Category Archives: Case Studies
In 2014, I was the resident psychologist on 12-episode television series called Forbidden made for the Discovery Channel. One of the strangest stories that the series reported on was ‘cane therapy’ for the ‘Twisted Treatments’ episode. Before I was interviewed for the story, I had to research the story and was also given some production notes as background material. According to the material I was provided with:
“Caning treatment was pioneered in Siberia by Dr Sergei Speransky a biologist from the Novosibirsk Institute of Medicine who together with Dr Marina Chuhrova released a research report in 2005 on whipping as a therapy. Dr Speransky and Dr Chukhrova developed the medical theory behind caning. Importantly Dr Chukhrova notes that, ‘It is not some warped sado-masochistic activity,’ but has a clear medical purpose. Apparently, there are some sound scientific principles behind these beatings. Namely the theory that pain activates the body’s immune system, causing it to perform much more effectively than under ‘normal circumstances.’ Dr Chukhrova taught [Dr. German Pilipenko] the theory as a student at university and controversially he has taken her theory and put it into practice, combining it with his own unique psychology treatment. 50-year old German Pilipenko has been caning people for nine years. In his spare time German enjoys the blissful serenity of mountain skiing in his local town. But in his professional life German has to bear the yelps, tears and groans of his patients – German canes and whips people for a living. German started to practice cane therapy in a medical clinic in 2004. Though the clinic no longer exists he’s continued the controversial practice as a private psychologist in a rented 14 square meter room in Novosibirsk’s Business Centre”.
Dr. Pilipenko is a psychotherapist and a hypnotist and claims that cane therapy can cure addictions (both chemical addictions such as alcohol and other drug addictions, and behavioural addictions such as sex addiction and work addiction), depression, phobias and neuroses. Along with Dr. Chukhrova, they have successfully treated over 1000 individuals (aged between 17 and 70 years) of their problems. The therapy appears to be arguably similar to primal therapy (which I briefly examined in a previous blog) and according to Pilipenko “can be used as a kind of anti-stress injection”. Via intense caning sessions Pilipenko not only draws physical pain from his clients but also their emotional reactions. It is the release of these emotions (as with primal therapy) is what he believes cures his patients of their addictions, stresses, depression, and anxieties. (If you are a journalist or an artist he offers the therapy free as a way of promoting his therapeutic practice). For the television programme, one of Dr. Pilipenko’s female clients (Anzhelika Alexeyev, a 22-year old, fifth-year medical student) was interviewed. The production notes I was given noted:
“Anzhelika is only at the beginning of her life, but she’s already experienced hardship and emotional difficulties. Receiving a beating from Dr Pilipenko has been her solution. She’s already visited him once but German believes there is more work to be done. [The programme will] follow Anzhelika through pain and tears as she returns for more caning. She also introduces her father to the treatment and we see her bring him for a session…Her first caning experience was at the start of [the] year…Anzhelika had been suffering stress after miraculously surviving a car crash. German’s advice was that ‘she really needed a lashing.’ She agreed. Initially at the start of the session Anzhelika wanted to leave. She suffered through the first beating in tears, though she persisted, knowing the pain was temporary. She believes the treatment has been successful in curing her trauma and stress related to the accident. In fact she is a big supporter of German’s caning and believes it helps to get rid of emotions that are deeply hidden, unacknowledged and out of control”.
Many newspaper reports have covered the ‘therapy’ over the last few years but nothing has been published on it in peer-reviewed scientific journals. According to one report on the Alternet news site:
“Practitioners Dr. German Pilipenko and Professor Marina Chukhrova say that their treatment is grounded in science: ‘We cane the patients on the buttocks with a clear and definite medical purpose’…The pair say that addicts suffer from a lack of endorphins, and that pain can stimulate the brain to release the feel-good chemicals, ‘making patients feel happier in their own skins.’ Mainstream doctors dismiss the practice, saying that exercise, acupuncture, massage, chocolate or sex are all better at stimulating endorphin secretion. Dr. Pilipenko admits, ‘we get a lot of skepticism…but so do all pioneers.’ The Siberian Times reports that ‘the reaction of most people is predictable: to snigger, scoff or make jokes loaded with sexual innuendo.’ And one recipient of the treatment, 41-year-old recovering alcoholic Yuri, says his girlfriend accused him of simply visiting a dominatrix. But he adds that although ‘the first strike was sickening…Somehow I got through all 30 lashes. The next day I got up with a stinging backside but no desire at all to touch the vodka in the fridge. The bottle has stayed there now for a year’.”
The Alternet story also interviewed another patient (Natasha, a 22-year-old recovering heroin addict with several months clean) who had been paying $100 for a two-hour session and claimed:
“I am the proof that this controversial treatment works, and I recommend it to anyone suffering from an addiction or depression. It hurts like crazy – but it’s given me back my life…With each lash, I scream and grip tight to the end of the surgical table. It’s a stinging pain, real agony, and my whole body jolts…I’m not a masochist. My parents never beat me or even slapped me, so this was my first real physical pain and it was truly shocking. If people think there’s anything sexual about it, then it’s nonsense.”
