Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sex Slaves: The Psychology of Mastery


The Collector, published in 1963, features Frederick, a lonely entomologist who spies on and then abducts a beautiful woman named Miranda, to hold her captive in a locked dungeon he has prepared on his isolated property. He has the delusion that he can make her love him, just as he can make her wear certain clothing or bathe at certain times. It's as if he has no notion of her humanity; he has decided that she belongs to him and will obey him perfectly.

He views Miranda as he views one of his butterfly specimens — a thing he can do with as he likes. He sees nothing wrong with his actions and believes that one day she will submit to him and belong to him. However, he hasn't counted on the fact that she might not wish to do this; in fact, she's frightened of him and wants to be back with her family.

Miranda initially resists her captor and begs him to free her. She then threatens Frederick, as well as starving herself. Nothing works and she remains a captive. However, she eventually gets used to her captivity and, at times, even looks forward to seeing Frederick, because it is the only thing that breaks up her day-to-day monotony in her cell. While Frederick did not take pains to brainwash Miranda in this story, but he did rely on a technique long known to sadists engaged in a relationship with submissive partners: Gestures of kindness mixed with the torture can often win the slave's affection, even adoration.

Eventually Miranda grows ill and dies, indicating to Frederick that he's made an error, but he quickly dismisses this unfortunate "accident" and looks for another captive — a woman from a lower social station than Miranda, who may be more submissive. Miranda's death is no more meaningful to him than the death of one of his butterflies.

Some mental-health experts might see Miranda's eventual acquiescence as a classic case of Stockholm syndrome, which occurs under conditions of severe stress in captivity, especially where there's torture and/or uncertainty about the outcome. The captive appears to become involved to some degree with his or her captor, even to the point of consenting to the abuse and captivity. This person may express feelings of sympathy and affection for the person who imprisoned him or her in a way that surprises outsiders and makes them wonder just how abused the person really was, but the captive's confusing response derives from the malleability of the human psyche. Unless one has been in this situation, it's difficult to judge it fairly from the outside. What appears to occur is that the person "freezes" in defense and then over time yields as a way to appease the captor, which may then lessen the abuse and even curry some favor. If the captor then looks to the captive's basic needs, the captive may feel grateful and become more susceptible to suggestion. Some may finally cease looking for a way to escape.

Psychopathic individuals have no empathy or sympathy, because other people are merely objects. They don't feel deeply so they have no sense of the terror and pain another person might experience, except that they're narcissistically pleased to know they can elicit this response. In The Collector, Frederick believed that if he held Miranda long enough and proved he would do anything for her, that she would eventually love him as he loved her. But he didn't really love her. He merely controlled her.

Some captors actually decide to kill their captives, either through torture or to eliminate them as witnesses.

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