Reconciliation about changing minds and saving lives
August 11, 2013
August 25, 2013

Psychoanalytic insight into triggers for murder

by Pamela Nathan, CASSE Aboriginal program Director

RE: ‘A murderer driven by his lust to kill,’ by Nino Bucci, The Age August 12-2013.

A psychoanalytic perspective on dangerousness gives attention to the inner world. The crime scene from this perspective can represent the internal world. It is therefore important to map the internal crime scene and consider the patterns and triggers to the violent behaviour. Forensic analytic psychotherapists give special attention to the external sequence of events leading up to the violence as well as to the perpetrator’s internal reactions to and fantasies about, both the events and the violence. These unconscious dynamics may form triggers to violence, for example past or very early maternal rejection may lead to rejection in a relationship causing profound humiliation and rage and lead to murderousness.  It is almost a truism but if it happens once it is very likely to happen ten to twenty or more years later – things unresolved get repeated (a tiger doesn’t change its stripes).  Clinicians are always amazed when I remind them of this likelihood. A critical question is “Why now?” as we attempt to locate the answer not only in the present but also in the past which has a living present.  Substance use and past abuse whilst mitigating factors to a sexual murder do not explain it alone.

A tiger can change its stripes if subject to treatment which brings to mind and works through in detail and repeatedly over time the offence chain and the unconscious fantasies, intra-psychic conflicts and the primitive and repetitive sexualised rage that leads to sexual homicide.

It comes as no surprise that Steven James Hunter has killed twice in 26 years and because of female sexual rejection. Did the risk assessment on this man reveal his internal template and did he receive treatment other than cognitive behavioural therapy and problem solving for his terrible first crime? Did the risk assessment show his need for external control and containment as he offended nine days after his parole ended? Did his file on his offence stay locked in a drawer and did he receive any treatment at all?