Displeasures of the flesh: A brief look at anthropophagolagnia and paraphilic behaviour in serial killers
In previous blogs I have examined the psychology of sexual cannibalism and erotophonophilia (aka ‘lust murder’) as well as an article that I wrote on serial killers that collect their victims’ body parts as ‘trophies’. One very rare sub-type of both sexual cannibalism and erotophonophilia is anthropophagolagnia. This particular type of sexual paraphilia has been defined by Dr Anil Aggrawal as the paraphilia of “rape with cannibalism” and by the Right Diagnosis website as “sexual urges, preferences or fantasies involving raping and then cannibalizing the victim”.
The Listaholic website goes as far to say that anthropophagolagnia is one of the ten “most bizarre sexual fetishes on earth” claiming that serial killer is the “poster boy” for these “twisted” individuals. Other serial killers that might be classed as anthropophagolagniacs include Albert Fish, Peter Kirsten, Ottis Toole and Ed Gein. However, there also appear to be cases of what I would call ‘systematic anthropophagolagnia’ if the extract I found online is true:
“While it is easy to dismiss one case as stemming from some sort of neurological aberrations in the participants, we also see sexualized cannibalism in modern day Africa. In the early 2000s in Congo, rape and cannibalism were reported to coincide sporadically across the region. The claims are backed by a UN investigation into the phenomena…Rebels would go into villages and rape the women and children, then dismember them alive while eating their flesh. There are many reports of family members being forced to eat the flesh of other murdered family members after being raped…The men committing these atrocities do not have any neurological aberrations, they simply have the power to exercise this behavior. While cannibalism has been practiced in Africa as part of spiritual traditions for centuries, sadistic sexualized torture is not part of that tradition. So why add it in? Presumably the rebels didn’t all happen to be born child rapists either, yet raping children is part of their terror campaign and they must be able to achieve an erection to carry out the task, and so it must be assumed they learned to like it”.
Last year, I also read about 40-year old preacher Stephen Tari, the leader of a 6,000-strong cannibal rape cult in Papua New Guinea. He was in prison following his conviction for a brutal rape but escaped (only to be killed by people from his village in retaliation for the cannibalistic rape murders he had committed). As a report in The Independent noted:
“[Tari] had previously been accused of raping, murdering and eating three girls in front of their traumatised mothers…The charismatic cult leader, who wore white robes and is said to have regularly drunk the blood of his ‘flower girls’, quickly returned to his home village of Gal after [a prison] escape, but could only manage six months before killing yet again…It has not yet been established if the murdered woman was killed as part of a blood sacrifice, but it is considered likely as Tari was said to have been attempting to resurrect his cult following the spell in prison”.
Dr. Eric Hickey (in his book Serial Murderers and Their Victims) notes that paraphilic behaviour is very common among those that commit sexual crimes (and that more than one is often present) but that the two activities (sex offending and paraphilias) may be two independent constructs and that one does not necessarily affect the other. In fact he notes that:
“Rather than paraphilia being caused by sexual pathology, they may be better understood as one of many forms of general social deviance…For the male serial killer, the paraphilia engaged in usually has escalated from softer forms to those that are considered not only criminal but violent as well. They range from unusual to incredibly bizarre and disgusting. As paraphilia develop, men affected by them often engage in several over a period of time. Most men who engage in paraphilia often exhibit three or four different forms, some of them simultaneously. For those with violent tendencies, soft paraphilia can quickly lead to experimentation with hardcore paraphilia that often involves the harming of others in sexual ways. For example, some paraphilic offenders prefer to stalk and sexually assault their victims in stores and other public places without getting caught. The thrill of hunting an unsuspecting victim contributes to sexually arousing the offender”.
Hickey asserts that anthropophagolagnia is one of the so-called ‘attack paraphilias’ (as opposed to the ‘preparatory paraphilias’). Attack paraphilias are described by Hickey as being sexually violent (towards other individuals including children in extreme circumstances). Preparatory paraphilias are defined by Hickey as those “that have been found as part of the lust killer’s sexual fantasies and activities” (including those that display anthropophagolagnia). However, Hickey notes that individuals that engage in preparatory paraphilias do not necessarily go on to become serial killers. He then goes on to say:
“The process of sexual fantasy development may include stealing items from victims. Burglary, although generally considered to be a property crime, also is sometimes a property crime for sexual purposes. Stealing underwear, toiletries, hair clippings, photographs, and other personal items provides the offender with souvenirs for him to fantasize over”.
