Pyromania Analysis Essay, Research Paper
As a young child I, like many other children was fascinated with fireworks. Every July 4th my family would always put on the best fireworks display. Even to this day I enjoy watching fireworks and lighting them off. For some people it is their job to play with fire, and for others it is an impulsive desire they cannot deny. These people have a problem with the inability to control impulses to set fires. They will do anything to see a fire, be part of a fire, they simply like fire. Firefighters and psychologist label these people to suffer from pyromania. Each year people become innocent victims to arson. They lose property, memories and most importantly lives. Every time a crime is committed we ask the question ?why,? and wonder how someone could do something so wrong to another. The following pages will discuss arson and mainly focus in on pyromania. Pyromania is considered to be a psychological disorder, and still is not quite understood to the fullest. To try and understand pyromania we must first look at arson and talk about the motives behind this problem.
Motive is not an element of the offense and need not be proven to obtain a conviction for arson. Evidence of participation by a defendant is required to prove an arson case. Research has found that arson is committed for a number of reasons. The primary motivation for all violent crimes is POWER. Power is defined as the ability or capacity to exercise control over others. When we think about it, unleashing the devastating fury of an uncontrolled fire is a tremendous exercise in power. We break the power motivation into 4 categories. They are:
4.Acquiring lost powerC. We can further identify motives that meet the individual offender’s need for power. These motives are:
a. This motive is sometimes called “malicious mischief” and helps identify the type of offender – juveniles.
b. May be the result of peer or group pressure.
c. Typical targets include schools, abandoned buildings and vegetation.
2. Crime Concealment
a. This is secondary or collateral criminal activity
b. Usually, a fire is set to cover up the primary crime; murder, burglary, auto theft, destruction or theft of records, etc.
c. The offender is trying to impede the investigation by
(1) Obscure the fact that the primary crime has occurred
(2) Destroying forensic evidence of lead value
(3) Delay or prevent identification of the victim
a. Further social, political, or religious causes.
b. Targets include abortion clinics, houses of worship, government buildings, laboratories and fur farms.
c. Frequently accompanied by a communication claiming responsibility and espousing the cause embraced by the perpetrators.
a. Direct monetary gain includes
(1) Insurance fraud
(2) Liquidating property
(3) Dissolving a business
(4) Destroying unprofitable inventory
b. Indirect monetary gain can include
(1) Creating employment
(2) Eliminating competition
(3) Remodel old property
5. Excitement – nuisance type fires such as dumpsters, recycling bins, trash piles; targets of opportunity; may escalate as fire setting no longer provides enough excitement. Several types:
a. Thrills (most common excitement motive) – enjoys the turmoil created by fire setting
b. Recognition (hero) – firefighter, police officer, security guard, employee
c. Attention – excited by idea everyone is looking for him
d. Sexual gratification – unusual and usually present with other motives
a. The most common motive for a serial arsonist (NCAVC study of serial arsonists – 41% cited revenge as motive – graphic)
b. Retaliation for some real or imagined injustice.
c. May be an element of other motives.
d. Types of revenge motives include:
(1) Societal – most common serial arsonist motive (70% of revenge motivated serial arsonists) and most dangerous
A study done by Birte Kjellberg (German) draws a social and psychological profile of the typical arsonist. The sample comprised 127 individuals drawn from the Forensic Department of the Psychiatric Hospital in Aarhus, Denmark. The data was drawn from hospital records. Most of the sample was male, total 109, the average age was 30, and most were unemployed or receiving an early pension. In general, all had an insecure and disharmonic childhood, as well as problems in school. Ninety percent lived alone and most had few social relationships despite being friendly and behaving nonviolently. More than half abused alcohol, and nearly two-thirds were intoxicated by hashish, alcohol or another substance when they started the fires. The most frequent cause of fire starting was relaxation of tension. Which goes back to our pyromaniacs who felt a sense of relief when setting the blaze. Almost 20% of the group studied suffered from psychosis when committing the act, while the majority was diagnosed with personality disorders.
(N.T. Criminology, 1996, 83, (3), pp. 212-217.)