The article reported that Natasha had received 60 strokes of the cane per session (noting that drug addicts get double the number of lashes than alcoholics). Professor Chukhrova was then quoted as saying that extreme care is taken to ensure patient safety, and that:
“The beating is really the end of the treatment. We do a lot of psychological counseling first, and also use detox. It is only after all the counseling, and heart and pain resistance checks, that we start with the beating. [We use willow branches because they] are flexible and can’t be broken nor cause bleeding…If any patients get sexual pleasure from the beatings, we stop immediately…This is not what our treatment is about. If they’re looking for that, there are plenty of other places to go.”
According to Dr Pilipenko, the unusual combination of psychology and corporal-style punishment is designed to train patients in endurance, tolerance and resistance as ways of coping with stress. Pilipenko believes he provides his clients with the tools to deal with stress and problems in their lives. More specifically he claims that:
“Psychological stimulation is aimed to convince a patient that aggression, idleness and depression will cause problems in life…Usually a patient is prescribed three separate visits, before they can be cured but it might be necessary for anything up to 10 sessions, depending on the severity of the individual case”.
Dr. Pilipenko also claims that cane therapy that was practiced by monks in the Middle Ages. However, I also noted that following each caning, his clients receive both psychotherapy and hypnotherapy. This begs the question as to whether it is these additional forms of intervention that are key to therapeutic success rather than the caning in and of itself.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Alternet (2013). Weird science: Siberian psychologists caning patients “on the buttocks” in new addiction treatment. January 7. Located at: http://www.alternet.org/weird-science-siberian-psychologists-caning-patients-buttocks-new-addiction-treatment
Daily News (2014). Russian patients pay therapists to cane them in bizarre treatment. October 2. Located at: http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/russian-patients-pay-therapists-cane-article-1.1960979
Siberian Times (2013). Beating the addiction out of you – literally. January 7. Located at: http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/features/beating-addiction-out-of-you-literally/
Stewart, W. (2013). How to beat your demons, literally: Siberian psychologists thrash patients with sticks to help them kick their addictions. Daily Mail, January 7. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2258395/How-beat-addictions-literally-Siberian-psychologists-thrash-patients-sticks-help-kick-habits.html
“I’m a guy and I LOVE being walked on by women wearing high heels. It doesn’t hurt. Is this normal to have women step on my guy parts with high heels?” (Question posted on a Yahoo! website).
In a previous blog I briefly looked at ‘trampling fetishism’. According to a relatively new Wikipedia entry on the behaviour:
“Trampling refers to the sexual activity that involves being trampled underfoot by another person or persons. Trampling is common enough to support a sub-genre of trampling pornography. Because trampling can be used to produce pain, the trampling fetish for some adherents is closely linked to sadomasochistic fetishism. A similar fetish is to imagine themselves as being tiny under another’s feet, or being normal size, but being trampled by a giant person. This is known as ‘giant/giantess fetishism’ or macrophilia. It is not the same as trampling. The most common form of trampling is done by a male or female walking on a male or female submissive and is usually done barefooted, in socks, nylons, or shoes. The trampler will predominantly walk, jump and stomp on the person’s back, chest, stomach, genitalia, face and in some rare instances, the neck”.
If you type ‘trampling fetish’ into Google, lots of YouTube video clips appear instantly. Video clips of trampling have been present on the internet since 1997 courtesy of an number of infamous American tramples such as ‘Daddo’ ‘Kingfish’ and ‘LAF’. If you’re not into the visual side, you can read various forms of trampling fan fiction such as the stories at the Trample and Crushing website.
Since writing my previous blog on this topic, I filmed an interview about a trampling fetishist as part of the television program Forbidden (on which I was the resident psychologist). The television program that I participated in followed the story of a man called Frank O’Brien. Frank recalls his fetish developing during early to mid- adolescence. As a 15-year old teenager, he would trick the girls he knew into stepping on him by inventing games that resulted in him being trampled upon. As the show’s production notes reported:
“[Frank would] invent games to race girls to the door of his cubby house and have them wrestle or sit on him in the process. In the backyard pool he’d encourage them to step on him underwater. Ever since he can remember Frank has wanted to get under a girl’s foot…You could say Frank gets a ‘kick’ out of it. And among friends Frank is known simply as ‘Step on Me.’ For Frank, there’s nothing finer than having a woman walk all over him”.
By his early thirties Frank’s trampling fetish began to take up more and more of his time. In his social life he started attending as many sadomasochistic shows that he could and he longed and desired dominant mistresses that would help cater for his trampling fetish. The back-story I received about Frank noted that:
“The mistresses he saw early in life largely turned Frank away from the idea of trampling. They were more prostitutes than professional mistresses with an idea of what he really wanted. Back in those days there was no training for mistresses in trampling and this really has only taken off in Australia since the early 2000s. Now there are mistresses who train specifically in trampling”.
