Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Love and Death: The Sunset Strip Killers

Power and Need

Robert R. Hazelwood
Robert R. Hazelwood

Robert R. Hazelwood, a former FBI Special Agent with the Behavioral Sciences Unit, undertook an extensive study with Dr. Park Dietz and Dr. Janet Warren of twenty wives and girlfriends of sex offenders.   While he does not name them, one case he describes is similar to that of Carol Bundy.  Of this study, Hazelwood said, "It was more revealing than talking to the offenders.  With offenders, you get lies, projection, denial, minimization, or exaggeration.  The wives and girlfriends are just like a sponge.  They ask, 'How can I help?  What do you need to know?'  You'll get insights into the offender that you'll never get from the offender himself.  For example, what type of fantasy would he act out?  They would tell this in detail.  It was fascinating."

He was surprised to learn that these women all appeared to be normal and came from mostly middle-class backgrounds.   Like the women themselves, Hazelwood pinpointed the males as the instigators.  "These men have the ability to recognize vulnerable women and manipulate them.  The behavior gets reinforced with attention and affection, gifts, and excitement.  Eventually they [the men] are doing things that isolate them and further lower their self-esteem.  All they have is this guy, so they cooperate."

Hazelwood identified a five-step process that turned these women into accomplices:

Identification:  Identifying a vulnerable, easily-controlled person

Seduction:  Getting the woman to fall in love.  

Reshaping the woman's sexual norms: Introducing her to sexual images and acts that may offend or frighten her but which she must do to please the man and keep him involved. 

Social isolation: Cutting her off from family and friends. 

Punishment:  Physical, verbal, and sexual, which further erodes the woman's self-esteem and ability to act on her own.

In short, it's a relationship of dominance and submission, which means that one person is assertive and the other submissive as a means of achieving intimacy or greater sexual satisfaction.   Conflict like this reportedly magnifies physical sensation. 

Yet there's a popular misunderstanding about relationships that involve dominant and submissive partners that the dominant one runs the show and makes all decisions, and the submissive one has no choice but to obey.   In fact, as Gini Graham Scott points out in Erotic Power, both partners have strengths and weaknesses, both manipulate, and both complement the other.  To make the dance work, they each need the other.  They play with the illusion of forced captivity and make it seem more frightening than it actually is.

<em>Erotic Power</em> by Gini Graham Scott)
Erotic Power by Gini Graham

That means there's a continual exchange of power.   The dominant person finds pleasure in mastery while the submissive one enjoys the feeling of surrender.  They help each other to explore their fantasies by each of them playing the role that the other needs to complete his or her idea about the desired feeling.  The experience pushes them both closer to their most primal needs, which reportedly creates a flow of energy that neither can experience alone.  Oddly enough, a paradoxical equality is achieved between the one who shoulders power and the one who is willingly stripped of it.   

Thomas Moore's <em>Dark Eros</em>
Thomas Moore's Dark Eros

The most extreme form of this dynamic is sadomasochism, as Thomas Moore writes about in Dark Eros,   which involves consensual violence.   The "Master" inflicts pain and humiliation to help the "slave" reach emotional catharsis.  Both enjoy their parts in the scenario.  Sadomasochism, according to practitioners, eroticizes mental and physical pain by synthesizing the body with mind and spirit.  Psychologist Roy Baumeister says that reducing one's identity to the body via pain is a carefully choreographed activity that can provide immediate intense pleasure, because when the self is deconstructed, people are more willing to do things they might not ordinarily do.

The rituals make the fantasies they both enjoy concrete.   For the masochist, the violent loss of control, coupled with fear, translates into a powerful psychic orgasm and a feeling that the self has been momentarily obliterated.  It feels like a radical transformation into a sense of openness and full existence.  Obliteration of self means the loss of limitation, and this helps the participants to come to terms with the inner paradoxes of pain and desire.

The development of this dynamic is clear in the way Clark and Bundy related to each other.  She liked that this self-named "King of One Night Stands" (Kelleher) was decisive and dominant, so that once he became really controlling, she was already used to submitting to whatever he demanded.

No matter what it was.

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