Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Compliant Accomplice

Dr. Park Dietz
Dr. Park Dietz

Former FBI Special Agent Robert Hazelwood, Dr. Park Dietz, and Dr. Janet Warren conducted a six-year study together on 20 women who had been the wives and girlfriends of sexual sadists, "the most cruel, intelligent, and in some cases, criminally sophisticated offenders confronting criminal investigators today." They relied on a protocol of 450 questions and published the results in the third edition of Practical Aspects of Rape Investigation. Thirteen of the women had married their partner and the remaining seven had dated the man exclusively. Most of them had been persuaded to engage in a variety of deviant practices, such as sex with animals, sex in groups, bondage, and being whipped. Seven of the men had killed numerous victims, and four of the women were present for those murders. Eventually they all feared for their lives or the lives of their children.

Roy Hazelwood
Roy Hazelwood

Hazelwood thought it was more revealing than talking with the offenders themselves. "With offenders, you get lies, projection, denial, minimization, or exaggeration. The wives and girlfriends are just like a sponge. They ask, "How can I help? What do you need to know?"

He understands that they may be lying as well, "But at the same time, you'll get insights into the offender that you'll never get from the offender himself. For example, what type of fantasy would he act out? They would tell this in detail."

The surprising thing to him was how normal the women seemed. They had come from middleclass backgrounds and usually had no criminal record. They weren't abused or mentally ill. The thesis of the study is that the males target vulnerable women with low self-esteem and then go to work on them, gradually making them compliant and willing to do almost anything.

"The behavior gets reinforced with attention and affection, gifts, and excitement," Hazelwood points out. "Eventually they're doing things that isolate them and further lower their self-esteem. All they have is this guy, so they cooperate."

The interviews lasted from five to 15 hours. Five of the women had been involved in outright homicides. The interviewers asked about the women's personal history, the men's history, their courtship, and their life together.

"One of the women that I talked to was involved with her husband in the murder of more than five people. This woman was a very intelligent and attractive person. Prior to meeting her husband, she was successful. When she met him and she told me that she perceived a dark side to him that was kind of attractive. She'd led a rather sheltered life. When they dated, he was always a perfect gentleman. He brought gifts and he was older by several years."

"He was everything she wanted a man to be. He was a considerate and sharing lover, spontaneous, exciting to be around, complimentary, good-looking. Then after they got married, he began to beat her, primarily on the sexual parts of her body. He used vulgar terms for various parts of her body and for his sexual organs. He had sadistic fantasies involving degradationverbally, sexually, and physicallywhich he acted out on her. Eventually he convinced her that he wanted a sex slave, so they kidnapped one and he killed the victim. According to this woman, that was a surprise. She didn't anticipate that, but now she's an accessory to homicide. They continued with this and ended up with more than five victims."

Hazelwood and Burgess identified a specific five-step process that all of the offenders seemed to follow to transform their partners into active or passive accomplices:

  • Identification: They know whom to target
  • Seduction: They use all the normal techniques
  • Reshape the target person's sexual norms
  • Social isolation
  • Punishment

The women end up going along with what the men want, because the men have used psychological battery to change how they think and behave. Then when they get caught and tried for their part in the crimes, they have a difficult time accepting that they did these things.

Some of them use that opportunity to turn their lives around, and in some prisons, programs are offered with the hope of influencing women who once committed a crime to re-evaluate how they got to prison and make sure they don't go back. One such program is thriving in the maximum-security unit of a women's prison in New Jersey. Let's hear from some of the women who have learned something from linking their lives to literature.

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