The fantasies discerned from the personal records of offenders are complex,
elaborate, and involve detailed scenarios that include specific methods of
capture and control, location, scripts to be followed by the victim, sequence
of sexual acts, and desired victim responses. Sexual sadists dwell frequently
on these fantasies, which often involve multiple victims and sometimes include
partners. CASE: One offender, who is believed to have kidnapped, tortured,
and murdered more than 20 women and young girls, wrote extensively about
his sexually sadistic fantasies involving women. These writings included
descriptions of his victims’ capture, torment, and death by hanging. At the
time of his arrest, photographs were found depicting the subject in female
attire and participating in autoerotic asphyxia. The offender apparently
acted out his fantasies on both himself and others.
Sadism Toward Symbols
Some individuals act out their sadistic desires against inanimate objects,
most often dolls, pictures, and clothing, but sometimes corpses. As in the
case of fantasy, the suffering in such activity is imagined.
CASE: A female doll was found hanging outside an emergency room of a hospital.
Around its neck was a hangman’s noose, and its hands were bound behind its
back. Needles penetrated one eye and one ear. Burn marks were present on
the doll, and cotton protruded from its mouth. Drawn on the chest of the
doll were what appeared to be sutures. An incision had been made between
the legs, creating an orifice to which hair had been glued and into which
a pencil had been inserted. Nothing indicated that a crime occurred.
Although it is commonly believed that sexual sadists are cruel toward animals,
it has not been determined that such cruelty is related to sexual sadism.
Violent men were often cruel to animals during childhood, but without sexual
excitement. Cruel acts toward animals may reflect nonsexual aggressive and
sadistic motives or may be sacrifices demanded by religious rituals or delusional
beliefs. Someone who is sexually excited by an animal’s suffering is probably
both a sexual sadist and a zoophile (one attracted to animals).
Consenting or Paid Partners
Sexual sadism may also be acted out with freely consenting or paid partners,
e.g., prostitutes who specialize in roleplaying the “submissive” for sexually
sadistic clients. The nature of the acts varies from simulations of discomfort
to actions that result in severe injury. A consenting partner turns into
a victim when her withdrawal of consent goes unheeded or when an act results
in unexpected injury or death. This is when such acts come to the attention
of law enforcement.
Some sexual sadists cultivate compliant victims, i.e., those who enter into
a voluntary relationship but are manipulated into sado-masochistic activities
for an extended time. These victims are wives or girlfriends who underwent
extreme emotional, physical, and sexual abuse over months or years of a
relationship that began as an ordinary courtship. In these instances, the
offenders shaped the behavior of the women into gradual acceptance of
progressively deviant sexual acts, and then, through social isolation and
repeated abuse, battered their self-images until the women believed they
deserved the punishments meted out by their “lovers.”
CASE: One woman in her thirties advised authorities that she had been coerced
into an emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive relationship over an
18-month period. At first, she considered her offender to be the most loving
and caring man she had ever known, and she fell deeply in love. Having
occasionally used cocaine in the past, she was receptive to his suggestion
that they use cocaine to enhance their sexual relations. Eventually, she
became addicted. After 6 months together, he began to abuse her sexually.
This abuse included forced anal sex, whipping, painful sexual bondage, anal
rape by other males, and the insertion of large objects into her rectum.
This abusive behavior continued for a full year before she made her initial
complaint to the police.
These cases pose special problems to investigators and prosecutors because
it appears as though the complainant “consented” to the abuse. However, the
transformation of the vulnerable partner into a compliant victim resembles
the process by which other abusive men intimidate and control battered women
into remaining with their abusers.
Behavior Patterns Confused With Sexual Sadism
Many crimes involve the intentional infliction of physical and psychological
suffering. Sexual sadism is only one of the several motives for such crimes.
To avoid misinterpretation, investigators should be aware of those behavior
patterns that appear to be sexually sadistic, but which, in fact, arise from
different motives and contexts.
Sadistic Personality Disorder
Persons with this condition usually exhibit cruel, demeaning, and aggressive
behavior in both social and work situations, most often toward subordinates.
They tend to establish dominance in interpersonal relationships and convey
a lack of respect or empathy for others. Such individuals are often fascinated
by violence, take pleasure in demeaning, humiliating, and frightening others,
and may enjoy inflicting physical or psychological abuse. In this condition,
the purpose of these behaviors is not that of becoming aroused.