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Offender Profiling Handout Assignment

1. Introduction to offender profiling

Offender profiling has a number of synonyms, which in themselves tell a story. The earliest quoted examples of ‘psychological’ profiles include those of ‘Jack the Ripper’ and the ‘New York Bomber’. The first was the opinion of a surgeon about the offender’s sexual deviancy and mental health, which was based on the injuries suffered by the last of the Ripper’s victims.

The second was provided by a psychiatrist. It was based on a series of letters and bombs, and included a diagnosis of paranoia, together with a description of typical personal attributes of someone who was paranoid, and other information inferred from the letters and from both the construction and the siting of the bombs. Recently an American linguistic expert has highlighted discrepancies between Brussel’s account of the profile and the information still available in the records of the New York Police Department. The profile in the book was apparently a retrospective profile: the original having been modified in the light of the information obtained after the arrest of the offender – a feature evident in many books and television programmes today.

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During the late seventies and early eighties, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), developed a Behavioural Science Unit at their Academy in Quantico in Virginia, and eventually termed profiling ‘Criminal Investigative Analysis’. They did this partly to discriminate their work from that of mental health professionals, and partly because the results of their analysis included not only profiles of unknown offenders, but also opinions on such matters as case linkage, equivocal death analysis, false rape allegations and advice on the both the interrogation of suspects and their cross-examination in court.

It has been said that their analysis depended less on psychological insights, and more on base rates, investigative experience, common sense and intuition. Between 1984 and 1991, the FBI Academy ran an offender profiling fellowship for detectives from the USA and abroad. Consequently offender profiling in other countries is based to a greater or lesser extent on the FBI model.

The FBI behavioural scientists interviewed sexually motivated murderers and serial rapists in order to determine what type of men committed these types of crime. They also carried out research in collaboration with academics and mental health professionals. This resulted in the generation of a number of theories such as the disorganised / organised offender typology; a rapist typology; and a division of crime scene behaviours into aspects termed respectively, modus operandi, signature, and staging. Subsequently, these hypotheses have been subject to criticism by various academics on grounds such as the lack of generalisability of the samples used to generate the theories, poor research methodology, and lack of supporting evidence. Nevertheless, reference is still made to them in lectures, profiles and recent publications.

The profiling process has been set out slightly differently in the various publications by the FBI criminal investigative analysts and their academic colleagues, but in essence it consists of (1) data assimilation, (2) behavioural reconstruction, (3) the determination of motivation, (4) assignation of the perpetrator to a typology on the basis of the motivation, and then (5) the description of the characteristics and traits of the type of person who would commit such a crime.

It has also been suggested that the profiling might be a more complex process, as they had observed that FBI behavioural scientists not only attempted to determine an offender’s motivation, they also made direct correlations between behaviour and offender characteristics using population base rate information. Furthermore, having made an initial inference, profilers also went on to make secondary inferences, i.e. further assumptions based on the original correlations.

There have been several criticisms of profiling and profilers and these include a lack of scientific rigour, the general (non-specific) nature of many profiles; and a lack of accuracy. Recently, the term ‘offender profiler’ has been dropped in the UK and the term ‘Behavioural Investigative Advisor’ substituted. A Behavioural Investigative Advisor has been defined as follows:

“… one who can provide investigative support and advice that links the theoretical basis of behavioural science with its effective application to the investigation of serious crime”.

This definition could be interpreted as an implicit acknowledgement of past criticisms of offender profiling. It indicates a shift in emphasis away from the production of a description of the characteristics of an unknown offender, to a more generalised role for profilers as advisors and consultants. This is safer ground because, despite criticising the contents of profiles, evaluations of profiling have stressed how useful detectives found the advice profilers offered, and that they valued opportunity to discuss particular cases with informed professionals.

2. Profiling Stranger Rapists

A profile of a stranger rapist may be produced from an analysis of one or more of his offences. The quality of a profile is very dependent on the amount of information available, so the more offences that can be reliably attributed to one man, the better the resulting profile is likely to be. Obtaining matching DNA profiles is one of the better ways of doing this. It is usual for an offender profiler to go to the scene of a rape, to discuss the case with investigators; and have sight of any relevant information, including the statements of the forensic scientist, the forensic medical examiner and most particularly, that of the victim.

The quality of a victim’s statement depends on a number of variables including her memory and cognitive skills; the range of behaviours and speech exhibited by the rapist, and the quality of the interview with the police officer. Inevitably, the final statement is the product of two peoples’ efforts. A video record of the actual interview would be much more satisfactory.

One of the first considerations when analysing the statement is the setting in which the victim first encountered her attacker (e.g. outdoors in a street or a park, or during a social occasion; or in the victim’s own home), and the method of his approach, whether he talks to her first to gain her confidence or whether he attacks her with no social preliminaries, employing immediate threats or physical force to secure compliance. This is part of the process of trying to infer whether the rape was planned and a victim sought, or whether the rapist just happened across the victim during his social or criminal routines. It is relatively unusual for a particular victim to be targeted, more often ‘predatory’ rapists go to place where suitable victims are likely be available.

