The role of deviant sexual fantasy in the etiopathogenesis of sexual homicide: a systematic review
- MANIGLIO Roberto
- Journal article citation:
- Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(4), July 2010, pp.294-302.
In order to understand what promotes the development and acting out of deviant fantasy in sexual murders, this paper provides a systematic review of the studies that have investigated the role of fantasy in the etiopathogenesis of sexual homicide. Five databases were searched, supplemented with hand-search of reference lists from retrieved papers. Only seven studies were included: four observational-descriptive studies and three dissertation papers reporting the authors’ personal experiences with sexual murderers. The review focuses on hypotheses on how fantasies originate and/or lead to murder. A shift in emphasis from theory to empirical statistical evaluation is recommended for future research.
- Extended abstract:
The role of deviant sexual fantasy in the etiopathogenesis of sexual homicide: a systematic review.
Journal citation/publication details
Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(4), July/August 2010, pp.294-302.
Only seven studies were included: four observational-descriptive studies and three dissertation papers reporting the authors’ personal experiences with sexual murderers. The review focuses on hypotheses on how fantasies originate and/or lead to murder. A shift in emphasis from theory to empirical statistical evaluation is recommended for future research.
Many people entertain deviant sexual fantasies on occasion, without putting them into practice. Identification of the factors that promote the development of deviant sexual fantasies in sexual murderers would aid the prevention of sexual homicide and identification of potential suspects. The aim of the review was ‘to provide a qualitative and semi-quantitative analysis of the findings of the studies that have investigated the role of fantasy in the etiopathogenesis of sexual homicide’.
What sources were searched?
The following databases were searched for articles published between January 1966 and October 2009: AMED, EBSCO, ERIC, Medline, and Science Direct. The reference lists of relevant articles were hand searched for further material.
What search terms/strategies were used?
Separate searches were carried out using the keywords ‘fantasy’, ‘fantasies’ and ‘daydream(s)’ combined with ‘sexual homicide(s)’, ‘sexual murder(s)’, ‘sexual murderer(s)’, sexual killing(s)’, ‘sexual killer(s)’, and ‘sexual manslaughter(s)’.
What criteria were used to decide on which studies to include?
Studies reporting primary data or hypotheses derived from longitudinal, cross-sectional, case-control or cohort studies, or dissertation papers examining the factors that promote the development of deviant fantasy in sexual murderers and/or the mechanisms by which deviant fantasy translates into reality were eligible for inclusion. Studies had to be published in full in peer-reviewed journals.
Who decided on their relevance and quality?
The author and a named psychiatrist independently screened the identified studies for eligibility, abstracted data, and carried out quality assessment. Disagreements were resolved by consensus. The Newcastle-Ottawa Scale was used to assess the quality of observational studies; all were rated as ‘fair’. Dissertation papers were not judged on quality. The study selection process is illustrated in Figure 1.
How many studies were included and where were they from?
A total of 964 papers was identified; 71 papers were retrieved for detailed evaluation and seven studies were eventually included in the review. Two of the four observational-descriptive studies included in the review were set in the USA, one was from Canada and the other from England. The three other studies were dissertation papers based on the experience of the authors.
How were the study findings combined?
The findings are briefly summarised in Table 1 and presented as a narrative synthesis. The emphasis is on the study authors’ hypotheses on how fantasies originate and/or lead to kill.
Findings of the review
The total sample size was 171 participants, although 32 were included in two studies. Of the participants included: 95% were male; 33% had committed multiple murders; 85% were in prison, and; 15% were in special hospitals. All of the four observational studies reported deviant sexual fantasies in the majority of sexual murderers studied. Factors associated with deviant sexual fantasies included early difficulties in social relationships, a history of child abuse, isolation, and an aversion to peer sex.
‘Results of this systematic review suggest that deviant sexual fantasies can promote sexual homicide when combined with early traumatic experiences, especially child sexual abuse, social withdrawal, and/or sexual difficulties’.
Implications for policy or practice
None are discussed.
- Subject terms:
- murder, risk, sex offenders;
- Content type:
- systematic review
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