Some of the examples Hickey cites are both revealing and psychologically interesting:
“One offender noted how he would climax each time he entered a victim’s home through a window. The thought of being alone with people sleeping in the house had become deeply eroticized. Another offender likes to break into homes and watch victims sleep. He eventually will touch the victim and will only leave when she begins to scream. He ‘began’ his sexual acting out as a voyeur. This paraphilic process was also examined by Purcell and Arrigo (2001), who note that the process consists of mutually interactive elements: paraphilic stimuli and fantasy; orgasmic conditioning process; and facilitators (drugs, alcohol, and pornography). The probability of the offender harming a victim is extremely high given the progressive nature of his sexual fantasies”.
Along with anthropophagolagnia, other ‘attack paraphilias’ that have been associated with serial killers include amokoscisia (sexual arousal or sexual frenzy from a desire to slash or mutilate other individuals [typically women]), anophelorastia (sexual arousal from defiling or ravaging another individual), biastophilia (sexual arousal from violently raping other individuals; also called raptophilia), dippoldism (sexual arousal from abusing children, typically in the form of spanking and corporal punishment), necrophilia (sexual arousal from having sex with acts with dead individuals), paedophilia (sexual arousal from having sex with minors typically via manipulation and grooming), and sexual sadism (empowerment and sexual arousal derived from inflicting pain and/or injuring other individuals).
The ‘preparatory paraphilias’ that typically precede serial killing and attack paraphilias such as anthropophagolagnia include agonophilia (sexual arousal caused by a sexual partner pretending to struggle), altocalciphilia (sexual arousal from high-heeled shoes), autonecrophilia (sexual arousal by imagining oneself as a dead person), exhibitionism (exposing genitals to inappropriate and/or non-consenting people for sexual arousal), frottage (sexual arousal from rubbing up against the body against a sexual partner or object), gerontophilia (sexual arousal from someone whose age is older and that of a different generation), hebephilia (men that are sexually aroused by aroused by teenagers), kleptolagnia (sexual arousal from stealing), retifism (sexual arousal from shoes), scatophilia (sexual arousal via making telephone calls, using vulgar language, and/or trying to elicit a reaction from the other party), scoptophilia (sexual arousal by watching others [typically engaged in sexual behaviour] without their consent, and more usually referred to as voyeurism), and somnophilia (sexual arousal from fondling strangers in their sleep). The multiplicity of co-existent paraphilias (including anthropophagolagnia) is highlighted by the Wikipedia entry on Jeffrey Dahmer:
“Dahmer readily admitted to having engaged in a number of paraphilic behaviors, including necrophilia, exhibitionism, hebephilia, fetishism, pygmalionism, and erotophonophilia. He is also known to have several partialisms, including anthropophagy (also known as cannibalism). One particular focus of Dahmer’s partialism was the victim’s chest area. By his own admission, what caught his attention to Steven Hicks hitchhiking in 1978 was the fact the youth was bare-chested; he also conceded it was possible that his viewing the exposed chest of Steven Tuomi in 1987 while in a drunken stupor may have led him to unsuccessfully attempt to tear Tuomi’s heart from his chest. Moreover, almost all the murders Dahmer committed from 1990 onwards involved a ritual of posing the victims’ bodies in suggestive positions – many pictures taken prior to dismemberment depict the victims’ bodies with the chest thrust outwards. Dahmer also derived sexual pleasure from the viscera of his victims; he would often masturbate and ejaculate into the body cavity and at other times, literally used the internal organs as a masturbatory aid”.
Almost nothing is known empirically about anthropophagolagnia except that it is very rare and that almost all information about it comes from serial killers that have been caught. Explanations for the development of anthropophagolagnia can only be speculated but are likely to be no different from the development of other paraphilic behaviour. Hickey (citing Irwin Sarason and Barbara Sarason’s Abnormal Psychology textbook) notes five key explanations for the development of paraphilias (reproduced below verbatim):
- Psychodynamic – paraphilic behavior as a manifestation of unresolved conflicts during psychosexual development;
- Behavioral – paraphilia is developed through conditioning, modeling, reinforcement, punishment, and rewards, the same process that normal sexual activity is learned;
- Cognitive – paraphilia become substitutes for appropriate social and sexual functioning or the inability to develop satisfying marital relationships;
- Biological – heredity, prenatal hormone environment, and factors contributing to gender identity can facilitate paraphilic interests. Other explanations are linked to brain malfunctioning and chromosomal abnormalities;
- Interactional – that development of paraphilia is a process that results from psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, and biological factors.
As an eclectic, I favour the interactional explanation for the existence of anthropophagolagnia but also believe that the most important influences are the behavioural aspects via classical and operant conditioning processes.
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.
Hall, J. (2013). ‘Black Jesus’ murder: Leader of 6,000-strong cannibal rape cult hacked to death by villagers in Papua New Guinea jungle after killing yet again. The Independent, August 30. Located at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/black-jesus-murder-leader-of-6000strong-cannibal-rape-cult-hacked-to-death-by-villagers-in-papua-new-guinea-jungle-after-killing-yet-again-8791967.html
Hickey, E. W. (Ed.). (2003). Encyclopedia of Murder and Violent Crime. London: Sage Publications
Hickey, E. W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (Fifth Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Purcell, C., and B. Arrigo. (2001). Explaining paraphilias and lust murder: Toward an integrated model. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 45(1), 6–31.
