The motivation behind serial sexual homicide: is it sex, power, and control, or anger?

J Forensic Sci. 2006 Jul;51(4):900-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2006.00168.x.


Controversy exists in the literature and society regarding what motivates serial sexual killers to commit their crimes. Hypotheses range from the seeking of sexual gratification to the achievement of power and control to the expression of anger. The authors provide theoretical, empirical, evolutionary, and physiological support for the argument that serial sexual murderers above all commit their crimes in pursuit of sadistic pleasure. The seeking of power and control over victims is believed to serve the two secondary purposes of heightening sexual arousal and ensuring victim presence for the crime. Anger is not considered a key component of these offenders' motivation due to its inhibitory physiological effect on sexual functioning. On the contrary, criminal investigations into serial sexual killings consistently reveal erotically charged crimes, with sexual motivation expressed either overtly or symbolically. Although anger may be correlated with serial sexual homicide offenders, as it is with criminal offenders in general, it is not causative. The authors further believe serial sexual murderers should be considered sex offenders. A significant proportion of them appear to have paraphilic disorders within the spectrum of sexual sadism. "sexual sadism, homicidal type" is proposed as a diagnostic subtype of sexual sadism applicable to many of these offenders, and a suggested modification of DSM criteria is presented.

MeSH terms

  • Anger
  • Criminal Psychology*
  • Forensic Psychiatry*
  • Homicide / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Paraphilic Disorders / psychology*
  • Power, Psychological
  • Sexuality