Experts Debate What Makes Humans Into Murderers

Posted May 25, 2001 by Christian Ebner
WEISBADEN (dpa) - The prime suspects were quickly identified: the violence people suffer personally, broken families and the orgy of aggression shown in the media.
These, crime experts and psychologists at a recent symposium of the Office of Criminology in Wiesbaden agreed, are the decisive factors which can turn a human being into a murderer.
The experts also agreed that an extreme proclivity towards violence can be detected in the early childhood years and possibly be treated.
Statistically speaking, children and juveniles up to the age of 21 are relatively rare among those committing murder. In 1999, their share of the 1,140 murder suspects in Germany was 14.5 per cent.
Marburg university psychiatrist Professor Helmut Remschmidt undertook studies on 65 violent juveniles and determined that in terms of intelligence, their average conformed completely with that of the general population.
Sex had to do with only one out of every 20 cases, he also found out. The much more frequent cause of violence was robbery, fighting over drugs, or problems in relationships. This last motive was the cause of one out of every fourth killing.
Klaus Wahl, a researcher in Munich, says that among the social factors found in the background of juveniles who turn violent are broken families as well as violence and abuse they themselves have suffered.
Inconsistent and half-hearted child-rearing methods can considerably add to the risk of violence, he adds. Often one can see a gradual slippage into a career of crime, starting with smaller misdemeanours.
But then there are those cases of juvenile crime in which completely out of the blue a youngster loses control and kills somebody.
The Wiesbaden symposium experts also say that the permanent sensationalist media reports about serious crimes can create the wrong impression even among stable adults that we are living in an uncertain and violence-ruled world.
But the fictional portrayal of violence in TV crime shows, action films and in computer games can also contribute to the creation of a highly-explosive reservoir of violent sensation among some juveniles, warned Giessen crime expert Arthur Kreuzer.
In certain extreme situations, this reservoir can then determine how a youth decides to take action, he said.
A further decisive role in the killings committed by children and juveniles is drugs - first and foremost the legal one of alcohol. Wahl, who specialises in anti-foreigner violence, spoke of dozens of cases in which drunken skinheads beat up and stomped on their victims.
He also warns of the destructive potential contained in the debate about legalising hashish. While this drug certainly works to inhibit aggression in most people, in certain other people it can release a trigger which makes the most violent crimes conceivable.
Other experts warned about a rise in sexual crimes resulting from the influence of cocaine.
"Juvenile support efforts must start considerably earlier," Wahl told the symposium. The current focus on 16 or 17-year-olds is of little use. Instead of this concept there should be an approach putting each child's individual personality in focus.
Remschmidt similarly noted that parents of highly-aggressive children respond relatively late - usually only then when a child is being threatened with expulsion from kindergarden or grade school.
At the same time, the criminologists argued for an improvement in juvenile crime laws. Each crime - no matter how apparently insignificant - must be taken seriously, they said.