According to Frank, Melbourne is the centre of Australia’s BDSM culture and he introduced the Forbidden film crew to the niche trampling community that exists there. Frank’s favourite club is ‘Provocation’ that hosts a monthly fetish social event.
“But his idea of getting down on the dance floor is a little different to most. When Frank gets down, he literally gets down. He has a special mat that he lies on to make the experience slightly more bearable but comfort is not exactly what Frank is looking for. He’ll bring with him a platform that he’ll set up beside his mat; written across it are the words ‘step up here – girls only’. And that’s exactly what Frank wants. He’ll lie there for hours in the club, enjoying the feeling of women trampling him. Some wear stilettos, some are in platform shoes and others go barefooted – he doesn’t discriminate about what kind of footwear is permitted, but generally sharper and more pointy shoes offer greater satisfaction for [him]”.
Frank describes himself naturally submissive and he now has weekly trampling sessions with ‘Mistress Spanklet’ who is Frank’s long-term friend and a Dom-sub ‘play partner’. Frank describes these weekly sessions as his “drug fix” and something he “couldn’t live without”. Despite having some of his bowel removed (and it being dangerous for him for someone to trample on his stomach), he cannot stop it. He now tries to avoid ‘tummy trampling’ but notes that:
“Trampling can be on any part of the body, including the more sensitive regions of the face, throat and genitalia. [He] enjoys cock and ball trampling on a weekly basis with Spanklet. His face, arms and legs are also prime trampling ground in private and in public”.
In fact, Frank claims that he was responsible for the first ever penis trampling photograph on the internet. In 1999, Frank claimed he took the full weight of a woman in sharp red stilettos twisting as hard as she could on his penis. Frank claims the photograph (taken by the woman’s sexual partner) kick-started “the worldwide cock trampling trend”.
There appears to be little academic research on the topic but anecdotal evidence suggests there is (unsurprisingly) an overlap between trampling fetishes and foot fetishes (podophilia) – on which there is quote a lot of academic research given it appears to be the most prevalent type of fetishism. Obviously Frank’s case is extreme and is heavily interwoven into his life. While there appear to be addictive elements to his behaviour, I don’t believe that Frank’s trampling fetish is an addiction. Bizarre and extreme – yes. Addictive – no. But I’m happy to be proved wrong.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Semple, K. (2009). Bartender, make it a stiletto. New York Times, June 10. Located at:
Sexy Tofu (2012). National Fetish Day: Interview with a trampler. January 20. Located at: http://sexytofu.com/tag/trampling/
Wikipedia (2012). Talk: Crush fetish. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3ACrush_fetish
Wikipedia (2012). Trampling. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trampling
Many people that I know would probably describe me as a ‘writaholic’ based on the number of articles and papers that I have had published. When it comes to addictions in academia, ‘writing addiction’ is just about the best one you can have. I don’t believe I have an addiction to writing but it is a very salient activity in my life and I am a habitual writer and I write every day. In previous blogs I examined diary writing and psychological wellbeing as well as an article on graphomania (obsessive writing). Today’s blog briefly examines some of the things that make people more productive writers (and by definition a more excessive writer). During my career I’ve published many articles on the writing process (see ‘Further reading’ below) and today’s blog looks at some of my beliefs and practices.
Before outlining some general advice, it’s also worth exploring many of the false beliefs that many of us have about writing – beliefs which may explain why many of us don’t like writing. For instance:
- Writing is inherently difficult: Like speaking, writing doesn’t need to be perfect to be effective and satisfying.
- Good writing must be original: Little, if any, of what we write is truly original. What makes our ideas worthwhile communicating is the way we present them.
- Good writing must be perfect preferably in a single draft: In general, the more successful writers are more likely to revise manuscripts.
- Good writing must be spontaneous: There appears to be a belief that writing should await inspiration. However, the most productive and satisfying way to write is habitually, regardless of mood or inspiration. Writers who overvalue spontaneity tend to postpone writing, and if they write at all, they write in binges that they associate with fatigue.
- Good writing must proceed quickly: Procrastination goes hand in hand with impatience. Those writers who often delay writing suppose that writing must proceed quickly and effortlessly. However, good writing can often proceed at a slow pace over a lengthy period of time.
- Good writing is delayed until the right mood with big blocks of undisrupted time available: Good writing can take place in any mood at any time. It is better to write habitually in short periods every day rather than in binges.
- Good writers are born not made: Good writing is a process that can be learned like any other behaviour.
- Good writers do not share their writing until it is finished and perfect: Although some writers are independent, many writers share their ideas and plans at an early stage and then get colleagues to read over their early drafts for comments and ideas.
