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Forensic Psychology

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  1. Forensic Psychology

  2. Forensic psychology is one of the newest and fastest growing areas of psychology, and one of the most intriguing. • The number of TV shows based on forensic science demonstrates how fascinated we are by crime, so it is no surprise that we think forensic psychology is a glamorous and exciting profession. • Yet forensic psychology is much broader than we might think, and working with criminals is only one aspect of a forensic psychologist’s job.

  3. What is Forensic Psychology? • Forensic psychology is a specialisation of psych ology that combines an understanding of the legal system and how people interact with the legal system. • A forensic psychologist may work within both the civil and the criminal sectors of the Australian legal system. • Forensic psychologists also provide clinical services that require them to make assessments and diagnoses. • Basically, forensic psychologists are experts on legal issues that affect people.

  4. Forensic psychologists in the civil legal system • Civil roles for a forensic psychologist are varied. Lawyers in Australia will often ask a forensic psychologist to assess their client before a trial. • There are also other civil areas a forensic psychologist can be involved with, such as: • child custody • the role of children in the courtroom • guardianship of children (ie who will look after them; whether the parents are competent) • divorce counselling • discrimination, such as unfair dismissal cases • sexual harassment cases • personal injury suits (injury may be physical or emotional) • workers’ compensation • fraudulent or false advertising.

  5. Forensic psychologists in the criminal legal system • Most forensic psychologists in Australia tend to work in the criminal system. • Many work as prison psychologists, for example, and focus on the rehabilitation and mental health of offenders. • In Victoria, forensic psychologists may work at the Thomas Embling Hospital in Fairfield. • Other areas include: • psychological assessment of offenders and their criminal responsibility • profiling of offenders • identifying future dangerousness of criminals • insanity defences • working with the police, including work-related trauma • victims’ behaviour • victims’ stress and trauma • jury decision making • human memory, eg. eyewitness testimony.

  6. Becoming a forensic psychologist in Australia • There is quite a lot of study and work involved in becoming a qualified psychologist. • Becoming a forensic psychologist requires even more time and effort.

  7. Review Questions • What is forensic psychology? • What are the main role and responsibilities of a forensic psychologist? Consider both the civil and criminal aspects.

  8. Types of crime in Australia • Profiles can be created for all types of crimes. Most people assume profilers just work on murders, but they can also create profiles for arson, assault, burglary, terrorism, stalking and other types of organised and disorganised crime.

  9. Stalking

  10. Stalking is a crime that most people would know about, but stalking was only officially recognised as a crime in all states and territories of Australia between 1993 and 1995. • It is therefore one of the newest categories of crime, even though stalking as a behaviour has been around for centuries. • It was not until the murder of an American actress, Rebecca Schaeffer, by an obsessed fan who had stalked her for years, that California passed the world’s first anti-stalking legislation in 1991.

  11. What is Stalking? • Stalking is repeated and persistent harassment where a person imposes on another person with unwanted communications or contact. • The emphasis is that the contact or communications is unwanted or unwelcome by the victim. • Communication can be made by telephone calls, text messages, email, letters, even graffiti. • The most alarming behaviour is when stalkers approach, follow or observe the victim and make threats or damage property.

  12. Other behaviours include unsolicited gifts such as flowers, chocolates, books, pictures of the stalker, or in some rare cases grotesque ‘gifts’ such as dead animals. • Goods or services might also be ordered on the victim’s behalf, such as pizza, magazines, aeroplane tickets or even ambulances. Some stalking can result in serious assaults. • Dr Paul Mullen, an Australian forensic psychiatrist, and his colleagues have identified five major types of stalkers:

  13. 1. The Rejected Stalker • This is a stalker who has once known the victim. They are often a previous boyfriend, girlfriend or sexual partner, and sometimes may even be a family member or close friend. • When questioned, a rejected stalker may claim their behaviour to be motivated by a need for reconciliation, or possibly revenge. • This type of stalker is most often linked to domestic violence.

  14. 2. The Intimacy Seeker • This is a stalker who admires the victim and wants to have a relationship with them. These stalkers also mistakenly believe that the victim returns their affection. • Intimacy seekers are oblivious to the victim’s feelings, and usually view the victim’s rejection of them as a positive response. They tend to be lonely. • Stalkers of celebrities, for example, are intimacy seekers.

  15. 3. The Incompetent Stalker • Like the intimacy seeker, the incompetent stalker is also looking for a relationship with their victim. However, the incompetent stalker is just seeking a date or trying to establish contact with the victim. • Incompetent stalkers tend to lack basic interpersonal skills, and may have lower intelligence. • This type of stalker is immune to rejection, but their stalking is rarely sustained and the stalker will usually give up after a few days or weeks. • Unfortunately, the stalker tends to choose a new victim when they move on from the previous one.

  16. 4. The Resentful Stalker • This stalker’s main aim is to scare the victim. This is their retribution for a previous injury, real or imagined. • Resentful stalkers often feel justified in their behaviour, as they are fighting against what they see as an injustice or oppression by the target. This stalker sees themselves as a victim and is self-righteous in their stalking. • They gain satisfaction from the power and control they have over their victim.