On the other hand, social opportunists tend to find victims during the course of their social activities, such as drinking in bars or clubs or driving mini-cabs. Criminal opportunists find rape victims as they carry out other crimes such as burglaries or robberies, and during activities associated with drug dealing. Opportunism and ‘hunting’ are not two clearly distinct methods of victimisation, rather they represent either end of a scale, with ‘premeditated opportunism’ lying in between the two.

A profiler then carries out a very detailed analysis of the victim’s description of her attacker’s appearance, demeanour, and what he did and said during the various phases of the rape, which can be thought of as ‘initiation’, where control of the victim is achieved through intimidation; ‘maintenance’, where her compliance is maintained by means of continuing force, threats, more sophisticated verbal manipulation or a combination of all three; and finally ‘closure’ which occurs after the rapist has achieved his sexual goals, and is terminating the encounter.

One also looks for any evidence of planning (e.g. bringing a knife, a condom, mask or bindings) and any overt evidence of fantasy (e.g. sexual topics of conversation, the taking of items of clothing such as pants, or deliberately inducing fear in a victim, beyond that needed to control her). Both planning and fantasy might suggest a serial rapist.

It is possible to categorise a rapist’s behaviour and speech in to three aspects. Two, ‘aggressive’ and ‘intimate’ describe the nature of the interaction with the victim which can be predominately one or the other, or alternatively some combination of the two. The third contains behaviours which can be thought of as ‘criminal’. It is hypothesised that these have been acquired as a result of previous criminal experiences, such as previous sexual offending, property offences or experiences with the police and other aspects of the criminal justice system. (Approximately 85% of stranger rapists have criminal records in which property crime predominates, although a number of them also have particularly violent criminal antecedents, and this tendency to violence may be overtly expressed during a rape.)

Having carried out the analysis, a profiler then attempts to make probabilistic inferences that are practically useful to a police officer, such as how accurate the victim was likely to be in her estimate of the offender’s age; whether he is likely to have a criminal record, what sort of crimes it might contain, whether he has raped before and whether there is evidence that he may do so again. Unfortunately this procedure is less than straightforward. As I explained in an earlier article in this series, no individual’s behaviour is entirely consistent, as it is a product both of personality and of situational influences. A rapist’s behaviour will be affected by a victim’s resistance, her coping strategies, and by his perception of her attractiveness or desirability. He may be acting under the influence of either alcohol or drugs or be under pressure from other events in his life, such as marital strife, financial burdens or contacts with the criminal justice system.

Despite its drawbacks, offender profiling has proved to be useful, particularly when a profile has been used as way of prioritising suspects in intelligence-led DNA screens. Speaking from personal experience, it is a rather a bitter pill when one of ones better efforts at profiling has been rendered inconsequential as a result of a response to Crime Watch or a nomination from the DNA database!

3. The Identification of Serial Rape

The Serious Crime Analysis Section (SCAS) at the National Crime and Operations Faculty carries out comparative crime analysis (CCA) on certain categories of offences, particularly stranger rape, and sexually motivated murder and abduction. The definitions of ‘stranger’ rape vary, but police use the term to mean a rape where the identity of the offender is not known to the victim, nor can it be easily established by the investigatory team. Most CCA carried out by SCAS involve stranger rapes as they far outnumber the other two types of cases.

Identification of serial stranger rape involves the use of a number of features, including physical evidence, the description of the offender(s), his (or their) behaviour, and geographic and temporal patterning of the offences. In particular, physical evidence is very important. Recently, DNA matches have had a key role in initiating some of the most high profile serial rape investigations; e.g. LYNX (Yorkshire, Nottingham and Leicestershire), MONARCH (Sussex, London and Essex), and most recently ORB (Kent, Surrey, Hertfordshire and Birmingham). Physical evidence is also vital for support of hypothesised links, as well as conviction of offenders.

Spatial (geographic) and temporal features of stranger rape will be discussed in a later article. Here I will concentrate on a discussion of how serial stranger rape may be identified using aspects of an offender’s behaviour. Of course description of an offender is also important, but problematic for a number of reasons. In many stranger rapes a victim does not get a good view of the suspect. Many stranger rapes occur at night and a number of rapists, particularly the more experienced and cautious, try to conceal their faces. Furthermore, witnesses and victims make mistakes in their descriptions and are particularly bad at estimating height and age; they are much better at describing behaviour than they are appearance.

A major problem in the identification of serial rape using behavioural characteristics is that crime scene behaviours change across crimes due to external situational influences and internal learning processes. Human behaviour is not consistent because it is determined both by personality and by situation. Some people are more consistent in their behaviour than others; and some behaviours are more vulnerable to situational influences than others, as anyone who has tried to give up smoking, can testify.