Sarason, I. G. and B. R. Sarason. (2004). Abnormal Psychology, 11th Edition. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.
Wikipedia (2014). Jeffrey Dahmer. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Dahmer
“Nothing has been invented yet that will do a better job than high heels at making a good pair of legs look great, or great ones look fabulous” (Stuart Weitzman, shoe designer).
“It is hard not to be sexy in a pair of high heels” (Tom Ford, Gucci designer and film director)
According to Dr. Russell Belk in a 2003 article (‘Shoes and Self’) in Advances In Consumer Research, individuals in the USA “buy approximately a billion pairs of footwear a year and 80 percent of these are estimated to be purchased for purposes of sexual attraction”. Belk’s figures come from Dr. William Rossi who has been writing scientific papers on shoes for decades. I have no idea whether these figures are (or were) accurate, but there is little doubt that when it comes to sexual fetishism, shoes – and particularly high heel shoes – are one of the most common types of object that people develop fetishes for.
Individuals with a shoe fetish derive sexual arousal from shoes and footwear as (according to the Wikipedia entry) “a matter of sexual preference, psychosexual disorder, and an alternative or complement to a relationship with a partner”. As I noted in my previous blog on foot fetishism (i.e., podophilia), shoe fetishism is also referred to as retifism (named after French novelist Nicolas-Edme Rétif). The Wikipedia entry on shoe fetishism also notes that:
Individuals with shoe fetishism can be erotically interested in either men’s or women’s shoes. Although shoes may appear to carry sexual connotations in mainstream culture (for example, women’s shoes are commonly sold as being ‘sexy’) this opinion refers to an ethnographic or cultural context, and is likely not intended to be taken literally. Another fetishism, which sometimes is seen as related to shoe fetishism, is boot fetishism”.
In a previous blog on sexual fetishism more generally, I wrote about a study led by Dr G. Scorolli on the relative prevalence of different fetishes using online fetish forum data. It was estimated (very conservatively in the authors’ opinion), that their sample size comprised at least 5000 fetishists (but was likely to be a lot more). Their results showed that there were 44,722 members of online fetish forums, among those people preferring objects related to body parts, footwear (shoes, boots, etc.) was the second most preferred (26,739 online fetish forum members; 32% of all ‘objects related to body parts) just behind objects wore on the legs and/or buttocks (33%).
As the opening quotes highlight, high heeled footwear is often associated with sexiness. Those that find allure of high heels sexually arousing are said to have altocalciphilia (a sub-type of shoe fetishism). The online medical website Right Diagnosis says that the defining features of altocalciphilia are (i) a sexual interest in high heels, (ii) an abnormal amount of time spent thinking about high heels, (iii) recurring intense sexual fantasies involving high heels, (iv) recurring intense sexual urges involving high heels, and/or (v) a sexual preference for high heels. I am not aware of any empirical research specifically into altocalciphilia but in researching this article, I did come across an interesting 2006 Master’s thesis by Ash Sancaktar who provided an analysis of shoes within the context of social history of fashion (including a chapter on shoe fetishism). In relation to high heel shoes, Sancaktar wrote that:
“There is no solid evidence that definite heels existed anywhere before 1500. According to legend, early 1500s the high heel may have been invented by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). There are earlier records of high heel shoes that served a practical function such as heeled boots horse riders wore to grip their stirrups better. However, 1533 was the year that gave birth to the high heel that served no purpose other than beauty and vanity. Catherine de Medici, when she got married to the Duke of Orleans, wore shoes with two-inch heels because she was sensitive about her lack of height…The development of a proper heel with an arched sole was the dominant feature of shoes in the seventeenth century. Elevated shoes had been known from early Hellenic times however this phase of fashion was the first time shoes were associated with the female sex. It completely altered the posture of the wearer, encouraging both men and women to carry themselves in a way which set off the flowing lines and affected manner of the Baroque period…Practicality has little to do with female high heels. They have always been essentially about allure – as they are today”.
