CASE: A woman left her husband because of his verbal abuse, control over
her relations with family members, intimidating behavior, and violent outbursts
when drinking. Vengeful that she left him, he lured her back to the apartment
under the pretext of dividing their possessions. He then attempted to tie
her to the bed, beside which he had arranged a variety of torture instruments.
In the ensueing struggle, he told her of his plans to kill her as he stabbed
her repeatedly. She eventually persuaded him that she wanted to reconcile
and convinced him to summon medical assistance, whereupon he was arrested.
The husband did not have a history of sexual offenses or deviations, nor
did he give evidence of sexual sadism during the psychiatric examination.
He denied any sexual arousal in response to the suffering or any sexually
sadistic fantasies. Although it is possible that the husband was a sexual
sadist who only showed this tendency when he attacked his wife, the absence
of evidence showing a persistent pattern of sexual arousal in response to
suffering precluded this diagnosis.
Cruelty During Crime
While many crimes contain elements of cruelty, the acts are not necessarily
sexually sadistic in nature.
CASE: Two men, recently escaped from a State prison, captured a young couple
and took them to an isolated area. After repeatedly raping the woman, they
severely beat the couple and locked them in the trunk of their car. They
then set the car on fire and left the couple to burn to death.
Although these men intentionally inflicted physical and psychological suffering
on their victims, there was no indication they did so for sexual excitement.
They beat the couple after the rape and left as the victims were screaming
and begging for mercy. Sexual sadists would have been sexually stimulated
by the victims’ torment and would have remained at the scene until the suffering
Pathological Group Behavior
Cruelty often arises in offenses committed as a group, even where the individuals
have no history of cruelty.
CASE: A group of adolescents attacked a mother of six as she walked through
her neighborhood. They dragged her into a shed where they beat her and repeatedly
inserted a long steel rod into her rectum, causing her death. Some of her
attackers were friends of her children.
Most likely, the participants in this attack tried to prove themselves to
the others by intensifying the acts of cruelty.
History is replete with reigns of terror during which powerful institutions
sanctioned atrocious behaviors. Consider the rape and plunder of defeated
populations during the Crusades of the Middle Ages, or the execution of women
during the Salem witch hunts in colonial America. One of the most notorious
times of cruelty occurred in the 20th century, when millions of people fell
victim to the Nazis.
CASE: Commandant Koch, who headed the concentration camp at Buchenwald, punished
a man who tried to escape by confining him in a wooden box so small he could
only crouch. He then ordered that small nails be driven through its walls
so that he could not move without being pierced. This man was kept on public
display without food for two days and three nights until his screams ceased
to sound human.1
In all likelihood, sexual sadists volunteered to perform such deeds, but
the widespread deployment of such tactics was politically and racially motivated.