Even when these false beliefs about writing are dispelled, many of us can still have problems putting pen to paper or finger to keypad. Insights about writing only slowly translate into actions. For most professionals, writing is only done out of necessity (i.e., a report that they have to hand in). This produces a feeling of ‘having to write’ rather than ‘wanting to write’ and can lead to boredom and/or anxiety. Furthermore, most people appear to view writing as a private act in which their problems are unique and embarrassing. Strategies for overcoming this include getting colleagues to criticize their own work before going ‘public’, sharing initial plans and ideas with others, and practising reviewing other people’s work.
It is generally acknowledged that there is no one proven effective method above all others for teaching people to become better writers. It is also a process that can be learned and can aid learning (i.e., a skill learned through opportunities to write and from instructional feedback). Although there are no ‘quick fixes’ to becoming a better writer, here are some general tips on how to make your writing more productive. I would advise you to:
- Establish a regular place where all serious writing is done
- Remove distracting temptations from the writing site (e.g., magazines, television)
- Leave other activities (e.g., washing up, making the dinner) until after writing
- Limit potential interruptions (e.g., put a “Do not disturb” sign on the door, unplug the telephone)
- Make the writing site as comfortable as possible
- Make recurrent activities (e.g., telephone calls, coffee making) dependent upon minimum periods of writing first
- Write while ‘feeling fresh’ and leave mentally untaxing activities until later in the day
- Plan beyond daily goals and be realistic about what can be written in the time available
- Plan and schedule writing tasks into manageable units
- Complete one section of writing at a time if the writing is in sections
- Use a word processor to make drafting easier
- Revise and redraft at least twice
- Write daily rather than ‘bingeing’ all in one go
- Share writing with peers as people are more helpful, judgmental and critical on ‘unfinished’ drafts
Obviously, the problem with such a prescriptive list such as this is that not every suggestion will work for everyone. Many of us know our own limitations and create the right conditions to help get the creative juices going. Some people can’t write in silence or with others in the room. By reading this short blog I cannot make you become a more productive and excessive writer overnight. However, it has hopefully equipped my blog readers with some tips and discussion points that may help in facilitating better writing amongst yourselves and colleagues.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Productive writing in the education system. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 7, 460-462.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). How to…get students to write with confidence. Times Higher Education Supplement, June 8, p.24.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Tips on…Report writing. British Medical Journal (Careers), 328, 28.
Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Writing for non-refereed outlets (Part 1 – Professional journals and newsletters). Psy-PAG Quarterly, 29, 41-42.
Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Writing for non-refereed outlets (Part 2 – Newspapers and magazines). Psy-PAG Quarterly, 30, 5-6.
Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Writing and getting published – My top 10 tips. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 34, 2-4.
Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Addiction, fiction and media depiction: A light-hearted look at scientific writing and the media. Null Hypothesis: The Journal of Unlikely Science, 2(2), 16-17.
Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Top tips on…Writing with confidence. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 76, 33-34.
Griffiths, M.D. (2013). How writing blogs can help your academic career. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 87, 39-40.
Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Top tips on…Writing blogs. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 90, 13-14.
Back in March 2011, a then 46-year old American ex-nurse William Melchart-Dinkel from Minnesota was convicted of persuading two people he met online to commit suicide. Melchart-Dinkel was accused of having a “suicide fetish” because he got his kicks from frequenting online suicide chat rooms. Posing as a female nurse, he would chat online and feign compassion to depressed individuals and encourage them to commit suicide.
More specifically, a US court found him guilty of aiding the suicides of 18-year old Canadian student Nadia Kajouli (who jumped into a river and drowned), and 32-year old British IT technician Mark Drybrough (who hanged himself). During the trial, Nadia’s mother shared extracts of the online chats that took place between her daughter and Melchart-Dinkel (who was using various aliases including ‘Cami’, ‘Falcon Girl’ and ‘Li Dao’). A Minnesotan Internet crimes task force forensically examined Melchert-Dinkel’s computer and located online chats that he had with the Canadian teenager. The online conversation demonstrated that Melchart-Dinkel had urged Nadia to hang herself (rather than kill herself by drowning) and provided detailed instructions on how to kill themselves:
“If you wanted to do hanging we could have done it together online so it would not have been so scary for you…Most important is the placement of the noose on the neck…knot behind the left ear and rope across the carotid is very important for instant unconsciousness and death…I’m just trying to help you do what is best for you not me”.
Melchart-Dinkel even urged Nadia to kill herself while they were chatting online. A few hours after chatting with Melchart-Dinkel, Nadia emailed her roommate and told her she was going to “brave the weather and go ice skating” (in an effort to make it look like an accident). Nadia jumped into a frozen river (but her body was not found until 11 days after she had jumped in). In Mark’s case, Melchert-Dinkel replied to a question posted online by Mark about how he could hang himself if he didn’t have a high ceiling. Following a long email conversation, Melchert-Dinkel instructed him on what to do and convinced Mark that ‘she’ was suicidal too. Melchert-Dinkel wrote:
“I keep holding on to the hope that things might change. Caught between being suicidal and considering it. Same old story!…I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. If you want someone who’s suicidal, I’m just not there yet…Sorry. I admire your courage. I wish I had it”.
