Halloween is just around the corner. It is a time of haunted houses, frightening costumes, watching horror films, playing pranks and telling scary stories. I’m not afraid of witches or goblins. I’m afraid of real people – dangerous violent criminals who strike without provocation. Heinous violent crimes are those in which victims are severely injured or killed with little or no provocation. Perhaps they are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately this occurs often enough that we are right to be worried. Not all violent criminals are equally violent. Some are more violent than others.
Who are these dangerous people? How did they become dangerous? Criminologist Lonnie H. Athens wrote a book called The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals that lays out a four-stage process by which benign individuals develop to become dangerous.
The first stage is brutalization in which a victim is brutalized by an authority figure, such as parent. This offender uses violence to force them to submit to their authority. Thus, they become obedient and respectful by breaking their spirit. Or, they may witness another person undergoing severe violence, and be unable to intervene, which then becomes traumatic to the person seeing or hearing it. The violence may or may not be expected. Sometimes the victim is beaten until the authority figure becomes exhausted. The victim’s feelings of terror changes into resignation, then into an intense desire for revenge. In this stage the victim is coached into becoming violent himself. They are taught that they should not try to pacify or ignore people who provoke them, but to respond with violence. If they do not do so, they are ridiculed or suffer physical punishment.
After undergoing brutalization, the victim becomes a bundle of conflicting thoughts and emotions. They ask “What can I do to stop further violence toward myself?” They enter the belligerency stage. In this second stage, they turn from being a victim to becoming a perpetrator against others who provoke them. They firmly resolve to resort to violence where they are ready and willing to severely injure or even kill someone.
Once they are violent, and they deem themselves to have been victorious, they move onto higher levels of violence in the third stage. Repeated successful events of violence lead to more violence.
Virulency, or being filled with venom, is the fourth stage. In this stage, the person committing violence takes satisfaction in their performance. Members of their social group such as family members, friends or official authorities, take an interest in their violence. The opinions of these people shape his own opinion about his actions. The social group often supports and reinforces the violence as he is now known as a madman or a violent lunatic. Although these are negative images, these terms also demonstrate that he has real daring and courage. He has gained notoriety and they treat him as dangerous. He is afforded greater power over his social environment and feels relief from the violence of others. There is now no reason why he can’t perform even more violent feats in the future. He has shifted from being a victim of brutalization to being a ruthless aggressor. He looks forward to treating others in the same brutal manner that he was treated earlier.
Unless a person fully completes each stage, they will not move onto the next. If they enter, but do not complete each stage, they will not become a dangerous violent criminal. People who have never had any prior violence-related experiences whatsoever do not suddenly commit heinous violent crimes.