  17. 5. The Predatory Stalker • This stalker stalks as part of a ‘plan’, with the intent of assaulting the victim. The planned assault is usually sexual in nature. • The stalking is a means to an end, and is a combination of information gathering and intrusion through observation of the victim. • Predatory stalkers tend to have prior sex convictions.

  18. Which Stalkers are Most Dangerous? • Past research suggests that over a third of all victims of stalkers have been assaulted in some form, ranging from assaults that cause minor bruises and abrasions to serious sexual and physical assault. • Six per cent of stalkers have also injured third parties who they believed to be obstructing their access to the victim. • Of the five types of stalkers, violence is less common among the intimacy seekers, the incompetent and the resentful. • However, 54 per cent of rejected stalkers and 50 per cent of predatory stalkers have attacked their victims. Those most likely to assault are ex-partners, followed by work colleagues, casual acquaintances and strangers. • What should not be ignored are attacks on victims’ pets. Many victims’ pets have been killed or threatened.

  19. Seventy-five per cent of victims are females. • However, it is worth noting that females are thought to be more likely to report stalking to the police than males. • Approximately 84 per cent of stalkers in Australia are male, with females accounting for 11 per cent; the remaining 5 per cent are of unknown gender, as their victims never found out their stalker’s identity. • Female stalkers tend to be intimacy seekers or incompetent stalkers.

  20. Learning Activity - Stalking • Use the data in Table 9.1 to answer the following questions. • Which type of stalker is least likely to be female? • Which two types of stalkers are most likely to have a past criminal conviction? What other characteristics do these two types have in common? What are the major differences between these two?

  21. Types of Stalkers • Using the flowchart for classifying stalkers, try to classify Robert John Bardo, the stalker of Rebecca Schaeffer. • Use the description of Bardo on the next slide. • Once you have classified Bardo, go back to the original definition of this type and double-check that it is a fair match. • Present your findings to the class. • Provide reasons for the order of steps you took on the flowchart and explain to the class why you think Bardo is this type.

  22. Can crime be prevented or predicted? • Forensic psychology has, in recent years, been hyped as an all-seeing discipline which can solve any crime, especially those related to murder. • As depicted in iconic films such as Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, based on books by Thomas Harris, forensic psychologists try to predict a criminal’s thoughts and motivation. • In reality it is not quite that simple. • Forensic psychologists can certainly assist authorities with crime, but this is only one small part of their job. They also play a very large role in other areas, such as the mental health of prisoners.

  23. What is Criminal Profiling? • Although only one aspect of a forensic psychologist’s work, profiling is very interesting. • Profiling is a special investigative technique that forensic psychologists use when working with police to solve a crime. • By analysing the crime scene and using a variety of information, a forensic psychologist can play an important role in determining the identity of a person who has committed a crime. • While profiling cannot directly give you an offender’s name, it is very helpful in narrowing down suspects. Forensic psychologists who specialise in this area may be called profilers. A profiler develops a report that summarises the traits and tendencies of a criminal or offender. This report is known as a profile.

  24. They consider the following pieces of information in their profile: • the crime committed • the crime scene or scenes • the victim or victims • the police reports of the crime • the autopsy reports and results of other forensic tests.

  25. Once the forensic psychologist or profiler has evaluated all the information available, they develop their profile. • The profile has suggestions about the possible characteristics of the offender. For example, a profile based on a crime scene may include the offender’s possible personality, sex, age, ethnic background and physical features such as height and weight. This information can then be used to identify possible suspects, depending on who fits the profile. • Personality is one of the most important parts of a criminal profile. This is because behaviour can reflect personality, and it is the behaviour of a person that leaves clues behind as evidence. • By considering • all the evidence, a profiler can estimate what sort of person the criminal is likely to be. • Profiles can be very valuable for police. In the absence of hard physical evidence, profiling can open up new leads of investigation. If there is forensic evidence available, but no immediate link is made to a suspect, profiling can help narrow down the search to a manageable number of suspects.

  26. How Does Criminal Profiling Work? • Personality profiles of criminals are based on the way in which a crime is committed; it is also known as inductive profiling. • The modus operandi (method of operations) is like a ‘signature’ of the criminals responsible; if there are similarities between criminals’ modus operandi, there may also be similarities between their personalities. • Therefore, this type of profiling uses information from past crimes and their known offenders. If the personality of a past offender is understood, and their signature is similar to that in the current crime, then perhaps similar assumptions about the current criminal’s personality can also be made. • Inductive profiling assumes that when a criminal commits a crime, he or she will have a similar background and motive to others who have committed a similar crime

  27. A second technique, deductive profiling, is a little more complex. • It uses crime scene evidence to try to understand the criminal’s mind. • This technique can include the identity of the victim, what the victims (in the case of a serial offender) have in common, any weapon used, the degree of hostility, and the existence (or lack) of any harm used on the victim. • By analysing these aspects of the crime scene, a forensic psychologist can infer or deduce the motives of the offender, which leads to a description of the offender’s personality. • Most modern profiling tends to use both inductive and deductive profiling techniques. Importantly, both techniques try to make links to personality.