Mark killed himself a few days later. Mark’s mother Elaine called Melchert-Dinkel her son’s “executioner”. She also told the Daily Mail in the UK:
“Mark had had a nervous breakdown and he was depressed and incredibly susceptible. [Melchert-Dinkel ]was there whispering in his ear every time he logged on. In the last email, [he] claimed to be a nurse, saying he had medical training, and proposed a suicide pact”
With the help of Celia Blay (a youth worker from Wiltshire in the UK), Mark’s mother managed to track Melchert-Dinkel. It was during their own investigation they discovered dozens of people had received similar emails to Mark’s:
“We found out everything about him on Google, including where he lived in Minnesota. He befriended them using a female identity, was very loving and sympathetic, but never suggested an alternative to death, even when they were only teenagers. He’d tell them that he intended to kill himself too, and said they should set up a web camera and he would do the same thing so they could watch each other die over the internet”.
During his testimony, Melchert-Dinkel admitted that he had asked between 15 and 20 people to commit suicide on camera while he watched (although when he was first caught, he said the online chatting must have been his teenage daughters). One report on Melchert-Dinkel’s case noted:
“While he never actually witnessed a suicide, he did believe that at least five of the people he had talked to were successful in taking their own lives. He also entered into around 10 ‘suicide pacts’ where he promised to kill himself simultaneously with the person he had been chatting with…Melchert-Dinkel was admitted to a hospital where he told doctors he had a ‘suicide fetish’ and an addiction to suicide websites”.
Before the trial, the Associated Press had interviewed Professor Jonathan Turley (George Washington University Law School), an expert on doctor-assisted suicide. It was reported that:
“[Professor Turley has] never heard of anyone being prosecuted for encouraging a suicide over the Internet. Typically, people are prosecuted only if they physically help someone end it all – for example, by giving the victim a gun, a noose or drugs. Last month, a Florida man was charged in his wife’s suicide after allegedly tossing several loaded guns onto their bed. Turley said if prosecutors file charges against Melchert-Dinkel, convicting him will be difficult – especially if the defense claims freedom of speech. The law professor said efforts to make it illegal to shout ‘Jump!’ to someone on a bridge have not survived constitutional challenges. ‘What’s the difference between calling for someone to jump off a bridge and e-mailing the same exhortation?’ he said”.
This line of defence was used by Melchert-Dinkel’s legal team. His behaviour was described as “abhorrent” by his own lawyer (Terry Watkins) but argued in court that his client’s actions were protected by the freedom of speech. Watkins said in court that:
“Freedom means you have to allow things to happen that some would find disgusting and completely unacceptable from a community or moral standpoint”.
However, the presiding judge (Thomas Neuville) said that the accused had “imminently incited the victims to commit suicide” and described Melchart-Dinkel’s online written comments as “unprotected speech”. He was sentenced to almost a year in prison (360 days) but was delayed until a ruling from the Supreme Court (SC). Earlier this year, the SC in Minnesota overturned Melchert-Dinkel’s conviction, and ruled that Minnesota’s law prohibiting the “encouraging” of suicide was unconstitutional and (as Professor Turley claimed) violated a person’s freedom of speech. However, the case (as far as I am aware) is still continuing because the original state prosecutors are trying to argue that Melchert-Dinkel “assisted” (rather than “encouraged”) people’s suicides.
My own take on this case is that Melchart-Dinkel committed a criminal act and that his claim to medics that he was “addicted” to encouraging people to commit suicide was made as a way of absolving responsibility for what he did. There was nothing about his online behaviour to suggest it was in any way addicted (at least not by my own criteria). Also, his own use of the word “fetish” is inappropriate in this instance. Although he did appear to get some kind of kick from his activity, there was nothing sexual in it. Again, his use of the word ‘fetish’ to describe his behaviour also appears to be another linguistic device to distance himself from taking the blame for his actions.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Associated Press (2011). Nurse William Melchart-Dinkel had ‘suicide fetish’, went online to provoke two people’s deaths: cops. New York Daily News, October 17. Located at: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/nurse-william-melchert-dinkel-suicide-fetish-online-provoke-people-deaths-cops-article-1.388085
Caulfield, P. (2011). ‘Suicide fetish’ nurse found guilty of provoking people he found online to kill themselves. Daily News, March 16. Located at: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/suicide-fetish-nurse-found-guilty-provoking-people-found-online-kill-article-1.122996
Firth, N. (2010). Revealed: The suicide voyeur nurse who ‘encouraged people to kill themselves online’. Daily Mail, March 20. Located at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1259379/The-suicide-voyeur-nurse-encouraged-people-kill-online.html
Guariglia, M. (2014). William Melchert-Dinkel: 5 Fast facts you need to know. Heavy News, March 19. Located at: http://heavy.com/news/2014/03/william-melchert-dinkel-suicide-minnesota-nurse/
Murray, Rheana. (2008). A search for death: How the internet is used as a suicide cookbook. Chrestomathy, 7, 142-156.
