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Ivan Lytkin
Ivan Lytkin

Correlation Between Serial Killers And Child Abuse \/\/TOP\\\\

Childhood abuse is a factor that has received much attention in the media and academic circles in recent years, fuelled by the claims of many serial murderers that they suffered child abuse at the hands of a parent or guardian. While evidence has shown not all victims of child abuse grow up to be criminals or abusers themselves, there is a heightened risk associated with childhood trauma and anti-social behaviors for personality disorders and criminal activity in later adult life.

Correlation Between Serial Killers And Child Abuse


A study carried out by Mitchell and Aamodt from Radford University in Virginia in 2005 aimed to explore the rate of child abuse in a large sample of convicted serial murderers and compare this against the rate of child abuse in the general population. The aim of this research was to see if there is a relationship between an abusive childhood and serial killing later in life.

A number of studies have focused on some of the most well-known cases of serial murder and serial killers who have reported child abuse in their history. John Wayne Gacy, Gary Ridgeway, and Ed Gein are three infamous serial killers who were physically and verbally abused as children by a parent.

Psychopathic killers, those who show psychopathic traits in their personalities and behaviors, have become increasingly of interest to scientists and particularly neuroscientists. Along with forensic psychologists and criminologists, they are looking for differences within the brains of psychopathic serial killers as a further way to understand their behavior.

Childhood abuse was categorized as abuse suffered by the individual when they were under the age of 18 years. Finding credible and accurate information regarding these killers is challenging and the authors focused on 48 books, 54 websites, psychiatrist related reports, and 140 news articles and used the following categories:

The authors also included data on the serial killer group when classified into organized, disorganized, and mixed offenders and found no difference in the frequency of abuse across these subtypes. For example, those who suffered more psychological abuse did not become a more organized killer compared to a disorganized killer. The percentages of abuse suffered in each type of abuse were very similar across the three offender types. 25 of the 50 were organized killers, 11 were disorganized and 14 were mixed.

For this information to mean anything, we want to know how the percentages of abuse suffered by these killers compare to the percentage of abuse suffered by the general population. Do serial killers have more abuse in their history than the everyday person?As the graph below demonstrates, the results are quite striking with a very clear higher percentage of abuse in all abuse categories, bar neglect, suffered by the serial killer group compared to the general population.

For example, the serial killer group had six times more reported physical abuse during childhood than the general population. Furthermore, this level remained at six times higher regardless of whether the killer was an organized, disorganized or mixed offender. In 2001, 3% of the general population was reported to have suffered sexual abuse. This is in stark contrast to the 26% who reported abuse within this serial killer study group. A percentage almost 9 times higher than the general population statistics.

The biggest difference was seen under the psychological abuse category where the rates of abuse were 2% in the general population and 50% in the serial killer group studied. The authors claim organized killers were most likely to have such psychological abuse in their history and disorganized killers were the least likely. Overall this data suggest that childhood abuse is quite strikingly more prevalent among serial killers than it is in the general population in the United States.

The reliability of the information regarding any childhood abuse suffered by the serial killers in question must be interpreted with caution, however, as it may not be entirely accurate. All of the serial killers in the study have discussed and openly highlighted issues of childhood abuse and often cite such abuse as the cause of their behavior and we should be aware that they may not have been truthful.

The general population, on the other hand, may be grossly under-reported on the actual levels of abuse suffered. The general population has no reason to publicize abuse suffered; they are not using it to explain any behavior or potentially have anything to gain by reporting such experiences. Equally, it should be said that some criminals who have a reputation they wish to maintain may not have reported incidents of child abuse or do not consider it to be abuse.

All of these points should be taken into account when interpreting the true nature of these findings. The proportion of the serial killers included in this study with no reported abuse in their childhood is a significant finding as it highlights that while childhood abuse may be a factor, it is not the only factor that contributes to such behavior.

We all should be careful not to generalize these findings across all serial killers and note those included in this study were a group of categorized lust killers. Other types of killers may not show the same pattern regarding childhood abuse. However, the differences found in this study are indeed great. They do suggest, even with these various factors taken into account, that there is a higher prevalence of child abuse within the serial killer population when compared directly with the normal population. This is a finding of significant interest to criminologists and psychologists studying serial killers and the factors which may have contributed to their behavior.

I found this post really interesting. Traumatic and abusive childhoods are often blamed for violent behaviour and you often wonder whether this is true or just an excuse. When it comes to serial killers we really still don't know what has led to them committing such acts. It was interesting to see the link between serial killers and childhood abuse, thank you for posting this article.

Hi there, you are very welcome and I am glad you found it interesting. There have been many serial killers who have stated they suffered childhood abuse as a child, however equally there have been many who have claimed this with no evidence to support it. This study I found very interesting as it collated a large number of cases and backgrounds and compared them against the norms within the everyday population. The result of physical and sexual abuse been much higher (6 and 9 times higher) in the serial killer sample studied compared to the general population, does definitely suggest a link between these experiences and their criminal behaviour in later life. Another avenue of exploration with regards to understanding how a person develops and enters into serial crime and especially serial murder.

This is really helpful to me since I am doing my senior paper on the reason behind serial killers killing people. This topic interests me, and thanks to this article, I now know that most are traumatized one way or the other growing up. Thank you!

Hi Fiona this article is helpful to me as well. Thanks for posting it. I will use it for my research paper in my Intro. Psychology Behavioral Research college level class. Thanks for the citation.Do you have any other article about serial killers? I need six articles in total.E Dasilva

This original typology, that of the organized or the disorganized offender, was deemed overly simplistic and has since broadly expanded (Canter, 1994; Holmes & Rossmo, 1996; Turco, 1990). Recently, researchers have developed more sophisticated typologies including (1) visionary, mission-oriented, hedonistic, and power-control oriented killers (Holmes, De Burger, & Holmes, 1988); (2) thrill-motivated killers, murders for profit, and family slayings (Levin & Fox, 1985); and (4) travelling serial killers, local serial killers, and place-specific serial killers. Despite the development of refined typologies, research has found that there is no such thing as a prototypical serial killer, consequently limiting the usefulness of the typologies developed so far (Walters, Drislane, Patrick, & Hickey, 2015).

Additionally, results are incongruent with previous literature on typologies, as there was no consistent pattern for method of killing and disposal of the body within each typology. This supports the suggestion by Canter and Wentink (2004) that features of power/control typologies were consistent for serial killers rather than forming a distinct type. Thus, the reliability of isolated typologies is less mutually exclusive than previously believed, and more attention should be paid to what factors influence specific methods of killing than to the motivations of individual offenders. Indeed, it may be that the cross-sectional approach to typology defining could be developed to include temporal dimensions. The current analytical method can be used to show linkages between behaviours and events, over time, which may provide investigators with a clearer understand and method for developing typologies.

Fifty serial killers who murdered for the primary goal of attaining sexual gratification, termed lust killers, were studied to determine the prevalence of childhood abuse. Information regarding the childhood abuse sustained by each killer was obtained primarily from biographical books, newspaper articles, and online sites. Abuse was categorized into physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and neglect and was then compared to societal norms from 2001. Abuse of all types excluding neglect was significantly higher in the serial killer population. For serial killers, the prevalence of physical abuse was 36%; sexual abuse was 26%; and psychological abuse was 50%. Neglect was equally prevalent in the serial killer (18%) and societal norm populations.


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