The Contributing Factors to Jeffrey Dahmer's Crimes

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When the names of serial killers and their criminal actions are broadcasted to the public conscious, people tend to focus on what rests on the surface. They gather their own conclusions about the murderer, labeling them as “evil” or “monsters,” and depict them in an animalistic manner, which removes all aspects they possess that alludes to their humanity. Nevertheless, when people devote their time in scrutinizing the specifics of cases, they’ll stumble upon the indubitable truth of serial killers: they are individuals with psychological/biological issues, traumatic pasts, or a distorted perception of reality, which leads them to carry out their violent and immoral tendencies. This is relative to the examination of Jeffrey Dahmer, who was an American serial killer, notoriously known for murdering 17 men through the years of 1978 and 1991. His criminal record exhibits unscrupulous conduct, where he killed, raped, pierced, eviscerated, and ate multiple bodies, keeping their remains around different areas of his apartment, like his refrigerator. Dahmer’s murderous spree indicates a man’s deprivation of morality, however, it can be interpreted through criminology theories, such as attachment theory, general strain theory, and psychodynamic Theory, which all look at his past experiences and his childhood development to elucidate the reasons behind his criminal patterns. 

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On May 21, 1960, Jeffrey Dahmer was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and later grew up to be an infamous serial murderer. His first kill was committed in the summer of 1978, shortly three weeks after his high school graduation. Being left alone for the day and tormented with his sadistic reveries, Dahmer felt inclined to invite the 19-year-old hitchhiker, Steve Hicks, back to his home for a couple of drinks. After they engaged in sexual activities, Hicks attempted to leave, which promoted Dahmer to hit the man on the back of his head with a barbell and thus, ending his life. In order to hide the evidence, Dahmer resorted to cutting up the hitchhiker’s body into pieces, putting them into garbage bags, and then burying them in his backyard. This was the genesis Dahmer’s future endeavours as a criminal, as he didn’t attack another person again until nine years later in September 1987. His second victim was named Steven Tuomi, who Dahmer met at a local gay bar, where he invited him over back to his house to have sex. When waking up from his drunken night before, Dahmer found the young man dead and soon shoved his body into a suitcase. Before butchering the body, he satisfied his necrophilic fantasies by having non-participative sex with it. After he was done, he would store the body somewhere hidden, which became the pattern for the remainder of his killings, as his sexual desires and his fascinations with death became his motivation to continue.

This system of behavior did not stem from a random occurrence, but from Dahmer’s past experiences, which caused him to develop a troubled mind. Therefore, the first place to look in his situation is the relationship he held with his parents. It is conventional for serial killers to endure physical or sexual abuse as children, however, Dahmer was endowed with parents who did not assault him, yet he felt neglected by them. As a consequence of this, his feeling of psychological abandonment produced a tension on Dahmer’s relationship with his parents, leaving him emotionally unattached to them both. “According to psychologist John Bowlby’s attachment theory, the ability to form an emotional bond to another person has important psychological implications that follow people across the life span”. Attachment figures, such as mothers and fathers, must supply consistent attention and consolation in order for the child to survive. Dahmer’s parents, Joyce Flint and Lionel Dahmer, were both neglectful of their child as they both were occupied with various things. Growing up, Dahmer had to witness his mother cope with multiple mental illnesses, such as depression, hysteria, and suicidal thoughts, and under the effects of Equanil, an anti-anxiety drug. It was reported that at age 10, he felt guilty about his mother’s mental disorders and blamed himself. 

As his mother was self-involved with her own internal conflicts, his father devoted his time and priority to his work. During Dahmer’s childhood, Lionel was working towards his PhD at Iowa State University, which caused him to be away from home majority of the time. Jeffrey was never able to fully develop a relationship with either attachment figure. “In the 1994 Stone Phillips interview, Jeffrey Dahmer confessed that he had never had a real deep conversation with his father; conversations he did have with his father were always superficial” (Higgs 11). From this lack of communication, both Lionel and Joyce carried no awareness of their son’s mental processing, which rendered them ignorant to Jeffrey’s behaviors. “Failure to develop proper attachment may cause people to fall prey to a number of psychological disorders” and that “lack of attachment predicts involvement in a broad spectrum of criminal activity,” which corresponds to Jeffrey Dahmer’s entanglement with a life of homicide. The lack of relationships he had with his attachment figures led him to his attempts in filling his emptiness by killing others, believing they would remain with him forever.

His constant state of loneliness caused strain on his mental processing, which relates to Robert Agnew’s General Strain Theory. Agnew argued that an individual’s strain can be linked with their inclination to commit crime. The theorist configured his ideas into groups, as he believed that strain was caused by multiple sources. The first is the “failure to achieve positively valued goals,” which is “a result of the disjunction between aspirations and expectations”. Dahmer was independent as a child, as he never developed social relationships with any of his peers, which rendered him an outcast. During his high school career, the other students noticed unconventional patterns carried out by Dahmer, like how he lacked empathy for others, which made them feel uncomfortable associating with him. Dahmer also never engaged in any romantic relations with anyone. Agnew also conjectured that “strain may occur because of the actual or anticipated loss of positively valued stimuli.” The divorce of his parents was perceived as the removal of “positively valued stimuli,” as this led him to depend on alcohol consumption in order to fulfill his emotional emptiness. Joyce and Lionel’s failed marriage was seen as a major catalyst for Dahmer to turn his sadistic ideas into violent actions, which plays into Agnew’s third category: “presentation of negative stimuli”. In order for Jeffrey Dahmer to receive the company he wanted, he had to kill. Dahmer “stated that he had wanted to be with his victims, to keep them with him, and he described his fear of being abandoned by them”. Dahmer had a fear of abandonment, as he endured a life of neglect by his parents, which provoked his desires to gain control over his victims and establish them as a part of him.

Although his surroundings were contributing factors for his strain, there were also psychological traits that were instrumental in his cognitive development, which falls under Sigmund Freud’s psychodynamic theory. Fred believed that “we all carry with us the residue of the most significant emotional attachments of our childhood, which then guides our future interpersonal relationships”. This theory focuses on the significance of childhood and how these experiences shape one’s personality, which is composed of three parts: the ID (an individual’s mental structure), the ego (counteracts the demands of the ID), and the superego (moral compass). As a child, Jeffrey Dahmer was naturally interested in biology and the concept of death. When he was only 12, he would search around his neighborhood for dead animals he could potentially dissect. He would playfully stick the skulls of animals on sticks, which was a behavior that frightened the neighbors. His interest in death at such a young age alludes to his ID. However, since he faced negative experiences in his childhood, such as his neglectful parents and ostracizations from social networks, he was afflicted with a damaged ego, “unable to cope with conventional society”.  

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