Yount, K. (2014). Minnesota Supreme Court turns its back on mentally ill. (i)Pinion, March 27. Located at: http://ipinionsyndicate.com/minnesota-supreme-court-to-suicide-predators-party-on/
In a previous blog I examined the ‘choking game’ (also known by dozens of names including the ‘fainting game’ and ‘suffocation roulette’). This was a game that I played a couple of times as an adolescent (although we called it ‘Headrush’). This was a game where I would have my breathing temporarily stopped by someone holding onto my chest after a deep expiration and hyperventilation (so that I could not breathe). It induced feelings of light-headedness and dizziness followed by temporary unconsciousness (usually lasting 10 to 15 seconds).
This activity that I engaged in as a teenager is an example of self-asphyxial risk-taking behaviour (SARTB). It also appears that what I did when I was an adolescent was a form of ‘self-induced hypocapnia’ (i.e., a state of reduced carbon dioxide in the blood). It has also been reported that these ‘games’ can be played alone and typically involve self-strangulation, or sometimes with others, and where like my own experiences, the cutting off of the oxygen supply was carried out by somebody else.
Reports of SARTB date back to the early 1950s in the medical literature (for instance, Dr. P. Howard and his colleagues reported a case in a 1951 issue of the British Medical Journal). SARTB has been defined by R.L. Toblin and colleagues in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Safety Research as self-strangulation or strangulation by another person with the hands or a noose to achieve a brief euphoric state caused by cerebral hypoxia. As with autoerotic asphyxiation (i.e., suffocation as a way of enhancing sexual arousal), the aim of SARTB is to intentionally cut off the oxygen supply to the brain to experience a feeling of euphoria (the only difference being that in children’s games, it is not done for a sexual reason).
How prevalent the activity is debatable as most of the academically published studies are case reports (usually when a problem – and in some cases, death – has occurred). However, a comprehensive systematic review of SARTB was recently published by Busse et al (2015). They attempted to assess the prevalence of engagement in SARTB and associated morbidity and mortality in children and adolescents (and up to early adulthood). Busse and colleagues examined every survey and case study that had been published on SARTB, and more specifically examining the behaviour among those aged 0–20 years (excluding any study where the motive was autoerotic, suicidal or self-harm). They reported that 36 studies had examined child and adolescent SARTB in 10 different countries (North America and France being the most common, but also reports in the UK).
Risk factors for SARTB were hard to assess because most of the studies examining such risks did not control for other confounding variables. However, five of the studies reported an association between SARTB and a number of other risky behaviours including substance misuse, risky sexual behaviours, poor mental health, poor dietary behaviours, and engagement in risky sports. The review also reported that there did not seem to be any association between SARTB and engagement in physical activity, and experiencing accidents, and/or hospital admissions. It was also noted that a number of other behaviours increased the likelihood of engaging in SARTB including experiences of violence, being more impulsive, having a thrill-seeking personality, and having lower school achievement. However, only six of the 36 studies they reviewed reported the potential for SARTB to be associated with other risky behaviours. No consistent findings were found between SARTB and gender, age and other demographic factors (such as socio-economic status).
Examining the studies as a whole, Busse and colleagues reported that awareness of SARTB ranged from 36% to 91%, and that the median lifetime prevalence of engagement in SARTB was 7.4% (however, these were studies that used convenience sampling, therefore none of the studies were necessarily representative). In the SARTB literature, a total of 99 fatal cases were reported (and of the 24 detailed case reports, most of the deaths occurred when individuals were engaged in SARTB alone and used some type of ligature).
In a different analysis in the Journal of Safety Research, Dr. R.L. Toblin and colleagues used US news media reports to estimate the incidence of deaths from SARTB. Their report identified 82 probable SARTB deaths among youths aged 6-19 years during 1995 and 2007. Of these 82 cases, 71 (86.6%) were male, and the mean age of death was just over 13 years of age. The study also noted that deaths were recorded in 31 US states and were not clustered by location, season or day of week. Busse and colleagues assert the importance of education and prevention and more specifically note:
“As it has been suggested that knowledge and identification of symptoms and signs of engagement in [SARTB] could have possibly enabled early identification and possible prevention of fatal cases, we believe that clinicians, paediatricians, health professionals and teachers should receive education on the symptoms and signs of [SARTB]. The need to educate health professionals has been highlighted as awareness of [SARTB] will enable these individuals to identify symptoms and signs and to act as educators to young people and their parents…We further recommend that more research is carried out together with young people to develop appropriate education material. In line with recommendations from others, we further recommend removing existing videos about [SARTB] from the internet and ensuring that preventative website rather than promotional websites appear first on internet searches” (p.8).