  28. How a Forensic Psychologist Works with the Police • So far, it may seem that criminal profiling depends on a lot of speculation on the part of the forensic psychologist. • While some speculation is required, personality profiling is actually the result of many years of research. • Forensic psychologists draw on older personality research and writings from psychologists such as Freud and Hans Eysenck, as well as more recent research. • There are two main systems used by profilers. • One system, called crime scene analysis, was established by the FBI in the United States (Esherick, 2006). • The second system, investigative psychology, was developed by British psychologist David Canter for Scotland Yard. • Both systems originated in the 1980s and are the foundation for profilers worldwide. The most widely used system is crime scene analysis.

  29. Profiling System: Crime Scene Analysis • Crime scene analysis is both inductive and deductive. This system involves six chronological steps. STEP 1. PROFILING INPUTS • This involves collecting, arranging and assessing all evidence relating to the case. This includes anything found on the scene (eg fibres, paint chips) and anything derived from the crime scene, such as photographs, investigator notes, measurements and forensic reports. The evidence is called ‘profiling inputs’.

  30. Profiling System: Crime Scene Analysis STEP 2. DECISION PROCESS MODELS • The evidence (profiling inputs) is now analysed to establish the basic facts of the crimes and whether there are patterns. For example, whether or not the crime is part of a series of crimes, or what the victims have in common with other victims of crimes that have been committed and investigated. STEP 3. CRIME ASSESSMENTS • Once the evidence has been organised, the crime scene is reconstructed. Investigators use patterns to determine what happened in what order, the role of each individual involved and the behaviour of each individual; that is, the criminal and victim(s). STEP 4. CRIMINAL PROFILE • The first three steps are used to create a criminal profile incorporating the motives, physical qualities, behaviour and personality of the criminal. The investigators use this information to decide on the best way to interview any suspects based on their personality.

  31. Profiling System: Crime Scene Analysis STEP 5. THE INVESTIGATION • The profile is given to investigators and to organisations that may have data leading to the identification of a suspect. If no leads are found, or if new information is learned, the profile will be reassessed and changes made where necessary. STEP 6. APPREHENSION • If a suspect is identified, he or she is interviewed, investigated and compared to the profile. If the investigators have reason to believe that the suspect is the offender, a warrant is obtained for the suspect’s arrest. This is then followed by a trial with expert witnesses including the forensic psychologist and other forensic experts involved in the crime scene analysis.

  32. Review Questions - Profiling • Compare inductive to deductive profiling. Write a definition for both.

  33. Research Activity – Creating a Profile • There are many murders in Australia that remain unsolved. There are also many people who have disappeared under suspicious circumstances and are assumed dead. • Go online and find a current unsolved case in Australia. A good place to start is CrimeNet at, though you will need to do further research in order to successfully complete this task. • Then, to the best of your ability, create a profile for the unknown offender using the template below.

  34. Organised vs Disorganised Crime • There is one final classification of criminals that can assist psychologists when profiling criminals. This is whether the criminal is organised or disorganised. • In psychological terms, an organised criminal is one who is confident and exercises control when committing an offence. The criminal appears sane, but is in fact irrational and behaves in an antisocial manner. • A disorganised criminal is one who lacks confidence and lacks control when committing an offence. They tend to have lower than average intelligence and low self-esteem. • Table 9.2 (following slide) shows some of the characteristics of a murder crime scene that could suggest whether the criminal is organised or disorganised. • A disorganised crime scene tends to look chaotic. This reflects the haste with which the criminal killed the victim, for fear of the victim getting away. The location of the murder is usually part of the victim’s own routine, such as their workplace or home. This is because a disorganised killer lacks the social skills to persuade a victim to go elsewhere. Furthermore, the victim will not have been tied up or constrained, since the location was not preplanned. The face of the victim is often disfigured, blindfolded or covered up. This may be part of a depersonalising process. Finally, the body and weapon used are often left at the scene, and a disorganised killer tends to leave footprints and fingerprints behind.

  35. In comparison, an organised crime scene will be at a carefully selected location. Occasionally in organised crime, the location is chosen first, and then the first person to arrive at the location is the victim. • More often the victim will have been carefully selected, and generally the location is isolated and cannot be easily observed. • Organised killers tend to have preferences for their victims such as age, gender, appearance, lifestyle and occupation. • For example, notorious serial killer Ted Bundy chose victims who looked like his ex-girlfriend.

  36. Another notable characteristic of organised killers is their social ability. They usually strike up a conversation with the victim, and do not appear odd or threatening. • Organised killers also choose clothes to give them an impressive or reassuring appearance, such as neat and clean clothes, a uniform or a business suit. • Despite the many differences between organised and disorganised killers, there are two similarities. • First, they tend to have few genuine friends. Disorganised killers are usually socially inept and may feel inferior to others. In contrast, organised killers feel superior to others; despite being socially capable, their lack of genuine friends does not bother them. • A second similarity is that organised and disorganised killers may return to the scene of the crime to relive the crime. However, an organised killer will be very careful when they revisit the scene.

  37. Learning Activity – Crime Scenes • Draw a disorganised crime scene and label the main features. • Now draw the same crime scene but change all the features so that they are now organised.