Dead famous: Jimmy Savile and the necrophilia allegations

(The following blog is based an article that that I was commissioned to write for a national British newspaper – The Independent – following the allegations that British television presenter, disc jockey and charity fundraiser Jimmy Savile had engaged in necrophilic practices. My original article was published on October 24 [2012] by The Independent and is reproduced here along with some of the references that my article was based on. My article was the most read blog of all The Independent’s blogs that week).

Recent reports about the sexual preferences of Jimmy Savile have not only thrown up allegations of paedophilia but have also hinted that he engaged in other sexual paraphilias such as necrophilia (having sex with corpses). Paraphilias (from the Greek and translating as “beyond usual or typical love”) are uncommon types of sexual expression and often more commonly described as sexual deviations, sexual perversions or disorders of sexual preference. Many of these behaviours may appear bizarre and/or socially unacceptable, and represent the extreme end of the sexual continuum. A number of published news reports on Savile all allege that he made unaccompanied visits to mortuaries (such as the one at Stoke Mandeville) and that he spoke publicly to the media about his “fascination” with dead bodies.

Some definitions of necrophilia make reference to “the erotic attraction to corpses” but that on its own doesn’t necessarily mean the person enjoys sex with a dead person. Necrophilia is very rare and there are no reliable estimates as to how prevalent the activity is. This is because the statistics are biased by those who get caught and/or end up seeking psychiatric help for the condition (in fact, all the knowledge we have about necrophilia comes from published case studies). The overwhelming majority of necrophiles are male (as are most paraphiliacs more generally) but there are occasional female cases (the most infamous being Karen Greenlee, the American who fell in love and kidnapped a dead male from a funeral home).

Given the paedophilic and necrophilic allegations against Savile, some members of the press have speculated whether there is an association between the two paraphilic behaviours. The scientific literature on necrophilia shows that it has close associations and overlaps with some sexual paraphilias including sexual sadism (sexual pleasure from hurting someone), sexual cannibalism (sexual pleasure from eating someone), vampirism (sexual pleasure from drinking someone’s blood) and erotophonophilia (sexual pleasure from murdering someone). However, there is little research showing any association between necrophilia and paedophilia except for those individuals that practice necropedophilia (sexual contact with the corpses of children).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some types of occupation that have the easiest access to dead bodies are most likely to engage in necrophilic acts (the most obvious being gravediggers and mortuary attendants). However, there is some evidence that necrophiles seek out such jobs in the first place. In the largest published study of 122 necrophiles from all over the world, more than half (57%) were employed in a profession that gave them easy access to dead bodies. Such behaviour is also common among paedophiles that seek out jobs providing easy and/or unhindered access to children. Such claims have also been levelled at Savile surrounding allegations of both paedophilia and necrophilia.

One common reason given for why some people engage in such behaviour is the fact that corpses cannot refuse, reject or resist sex from a necrophile. Additionally, they cannot inform anyone (such as those in the criminal justice system) of its occurrence. Similar reasons have been applied to Savile in relation to choosing mentally ill and/or very vulnerable victims who (in essence) didn’t have a voice (or a voice that would be believed).

In 2011, Dr Anil Aggrawal of Maulana Azad Medical College (New Delhi, India) published the most in-depth academic and clinical account of necrophilia in his book Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects. One of the most interesting observations is his claim that there are many different types of necrophile. Dr. Aggrawal claims there are ten different types of necrophile differentiated by the motivation and/or the type of sexual contact the necrophile has with the corpse. For instance, there are ‘homocidal necrophiles’ (so-called ‘necrosadists’, who will kill people just so as they can have sex with the dead) and ‘exclusive necrophile (who are psychologically and physiologically incapable of having sex with anyone living). In relation to the behaviour allegedly engaged in by Savile, he would most likely be classed as an ‘opportunistic necrophile’ (someone who engages in other types of sexual behaviour but would have sexual intercourse with a dead person if the opportunity arose).

Academic research has shown that two-thirds of the necrophiles say that their main reason for engaging in sex with corpses is the desire to possess an unresisting and unrejecting partner. The sadistic side of necrophilia has certainly been reported in some of the more extreme case studies but this appears to be rare, even among most cases of necrophilia. However, a recently published study by Michelle Stein (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, USA) and colleagues examined 211 sexual homicides. Sixteen cases involved necrophilia (8%). Their findings suggest that the most common explanation for necrophilia (i.e., the offender’s desire to have an unresisting partner) may not always be applicable in cases where necrophilia is connected to sexual murder.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Aggrawal, A. (2009). A new classification of necrophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 16, 316-320.

Aggrawal A. (2011). Necrophilia: Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Burg, B.R. (1982). The sick and the dead: The development of psychological theory on necrophilia from Krafft-Ebing to the present. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 18, 242-254.

Ehrlich, E., Rothschild, M.A., Pluisch, F. & Schneider, V. (2000). An extreme case of necrophilia. Legal Medicine, 2, 224-226.

Kafka, M.P. (2010). The DSM Diagnostic Criteria for Paraphilia Not Otherwise Specified. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 373-376.

Rosman, J.P. & Resnick, P.J. (1989). Sexual attraction to corpses: A psychiatric review of necrophilia. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 17, 153-163.

Shaffer, L. & Penn, J. (2006). A comprehensive paraphilia classification system. In E.W. Hickey (Ed.), Sex crimes and paraphilia. New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Stein, M.L., Schlesinger, L.B. & Pinizzotto, A.J. (2010). Necrophilia and sexual homicide. Journal of Forensic Science, 55, 443-446.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on October 26, 2012, in Case Studies, Compulsion, Fame, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychiatry, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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