This brief examination of the literature suggests that a significant minority of adolescents have engaged in SARTB and that in extreme cases it may lead to death. Despite being known about for over 60 years, the data concerning SARTB are still limited and relatively little is known about the associated risk factors. However, SARTB certainly appears to be an activity that parents and teachers should be made more aware of even if the prevalence of such activity among children and adolescents is low.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Busse, H., Harrop, T., Gunnell, D. & Kipping, R. (2015). Prevalence and associated harm of engagement in self-asphyxial behaviours (‘choking game’) in young people: A systematic review. Archives of Disease in Childhood, doi:10.1136/archdischild-2015-308187.
Drake, J.A., Price, J.H., Kolm-Valdivia, N. & Wielinski, M. (2010). Association of adolescent choking game activity with selected risk behaviors. Academic Pediatrics, 10, 410-416.
Egge, M.K., Berkowitz, C.D., Toms, C. & Sathyavagiswaran, L. (2010). The choking game: A cause of unintentional strangulation. Pediatric Emergency Care, 26, 206-208.
Griffiths, M.D. (2015). A brief review of self-asphyxial risk-taking behaviour in adolescents. Education and Health, 33, 59-61.
Howard, P., Leathart, G. L., Dornhorst, A.C., & Sharpey-Schafer, E.P. (1951). The mess trick and the fainting lark. British Medical Journal, 2, 382-384.
MacNab, A.J., Deevska, M., Gagnon, F., Cannon, W.G. & Andrew, T (2009). Asphyxial games or “the choking game”: A potentially fatal risk behavior. Injury Prevention, 14, 45-49.
Shlamovitz, G.Z., Assia, A., Ben-Sira, L. & Rachmel, A. (2003). “Suffocation roulette”: A case of recurrent syncope in an adolescent boy. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 41, 223-226.
Toblin, R.L., Paulozzi, L.J., Gilchrist, J. & Russell, P.J. (2008). Unintentional strangulation deaths from the “choking game” among youths aged 6-19 years -United States, 1995-2007. Journal of Safety Research, 39, 445-448.
Urkin, J. & Merrick, J. (2006). The choking game or suffocation roulette in adolescence (editorial). International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 18, 207-208.
In a previous blog I briefly looked at the medical literature relating to penile injuries arising from autoerotic interactions from vacuum cleaners. While researching that blog I also came across other literature that had examined vacuum cleaners being used for sexual purposes that I thought I would make another interesting blog. A number of references in the psychological literature make reference to particular types of people using vacuum cleaners as a source of sexual stimulation for masturbatory purposes. For instance, in a 2005 chapter by Lynne Moxon about sexuality and Asperger Syndrome (i.e., an autism spectrum disorder typically characterized by major difficulties in social interaction and non-verbal communication) noted that among Asperger’s sufferers:
“Lack of awareness of the use of the imagination for sexual fantasy can lead to the use of more physical forms of stimulation, such as the vibration of washing machines or public transport, or the use of vacuum cleaner pipes, holes in chair backs, socks, bottles and more unusual items, such as TV remote controls and golf clubs. Females unaware of the use of sex toys have used deodorant cans, scissors, keys and candles”.
In a 2013 study by Dr. Remigiusz Kijak published in the journal Sexuality and Disability, 133 people (mainly older age teenagers with ages ranging from 17 to 25 years) with mild intellectual disability were surveyed about their sexuality and sexual practices. Dr. Kijak reported that:
“During the studies it has also been determined that 7 % of the studied teenagers stimulate themselves in an untypical manner. The teenagers studied admitted to masturbating with tools, certain objects or to masturbating in a way other than a natural one. The study subjects masturbate using grease, food, furniture and even vacuum cleaners. Such masturbation can be determined as dangerous, mainly due to the fact that it fixes a certain, repeatable chain of strange rituals, often impossible to use in a partner relationship, and may result in a pleasure decrease”.
As noted in my previous blog on the use of vacuum cleaners as a masturbatory aid, most writings on the topic concern penile injuries that have come to the attention of medics when things go wrong. However, there are a couple of case studies in the forensic literature that have featured vacuum cleaners in autoerotic deaths. In 1988, Dr. R.H. Imami and Dr. M. Kemal published a paper in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology about a 57-year old white American male with a history of heart disease and chronic pancreatitis. The man was found naked slumped over his vacuum cleaner after a neighbour wondered why the vacuum cleaner had been on continuously for a long time. The man was found leaning against the dining table with his testicles, buttocks and thighs tightly bound with women’s tights. Near the table was a jar of urine, jars of lubricant and a wooden table leg covered in faecal excrement. The man was covered in burns from the vacuum cleaner. No defect was found in the vacuum cleaner. The autopsy revealed that the man had a heart attack while engaged in the autoerotic activity. The wooden table leg had been used in an attempt to stimulate orgasm via anal penetration. His wife had caught him masturbating with the vacuum cleaner before (and they hadn’t had sex for five years). The death was classes as natural rather than accidental.
