Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cannibalism: The Ancient Taboo in Modern Times

Criminal Cannibalism

In modern times, the murder of a person or the use of a corpse for the purpose of consumption by another human in any situation, outside that of conditions of starvation, is considered to be a form of criminal cannibalism or anthropophagy. However, the definition of and laws governing criminal cannibalism vary considerably from culture to culture.

In many parts of the world cannibalism is not considered a crime in and of itself and it is often only recognized in concurrence with another crime. For example, in Britain and the United States of America, cannibalism is not considered to be a felony, but is socially unacceptable. Those who have been found to participate in the gruesome act are usually charged with another crime that is directly related to the act of cannibalism, such as murder, grave robbery or necrophilia.

In other cultures, what some deem to be an act of criminal cannibalism may be an acceptable element of another culture. For example, Japanese enemies were allegedly consumed during the height of World War II by tribes in Papua New Guinea, which was acceptable in the culture during that period.

There are many who refuse to believe that cannibalism is practiced in this modern, civilized age. However, there is much evidence suggesting that it does occur and with some frequency. There have been many documented cases of cannibalism, especially within the last 100 years. 

There are four primary forms of criminal cannibalism:

  • sexual cannibalism
  • aggression cannibalism
  • spiritual and ritual cannibalism
  • epicurean/nutritional cannibalism.

These various forms substantially overlap with one another. For example, one may consume human flesh for several purposes, such as to achieve a sense of power and control (aggression cannibalism), yet one may also find the taste to be agreeable (epicurean/nutritional cannibalism). Another may indulge in cannibalism in order to reach a higher spiritual affinity with the person they have devoured, simultaneously achieving intense sexual and gratification.

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