Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Was the Norwegian Child Killer an abuse victim?

I was deeply troubled by the story about the killing of youth socialists in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik. I found it very hard to believe, that anyone could think, that the slaughter of young people was necessary - "a necessary act... a war against the rule by Muslims".The idea was misconceived, and did not make much sense. I began to give the point some thought.

This individual will inevitably be treated by the media as a very bad person. Usually, when something so awful happens, the culprit is tagged with pseudo religious names like "devil monster", or "demon", "beast", or the like, at least in England if you read the News of the World, or the Sun. It is somehow easier for us to accept that someone, who is inhuman, could commit such a crime. They become different from the rest of us humans, who, of course, could not do anything remotely similar. The criminal almost becomes a savage weerwolf, who is only fit to be chained up, stoned, then burned alive. We seem to behave almost like primitive beings. We, thankfully, stop a little short of witch burning.

The psychiatric theories I know of, do not include "bestial disorder" as one of the recognised conditions that can be treated at Broadmoor. Although electric shock treatment, when I last looked, is still used in certain situations, it is somewhat shocking that we still use it in the National Health Service. The media will want to demonise the Norwegian killer so as to appease the understandable anger felt by the public.

In mental health terms, no killer is ever diagnosed at just "bad". The mind is a complex web of different influences, memories, thoughts, and complicated processes. It just does not fit into the mold of a two dimensional disease that has existed from birth. The debate of nature against nurture has waged for many years to and fro. We are currently in a more nature orientated phase, but moving back towards nurture. The point is that when beasts commit serious crimes, they are usually labelled by both the forensic psychiatrists, and the media as guilty of an unnatural condition rather than the product of their upbringing.

If one looks at sex offenders, over 95% of them are the victims of some type of abuse in childhood. A very low percentage of the victims of abuse, however, go on to become sex offenders. Most of the serial killers over history have had a very disturbed childhood. After all, our personality is usually formed before the age of 3. Whilst the rest of life obviously has an influence, and modifies our behaviour, our inate personality does not change very much. So if something really bad happens in those first few years, then it is bound to have an influence on us for the rest of our lives.

So back to the story - Breivik is reported by his lawyer to be "insane". This is because he believes he has started a war which will go on for the next 60 years against democracy, has attempted to destroy the headquarters of the Norwegian government, and slaughtered around 80 young people partaking in a Youth camp on Utoeya island. He is said to be on the far right of the far right, and to want to exterminate the Muslims. For what reason is not clear. His thoughts are apparently over involved, and misconstrued. It is a lot easier for us to label this man insane, and claim that he is acting alone, than to link him with existing far right organisations, of which there are several.

If we can distinguish him from ourselves, then we can remain smugly different from him, in a distant, not understanding, sort of a way. The media will help us in this route by not reporting much about his past, I wager. In the same way as John Venables was demonised for killing poor Jamie Bolger in an unprovoked sort of a way, so will Breivik be labelled as a devil. There was a sexual element to the Bolger killing that we never got to hear about. I will say no more than that.

What is a better explanation for his behaviour? All the psychiatrists I have spoken to have said that in the vast majority of the mental health conditions they have treated, child abuse, whether emotional, physical, or sexual, lies somewhere in the background, as an influence on thinking and behaviour.

So is Breivik a victim of abuse in childhood? Well firstly we will probably never be told because if his parents are alive, their confidentiality has to be respected. Secondly, the media will not report the soft option, but rather go for the evil monster alternative to appease our primitive, blood lusting feelings of revenge. True, what he has done is evil beyond description, and upset me when I heard of it, but whether we will ever hear the truth, the whole truth, and all the truth, I very much doubt.

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