Sexual homicides involving children have never been an easy topic. This crime has not only shattered the lives of the victims and their families but also made us question humanity. Previous studies revealed that homicide is the major cause of childhood deaths over the past three decades. In 1999, 3 per 100,000 of the US juvenile population were homicide victims—a rate substantially higher than those of other developed countries.
A 2012 study revealed that the overwhelming majority of sexual homicides are perpetrated by males. In a 29-year study, nearly 95% of those arrested for sexual homicides were males and the remaining 5% were females. Among male sexual homicide offenders, 88% of them were adults (aged 18 and above) and the remaining 12% were juveniles under the age of 18 years. It was also found that most of the victims were females. These figures, however, need to be updated and improved.
According to the researchers, the lack of a standardized definition for sexual homicide has hindered the accurate classification of sexual homicides and the accuracy in the reporting systems of national crime statistics. This explains why documented statistics of this distinct type of violent crime are often misleading, difficult to estimate, or simply unavailable. A popular definition explains that sexual homicides “result from one person killing another in the context of power, control, sexuality, and aggressive brutality.”
Homicides of Children
This brutal crime isn’t new. History has a fair share of this kind of case. Numerous accounts of men and women who have killed within the context of satisfying some sort of perverted sexual drive have been reported over the past decades. One infamous case involved the 15th Century French nobleman Gilles de Rais, one of the wealthiest men in France, known to have served as a soldier alongside Joan of Arc. Gilles de Rais was a serial killer who killed at least 150 peasant children after torturing them.
In the UK, one of the earliest recorded sexual killings occurred in 1867. Frederick Baker reportedly raped and killed an 8-year-old girl after luring her away from friends. Researchers said that it is also possible that the Whitechapel killer who terrorized the east end of London in the late 1880s was also motivated by sex. These are just some of the cases showing how children became easy targets for these perpetrators.
A Canadian study that aimed to better understand the demographics of children who were abducted and subsequently murdered presented statistics about homicides involving children. According to the Canadian Center for Child Protection, a national charity dedicated to the personal safety of children, the researchers examined 155 child victims and 93 offenders, which involved an environmental scan and examination of instances involving the abduction and subsequent murder of a child.
The findings showed that 84% of the victims in the study were female and the average age was 11.6 years old, with 43% of victims between the ages of 14 and 16 years old. Of all the offenders, 92% of the offenders were male, 69% were under 30 years of age, and 55% had a previous criminal record. About 77% of the cases were determined to be sexual.
A different study conducted by the US Department of Justice revealed that about 1,800 juveniles were victims of homicide in the US in 1999—a rate substantially higher than that of any other developed country. Rates are substantially higher for African American juveniles and juveniles in certain jurisdictions. Most homicides involving young children are committed by family members through beatings or suffocation. These children are mostly of the ages 6 to 11.
Overall, the statistics presented by the US Department of Justice are grim and alarming. The US rate of homicides in young children is 5 times higher than the rate of the other 25 developed countries combined and nearly double the rate of the country with the next highest rate.
Researchers Discovered a Number of Specific Patterns
In a recent study, researchers supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation examined an as yet unexplored aspect of homicides: sexual sadism. The findings could greatly help in contributing to the search for relevant profiles, to the identification of suspects and their possible arrest.
"Our study provides new knowledge to police that can help them to reconstruct the sequence of events even when the evidence present at the scene of a crime is confusing. They show also that we cannot continue to blindly apply what we know about cases involving adult victims to the specific case of crimes committed against children,” Julien Chopin, a postdoctoral researcher and criminologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, said.
According to Phys.org, an internet news portal that provides the latest news on science, the researchers created one of the most extensive international databases on sexual homicide. They used the data they gathered about extra-familial sexual homicides that occurred in France and Canada between 1948 and 2018. The data included 772 cases, of which 136 involved victims classified as children. After that, they developed a scale based on criteria relating to what can be observed at the crime scene.
The team looked for criteria results of at least 6 in score. Of the 136 cases of child sexual homicide in the database, 35 were identified as sadistic crimes (mean score 6.97) and 101 as conventional crimes (mean score 2.69). Then they analyzed the offender's decision-making process before, during, and after the crime. Using statistical models, they studied 34 variables: 14 for the method of killing and the body recovering characteristics, 6 for the context of the crime, 6 for the crime characteristics, 5 for the strategies used by the offender to avoid being identified, and 3 for the location.
The results showed that there are specific patterns that can distinguish crimes of sexual sadism committed against adult victims and conventional sexual crimes committed against children. For instance, there is a certain logic to the way offenders plot their crime. Usually, they extensively think about and plan their crime. "They target areas of predation and children or teenagers who are unsupervised, for example, while riding their bikes or hitchhiking. They use subtle ruses to lure the children. They commit their crime in isolated places so as not to be noticed,” Chopin said.
Other special characteristics include the sexual acts being varied and extreme, death occurring by strangulation or asphyxiation, and victims often left naked. "Since they may be recidivist offenders, it is in the interest of the police to systematically collect clues at the scene of the crime and compare them with their databases,” Chopin added.