Sancaktar also notes the association between high heeled shoes and sadomasochism by making reference to the (semi-autobiographical) book Venus in Furs by Baron Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch (from whom the term ‘masochism’ originated). Sancaktar reported that Sacher-Masoch] wrote about his experiences with his mistress in which he allowed her to whip and walk on him before kissing the shoes that had caused him pain. Sacher-Masoch’s ideal woman was cruel and wore furs and high heels. Citing the work of Linda O’Keeffe and Valerie Steele, Sancaktar wrote:
“According to [Linda] O’Keeffe ‘Women may wear slippers, put on sneakers and slip into loafers, but they dress in high heels’ (O’Keeffe 1996, p. 72). Psychologically, high heels give permission to lead than to follow. A woman might become a towering seductress or she can choose to become the subject of the object of a male…According to [Valerie] Steele, one reason high heels are considered sexy is because they produce an erect ankle and extended leg. The arch of the foot is radically curved like a ballet dancer on point. The entire lower body is thrown into a state of tension resembling that of female sexual arousal (Steele 1998, p. 18). By tilting the pelvis, her lower back arches, her spine and legs lengthen and her chest thrust out. The breasts thrust forward, and the derriére protrudes. A woman in high heels looks taller and thinner. Her legs are emphasized and the leg muscles tighten, the calves appear shapelier. And because they are at an angle, her feet look smaller and more pointed”.
Valerie Steele also notes that fetishes come in various degrees (which I agree with) and uses the example of high heeled shoe fetishes to make her point and claims there are four different levels. She claims most people are among the two lowest levels (and basically equates to people finding high heels sexually appealing). Steele provides an example of someone at level three (a French writer who would follow high heeled women women in Paris). Her example of level four was the ex-publicist of Marla Maples’ who was found guilty of stealing Maples’ shoes. Steele said the publicist “denied being a fetishist, but admitted that he had a sexual relationship with Marla’s shoes”.
This need to steal shoes appears to be backed up by podophilia and retifism articles on the ToeSlayer website:
“Possession of shoes is important to the retifist and in cases of paraphilia, men may steal the shoes they are attracted to. Kiernan (1917, reported in Rossi, 1990) first described the term kleptomania which was used when theft took place when associated with sexual excitement. ‘Hephephilia’ is a term used when there is an uncontrollable urge to steal the objects of specific focus. Many hephephiliacs are ordinary people with no criminal intention other than a compulsion to possess the object of their desire due to a repressed or complicated sex life…Many retifists keep copious records of their activities all of which adds to their excitement…It is important exploring also the symbolism and fetishism of high heels. The erotic literature on shoe fetishism often associates high heels with the image of the ‘phallic woman’. According to [Valerie] Steele, submission to the powerful ‘phallic woman’ is a very popular fantasy”.
“The allure of high heels (altocalciphilia) for some people is very strong. Subconsciously this may relate to a primal instinct to identify lame prey. Throughout recorded history limping in others has been seen both as a physical weakness as well as a sexually attractive impediment. Wearing high heeled shoes can accentuate the limping characteristics in a very tantalising way…High heels are also thought to place the female pelvis in a precoital position. Whether or not this is true, the idea by itself, may cause arousal. Long legs are thought a strong arousal signal (Lloyd-Elliott, 2006). Men may be attracted to women in heels because it appeals to their superior nature seeing a member of the opposite sex vulnerable…Today, heeled shoes are very much part of the bondage ritual (Rossi, 1997) and sado-masochists maybe attracted to the perceived pain associated with wearing high-heeled shoes”.
Most of the academic writing I have read on this topic is anecdotal at best. There is much speculating and theorizing but little data. However, there is no doubt that high heel fetishism exists and that of all fetishes it appears to be one of the most common.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Belk, R.W. (2003). Shoes and self. Advances In Consumer Research, 30, 27-33.
Kunjukrishnan, R., Pawlak, A. & Varan, L.R. (1988). The clinical and forensic psychiatric issues of retifism. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 33, 819-825.
Kunzie, D. (2013). Fashion and Fetishism: Corsets, Tight Lacing and Other Forms of Body-Sculpture. The History Press
O’Keeffe, L. (1999). Scarpe Una Celebrazione di Scarpe da Sera, Sandali, Pantofole e Altro. Hong Kong: Sing Cheong Printing Company.
Rossi WA (1990). Foot and shoe fetishism: Part one. Journal of Current Podiatric Medicine, 39(9), 9-23.
Rossi WA (1990). Foot and shoe fetishism: Part two. Journal of Current Podiatric Medicine, 39(10), 16-20.
Sancaktar, A. (2006). An analysis of shoe within the context of social history of fashion (Doctoral dissertation, İzmir Institute of Technology)
Scorolli, C., Ghirlanda, S., Enquist, M., Zattoni, S. & Jannini, E.A. (2007). Relative prevalence of different fetishes. International Journal of Impotence Research, 19, 432-437.
Steele, V., 1998. Shoes, A Lexicon of Style, (Co & Bear Productions, London).
Steele, V. (2001). Fashion, fetish, fantasy. Masquerade and Identities: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Marginality, 73-82
Wikipedia (2014). Boot fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boot_fetishism
Wikipedia (2014). Shoe fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoe_fetishism