Many authors (see below) have suggested that the behaviour of serial rapists can be viewed as comprising a number of aspects. The choice of geographical location and the setting of an attack are very much under a rapist’s control, and unsurprisingly, this ‘hunting’ aspect of behaviour tends to be one of the more consistent. Another aspect involves behaviours concerned with protecting the rapist’s identity, avoiding arrest and controlling the victim. Although all behaviour is learned over time with experience, these ‘modus operandi’ behaviours often develop perceptibly as a series progresses: however once a particular behaviour is acquired, it tends to be consistent, becoming part of a rapist’s internalised ‘criminal’ script.

Two types of behaviour are very much the product of personal characteristics of the offender – aggression and an apparent desire for a degree of personal intimacy with the victim during a rape; and perhaps oddly, both can be present in the same rapist. Although these behaviours are deeply embedded in a rapist’s emotional persona, their expression during a sexual assault may be very affected by the degree and type of resistance exhibited by the victim, and by her personal characteristics such as sexual attractiveness, age and social class.

It has been observed that the first case in a series may be very different from the rest, which is logical if one considers the learnt nature of criminal behaviour; a pattern becomes gradually established, hence it is understandable that a DNA match may be one of the earliest indicators of a developing series. Having at least two cases attributable to the same rapist, then gives an analyst some indication of the possible range of an offender’s behaviour, and tendencies to consistency. Of course it is also confirmation that this is not a ‘one off’ offender and that a search for other linked cases is merited. As well as features of geography, modus operandi, aggression and intimacy, the fine detail of an offender’s use of language can also be particularly useful in identifying further potential linked cases.

Although this is a very brief article on the basics CCA, hopefully it conveys some of the complexities involved in using behaviour to identify series. No-one really know which features are more useful (i.e. salient); and the larger the SCAS database becomes, the more need there will be for some automated method of prioritising cases which might be the work of one offender. At present forensic science and behavioural science have a complementary role, with that of forensic science perhaps under-exploited. It could be used more proactively, rather than relying on the National DNA database to churn out matches sooner or later. Furthermore, a Bayesian approach would provide a more rigorous basis for evaluating the evidence of linkage provided by behavioural characteristics, going some way to justify their use as similar fact evidence.

4. False Rape Allegations


The information in this article comes primarily from the two publications, which are cited at the end. As I have had considerable investigative experience of suspected false allegations of rape, both as a forensic scientist and later, as a behavioural advisor, the article is biased in favour of material that I have found useful in determining whether an allegation was likely to be false. I have tended to focus on instances where the authors’ experiences (first publication) or findings (second publication) coincide with my personal knowledge of false allegations and their perpetrators. It is recommended that the reader should bear in mind that many of the theories relating to false allegations of rape remain untested. Equally important is an awareness that no single factor is significant in itself; it is usually a combination of features that indicate the possibility of a false allegation.

When I worked for the Metropolitan Police Service, I had occasion to survey their automated crime records (CRIS) for rape allegations made by male complainants. I discovered that a significant proportion of these cases were apparently false allegations. However, I have no personal experience of cases involving men who have made false allegations. My experience relates entirely to female complainants.


False or exaggerated crime reports are not uncommon. People have been known to inflate the value of goods stolen in burglaries; to invent robberies in order to account for the loss of valuable items; and to report cars as stolen, when trying to avoid responsibility for ‘hit-and-run’ road accidents. False rape allegations are also of regular occurrence, although estimates of the prevalence vary because of the lack of an agreed definition; variability in the quality of investigations; and disparate methods of crime classification. The psychology relating to the police management of a complainant who has made an apparent false allegation, is not relevant to this article but it is of note that the complainant’s reaction may range from an emotional confession to an outraged denial, even when there is overwhelming evidence of fabrication – another reason why the actual number of false allegations cannot be reliably determined.

One definition of a false rape allegation is “a deliberately misleading account of a sexual assault where at least one of the three aspects of the crime are described untruthfully: the three aspects being a) the perpetrator(s), b) the acts that occurred and c) the setting in which the event took place” (Aiken et al., 1995). It has been said that there are three main categories of false allegation: an alibi (e.g. where the victim is under some pressure to explain her absence from home, illicit sex, or an unexpected pregnancy); revenge (e.g. when a relationship has ended, or advances rejected); and sympathy or attention seeking (which has been likened to Munchausen’s syndrome, where patients complain of medical symptoms for which no cause can be found, their motive being manipulation of medical professionals for psychological reasons).

The false allegations that seem to cause police investigator most problems, fall into the third category, where the victim is apparently seeking attention or sympathy, although in my experience there sometimes seems to be more than one motivating factor. I have seen cases where financial gain was a motive (criminal injuries compensation), and others that seemed to ‘solve a problem’ for the victim, as well as perhaps meeting a need for attention. One example of this involved a nun, who was allegedly raped on her way home to her North London convent, just before Christmas 1999. In order to make her allegation more convincing, she cut herself internally. The subsequent investigation took 10 weeks, and was estimated to cost in the region of �50,000. Although, she manifestly enjoyed and encouraged the attention of the press, it was believed that part of her motivation was increasing dissatisfaction with life in a religious order.

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