In 1994, Dr. Clive Cooke, Dr. Gerard Cadden and Dr. Karin Margolius published a paper concerning four “unusual fatalities where death occurred during autoerotic practice”. Three of the four accidental deaths (electrocution, hanging, and courgette inhalation) involved young to middle-aged men. However, it is the fourth case that is of interest here. This involved an elderly man that (like the previous case) had heart disease. The authors reported that:
“The naked body of this 77[-year] old widower was found in the bathroom of his home…Adjacent to the body, and switched on and working, were a vacuum cleaner and a hair dryer. A pair of men’s underpants was impacted in the hose of the vacuum cleaner. Autopsy examination showed the body of an elderly man of normal build. There was no evident injury; in particular there were no apparent marks of electrical injury. Internal examination showed enlargement of the heart with extensive ischemic fibrous scarring of the thickened left ventricular myocardium. Extensive calcified coronary arteriosclerosis was present, with no thrombosis. There was no significant valvular disease. The lungs were mildly congested and there was benign hypertensive nephrosclerosis. Toxicological analysis was unremarkable. The vacuum cleaner and hair dryer, together with the electric circuitry of the house, were assessed by an electrical inspector and cleared of malfunction. The cause of death was therefore believed to be combined arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease. The scene examination suggested the likelihood that the electrical appliances were being used autoerotically”.
In their discussion of this particular case, Cooke and colleagues noted that sudden autoerotic deaths due to a natural disease process (e.g., heart disease) have seldom been reported in the forensic literature. To their knowledge, only two previous case reports had been published prior to their own study – both males who after autopsy:
“…showed significant arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease. One was the case of a 61 [-year] old man who died whilst bound with chain restraints; a vibrator was nearby [Hazelwood, Dietz & Burgess, 1981]. The second case was of a 57 [-year] old man whose body was found naked alongside a running vacuum cleaner; the testicles, thighs and buttocks were tightly bound with pantyhose [Imami & Kemal, 1988]. Such deaths are probably less frequent than sudden natural death associated with heterosexual or homosexual activity, particularly if with a novel partner [Malik, 1979]”.
Finally, the only other vacuum cleaner-related autoerotic death I located in the forensic literature was a 2005 case study report by Dr. Andrew Hitchcock and Dr. Roger Start in the Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine. This was actually a case of hypoxyphilia where the device built to cut off the oxygen supply involved a vacuum cleaner. More specifically, the paper reported:
“A case is reported of a 36-year-old man who died following occlusive entrapment within a device for the purpose of hypoxyphilic gratification. The device was constructed in his own home using instructions found on his home computer down-loaded from the Internet. The device comprised a tough plastic cocoon large enough to accommodate an adult human and incorporating a system of plastic piping connected to a household vacuum cleaner for the evacuation of air within the cocoon. The mechanism of death was thought to be traumatic asphyxia after examination of the deceased and re-construction of the apparatus with the body in situ”.
The prevalence of autoerotic acts involving the use of vacuum cleaners is unknown as only those cases that result in serious genital injury and/or death come to the attention of medics and/or forensic scientists. As noted in my previous blog, the number of cases that are being reported is on the decrease but this may be because the topic is less novel than it used to be and may not be seen by journal editors as worthy of publication.
Benson, R. (1985). Vacuum cleaner injury to penis: A common urologic problem? Urology, 25(1), 41-44.
Citron, N.D., & Wade, P.J. (1980). Penile injuries from vacuum cleaners. British Medical Journal, 281(6232), 26.
Cooke, C.T., Cadden, G.A., & Margolius, K.A. (1994). Autoerotic deaths: Four cases. Pathology, 26(3), 276-280.
Hazelwood, R.R., Dietz, P. E., & Burgess, A.W. (1981). The investigation of autoerotic fatalities. Journal of Police Science & Administration, 9, 404-411.
Hitchcock, A., & Start, R.D. (2005). Fatal traumatic asphyxia in a middle-aged man in association with entrapment associated hypoxyphilia. Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine, 12, 320-325.
Imami, R. H., & Kemal, M. (1988). Vacuum cleaner use in autoerotic death. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 9, 246-248.
Kijak, R. (2013). The sexuality of adults with intellectual disability in Poland. Sexuality and Disability, 31(2), 109-123.
Klintschar, M., Grabuschnigg, P., & Beham, A. (1998). Death from electrocution during autoerotic practice: Case report and review of the literature. American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 19, 190-193.
Malik, M. O. (1979). Sudden coronary deaths associated with sexual activity. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 24, 216-220.
Moxon, L. (2005). Diagnosis, disclosure and self-confidence in sexuality and relationships. In D. Murray (Ed.), Coming out Asperger: Diagnosis, Disclosure and Self-Confidence (pp. 214-229). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Rossi, M., Cascini, F., & Torcigliani, S. (1991). [Penile injuries caused by masturbation with a vacuum cleaner. Description of a case and review of the literature]. Minerva Urologica e Nefrologica, 44(1), 43-45.