I was doing a little research on criminals and whether or not on some level they do want to get caught at some point in their criminal career. At SAFE International we teach that attackers do not want to get caught so part of one's self defense response verbally or physically should include skills that address that. Another reason I began to question whether they want to get caught or not is because we increasingly hear stories where people perform acts of violence where you think they must know they will likely die or at a minimum be seriously injured. And then we often read stories of the "World's Dumbest Criminals" who take ridiculous chances or make seemingly stupid decisions which might cause us to think, they must want to be caught on some level. And then it appears in this age of second to second media coverage that they may do it for the fame they will receive even to the point they will risk being caught or killed. So in this blog I thought I would explore the thinking of a criminal in regards to whether they might, on some subconscious or conscious level, want to get caught.
I found an excellent article by Stanton E. Samenow Ph.D. in which he states, "
I have been conducting psychological evaluations of offenders for 46 years. Not once have I found that an offender in any way, shape, or form desired to get caught. In fact, a detailed understanding of the thinking patterns that underlie criminal behavior leads to a completely different conclusion."
As in many "careers", killers/rapists start with a lack of experience in the beginning so the details that go into planning a killing, rape, or whatever criminal act they engage in is quite detailed and meticulous. Initially they are beginners who strategize who they will target, how they will implement their plan and where it will take place over and over in their head. You might be surprised how much thought and visualization goes into the planning of their violence. As athletes do nowadays, they play it over and over in their head visualizing what they consider to be success. They weigh the pros and cons until they feel they have a plan with very low risk of being caught. Is there any wonder why the person they target is at a disadvantage right from the outset of a possible attack. Once they experience the thrill and excitement of their violence, it becomes even more important to continue this trail of violence without getting caught because quite simply put, if they get caught, the thrill of their violence stops and they may experience the same violence on them if they were to go to jail. Now the amount of time between attacks may be days, weeks, months, or years. Subsequent attacks then take place based on past experiences and their success so that they have a formula for success in their minds. You can compare it to the way many run a business where they set their goals, how they will achieve those goals, and evaluate the results of those goals, but in this case it is the business of violence.
Are all killers/rapists successful? Of course not. Many are just not smart, even being careless from the outset which results in their being caught quickly although they still feel they planned their attacks meticulously. Others who are successful become careless later on as we will discuss in the next couple paragraphs.
What happens with many is after a certain amount of time, one develops a sense of invulnerability and over-confidence which may lead to taking more risk, often with a want to escalate the excitement due to becoming complacent or bored. Like someone on drugs who is looking for their next high, they may take what we think to be extreme risk, but in their minds, their sense of invulnerability now begins to skew their critical thinking they once had at the beginning of their violent "career". Some of the new risks they take may include locations, time of day, frequency, less time planning, etc.
Some may not like my use of the word career, but for most attackers it is approached like a business act that takes place over years with one looking for areas to advance their goals. I also like to use the word career to emphasize how criminals take it as seriously as one might a job career. I believe that if we understand how seriously attackers approach violence, we are more likely to increase our knowledge base on violence and how to deal with it.
For some, they make what we would view as careless, even reckless decisions, but in their minds they are still not expecting to get caught. Their continued success breeds apathy much like most people feel in regards to themselves falling victim to violence. An excellent example of this reckless decision making can be seen in an article written by Scott A. Bonn Ph.D. where he says about serial killer Joel Rifkin who was a serial killer in New York State where he murdered 17 prostitutes in the 1990s,
"Rifkin was unexpectedly and unceremoniously caught when his Mazda pickup truck was pulled over by a state trooper for having no rear license plate. Upon approaching the truck, the state trooper smelled the unmistakable stench of death and discovered the decomposing body of Rifkin’s final victim under a tarp in the back of the truck. When questioned about the corpse, Rifkin coldly replied, “She was a prostitute. I picked her up on Allen Street in Manhattan. I had sex with her. Then things went bad and I strangled her. Do you think I need a lawyer?”
So what are we to take from all of this? Just understanding how much effort goes into planning attacks shows you why it is critical everyone learn some basic understanding on how attackers/rapists think. In addition, learning some basic strategies on how to identify, avoid, or deal with potential violence may be the difference between life and death.
As always, please feel free to agree, disagree, or add additional thoughts.
Managing Director, SAFE International
1) Dr. Scott Bonn is professor of sociology and criminology at Drew University. He is available for consultation and media commentary. Follow him @DocBonn on Twitter and visit his website docbonn.com https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wicked-deeds/201409/serial-killer-myth-4-they-want-get-caught