Criminological Theories: Social Reaction
Social Reaction or Labeling Theory may help explain why criminals commit the crimes they do. According to this theory, when someone is labeled by society, their peers, parents, etc, as a deviant, they fully embrace how they are viewed. People can be defined and controlled by how the world views them. Viewing oneself as deviant can isolate you from obtaining normal social bonds. Isolation is one of the common threads seen in the perpetrators of most serial murder cases. Here are a few examples of real-life cases where Social Reaction Theory may apply.
- Ed Kemper: Throughout his childhood, Ed was severely abused, both psychologically and physically by his mother, Clarnell. When Edmund was around eight-years-old, Clarnell made him sleep in the basement of their home. Ed was terrified of the basement and described it as “hell”. She did this because she believed that her son would harm her daughters, even though he did not display any violent tendencies at this point in his life. Clarnell would constantly refer to her son as a “real weirdo”, and reminded him multiple times that no woman would ever love him. She labeled her son an outcast, weirdo, and deviant, therefore he became one.
- Jeffrey Dahmer: “Am I just an extremely evil person or is it some kind of satanic influence, or what? I have no idea. I have no idea at all.” Dahmer labeled himself as evil early on in his killing career, and maybe even believed himself to be evil before that. After all, he was so haunted by his fantasies in high school that he drank to forget them. In his confession, Dahmer stated that he “felt thoroughly evil.” Jeff considered and labeled himself as evil, therefore he committed evil acts.
- David Berkowitz: The Son of Sam was given up a few days after his birth. He was quickly adopted by Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz. While David was growing up, his adopted parents would frequently remind him that he was not their biological son and that his mother had died giving birth to him. This made David feel extremely guilty about entire existence, and in turn inadvertently labeled him as being “no good.” David went his whole life feeling as if he was a bad seed. This very may have contributed to him committing serial murder.
Source: Criminology: Theories, Patterns and Typologies by Larry J Siegel