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Serial Killings Are Rare, But Increasing Sharply

Experts say rise parallels increase in dysfunctional families, media images of violence, child abuse, and sexual permissiveness

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Desensitized to violence James Fox, interim dean of Northeastern University's college of criminal justice, is particularly critical of the influence social factors may have on "pushing people over to the edge where there are no feelings of remorse. As a society we have waged a war against guilt. In the 1970s we were told we shouldn't feel guilty ... the country was more permissive so we felt less restrained. At the same time we were desensitized to violence," he says. "We do know [serial killers have] an inordinate need for power and dominance ... but then so do ruthless businessmen who get a despicable sense of satisfaction when they destroy a competitor. As long as back-stabbing is figurative we applaud it." Further, Dr. Fox observes, "We make our serial killers into celebrities ... there's a degree of romanticization." For example, a television movie using a handsome movie star was made about Ted Bundy, who was executed in 1989 for the murders of 28 women. Bundy himself had groupies who wrote to him and proposed marriage. And the popular board game, Trivial Pursuit, includes questions about the names of several mass murderers. Indeed, Skrapec says she is convinced that understanding serial killers means not seeing them as "otherworldly or evil" but as "representing extremes of human behavior" that may be partly a result of social forces."

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