophilic acts on the body of their victim. A common factor in necrophilia is that they are motivated by sexual feelings and social delineation, though some victims are raped before death and some offenders maintains the relationship within their imagination (Wolfe & Mash, 2006, p. 14).
Understanding of Sexual Homicide
According to Firestone and Bradford (2011, p. 7), research in the field of sexual homicide is extremely limited, since only around 40 empirical studies were undertaken before 2008. Furthermore, most of the researches are exploratory and descriptive while lacking the empirical and practical approaches. Similarly, the sociologists themselves have not found a common agreement on the real motives of offenders with some pointing to anger, power and control, or lust while others cite different reasons. This lack of consensus means that the field cannot be conclusively studied because there are no standard grounds on which studies should be based. However, Chan et al (2011, p. 51) propose an integrated theory that will be based on two common criminological theories. That is social learning and routine theories.
Sexual Homicide and Non-Homicidal Sex Offending Compared
The act of sexual homicide is more about the desire to inflict harm on the victim, as opposed to the need for sexual gratification. Contrary to this, violence used during rape is mainly an act of trying to achieve control so as to carry out the rape. Schlesinger and Kassen (2010, p. 90), while addressing this, compared 21 sexual homicides with 121 rapes and found that the former included higher levels of expressive violence while anger was the main motive for 18 of the murders. Only 3 cases showed that the victim was sexual aroused during the execution of the crime. Additionally, Knight et al (1998) noted that there is a strong relationship between overt behaviours and the incidences of fatal injuries.
Wolfe and Mash (2006, p. 30) interviewed 28 sexual murderers in England whose average age was 38 and found out that 24 of them had killed an adult female, 4 had killed female children and 1 a male child while13 had killed a stranger. On the other hand, 2 had killed an ex-partner; 3 a family member; 9 a friend; 1 a prostitute,and9 were in a relationship at the time of the offence. This data are vital in understanding the complex relationship between the offender and the victim in the act of sexual homicide.
Most of the offenders and sociologists agree that sexual homicide is a dangerous world that is under the influence of male sex drive which is uncontrollable (Myers, 2002, p. 89). Women are mostly seen as sex objects by the sexual homicide offenders and are always on the receiving end of the crime.
The Behavior of Sexual Homicide Offender
According to Liem and Alex (2011, p. 23), most of sexual homicide offenders cite poor childhood upbringing as the main reason that lead them into seclusion or development of deviant behaviours. For instance, the Jerry Turner was a US sexual homicide offender who killed 16 victims between 1976 and 1989. When he was finally captured, it was discovered that the offender did not have a normal childhood life and spent a significant number of years in childhood playing alone while dosing animals with acid rendering them into zombies and later succumbing to death. This behaviour was transferred into adulthood when he was abandoned by his parents at a young age, and he used the same method of attacking and sexually mutilating his victim. He would sometimes be keeping bones and skulls as trophies while living alone in an apartment.
Further, Liem and Alex (2011, p. 23) observe that most of the offenders have indicated that they are guided by fantasies that produce desired effects, which lead the offender to seek a way of acting out on the fantasies. These fantasies always involve a mental mapping that involve the identification of the victim and assessing the vulnerability. Similarly, the offender expresses a high level of scheming ability. Some have even shown the ability to identify strategic places, which can even mean shifting location if that will help in trapping the identified target. The overall behaviour of the offender determines the features in victims to be selected, and this may be attached to the childhood experience. According to Geberth (2006, p.9), some of the most vulnerable victims include children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly. Apparently, he observes that children and the eldest are preferred mainly due to their reduced physical strength. However, as Kleck and Hogan (1999, p. 35) observe, children and elderly people have the least vulnerable lifestyle because they rarely go out alone at night; hence they are less likely to meet potential predators.
Explanatory Models Relevant to Sexual Homicide
Social learning theory has been used by a number of sociologists, so as to explain that sexual aggression is learned through differential associations with other people like family and peers. Thus, sexually deviant behaviours are created by the cultural and experiential factors during early associations. Other factors, such as exposure to pornography and paedophilia, have also been identified as responsible for sexual homicide. On the other hand, routine activity theory suppose that sexual homicide depends on main factors, including motivation and potentiality of the offender, availability of attractive target, and an ineffective or absence of a guardian. These factors create an opportune structure which offers lifestyles and opportunity of the victim meeting with the offender. In essence, the victim’s conditions become compatible with those of the attacker without their knowledge. The attackers normally take advantage of such situation (Kleck & Hogan 1999, p. 40).
An example of the case where the victim’s conditions met with the offender’s conditions is the case involving a 19 year old offender called Lindsey. The victim was walking in a secluded compound at 2 a.m. when he saw a light coming towards him. On peeping through a hole, he saw a 76 year old woman, who was watching television alone. The young man then broke into the house and raped the lone woman before killing her. He later went to his house still in blood stained clothes and told his friend that he had killed an old woman. This example illustrates how the victim’s conditions met with the offenders. From the ensuing court case, it was established that the offender had been walking in that compound at such hour for almost a year by then. During that fateful night, the victim created a condition by waking up early to watch a television program which gave the offender an opportunity to strike (Purcell & Arrigo 2006, p. 75).
Proulx, Beauregard, and Cusson (2007, p. 90) cite another example of the US serial killer in sexual homicide called Turner who killed 16 men, between 1976 and 1989. The offender could lure his victims in his house with movies mostly pornographic before attacking when the victim is most suspecting. Being that most of the victims were homosexuals, the offender posed as being one and thus created a condition where the victims could not suspect any deviant motive. This went on for a period of 16 years during which he was able to murder 16 men. However, the measures that the law enforcers and sociologists use to capture the offenders are not effective enough, because some of the attacks, especially the first incidents, are instantaneous. Additionally, most of the offenders confessed of having not planned for the initial attack.
From the above, it is evident that the area of sexual homicide is still difficult to be totally understood by the sociologists. However, it is agreed that the sexual homicide is a result of some of the cultural and experiential factors, especially during childhood that are transferred to adulthood. Similarly, some of the most current factors such as exposure to pornography, drug abuse, and alcoholism have played a crucial role in the occurrence of sexual homicide in many societies. Sociologists and law enforcers are thus faced with a challenge of coming up with better and effective ways of ensuring that sexual homicide is contained from the society.