The fifth motive is the one that I would like to focus in on, because the pyromaniac sets fires out of the pure excitement it creates for him/her. A pyromaniac would be labeled as a type of arsonist that does not conform to all the motives most arsonists possess. The definition of pyromania is the deliberate and purposeful fire setting on more than one occasion. The person also will experience tension or affective arousal before the act. The person will also display attributes of a fascination with, interest in, curiosity about, or attraction to fire and its situational contexts (e.g., paraphernalia, uses, consequences). The person will experience pleasure, gratification, or relief when setting the fire, or when witnessing or participating in their aftermath. The main difference between a arsonist and a person with pyromania is that the fire setting is not done for monetary gain, as an expression of sociopolitical ideology, to conceal criminal activity, to express anger or vengeance, to improve one’s living circumstances, in response to a delusion or hallucination, or as a result of impaired judgment (e.g., in dementia, Mental Retardation, Substance Intoxication). (Dr. John Grohol?s Mental Health Page) Most pyromaniacs are male. Although children set a lot of fires, pyromania usually occurs in adolescence or adulthood. People with this disorder may have poor social skills. Many have learning problems. Pyromaniacs tend to plan in advance to start fires. Many of them like to watch any fire they can. They may like to set off fire alarms. People with pyromania often do not seem to care about the loss of property, the injuries, or even the deaths that result from fires. Attempts to understand pathological fire setting began around the turn of the nineteenth century, first in Germany and France, and then in England and America. Early German writers considered pathological fire setting to be committed by pubescent, mentally retarded girls with abnormal psychosexual development and menstrual difficulties. In France, Marc, 1833, classified pathological fire setters as suffering from ?monomanie incendiare? or ?pyromania.? Prichard was the first to discuss in English, the concept that fire setting might be the sole symptom of a mental disorder. Prichard incorporated the language of his European counterparts, pyromania, into his writing on fire setting, and classifies pyromania as an ?instinctive madness.? (Geller, JL. M.D., McDermeit M, M.S.W., Brown, JM, B.S., J Forensic Sciences 1997 vol.42)
The effects of arson and pyromania on society are pivotal to gaining a real understanding of this problem. When one has hardcore evidence of the damage arson causes he/she realizes the terminology is trying to communicate with you. In 1998 the FBI compiled data from cities from all across the United States of arson related fires. Although the data is not specific to pyromania one can get an idea of just how devastating the problem is on society. The following information was provided by the FBI?s official website. Nationwide, a total of 11,976 law enforcement agencies provided 1 to 12 months of arson data for 1998, reporting a total of 78,094 arson offenses for the year. Among these agencies, 11,377 supplied detailed information such as the type of structure and estimated monetary value of the property damaged.
By Population Group, 1998
[8,329 agencies; 1998-estimated population 180,475,000;
Rate per 100,000 inhabitants
Total cities 45.0
Group I (cities 250,000 and over) 75.3
(Cities 1,000,000 and over) 76.5
(Cities 500,000 to 999,999) 74.3
(Cities 250,000 to 499,999) 74.7
Group II (cities 100,000 to 249,999) 42.5
Group III (cities 50,000 to 99,999) 34.2
Group IV (cities 25,000 to 49,999) 28.1
Group V (cities10,000 to 24,999) 21.6
Group VI (cities under 10,000) 28.4
Suburban counties 29.2
Rural counties 17.6
Suburban area 26.4When comparing figures from 1998 to 1997, arson arrests declined 8 percent nationally. By community type, a decrease of 9 percent was recorded in cities collectively; in rural counties, a decrease of 7 percent; and in suburban counties, a decrease of 5 percent. Nationwide, both juvenile and adult arrests for arson declined during the same period, decreasing by 9 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Five- and 10-year trends show that 1998 arson arrest totals for all ages were 18 percent lower than the 1994 arrest total and 6 percent below the 1989 total. Although that it seems that property damage related to arson is slowing we still have a major problem on our hands. The main question we need to address here is what can we do to try and fix the problem.
The ideas of Willem Adriaan Bonger (1876-1940) will help us in trying to assess the problem of arson. Bonger says that capitalism encourages criminal behavior by creating an enviroment that less conductive to social responsibility. He also notes that in a capitalistic society people tend to concentrate on meeting personal needs rather than the needs of the society, which causes the criminal behavior. Bonger explained that the social environment of primitive people was interwoven with the means of production. The people in the community all helped each other with the everyday struggles such as eating and having shelter. (AML, 4th ed., 2001) I feel that this idea, though broad, is a good explanation for arson and can explain many other criminal behaviors. Lets step back for a moment and look at the big picture in terms of our society. Everyday we do the same thing, wake up, go to work, go home, go to sleep to wake and do it all over again. We get in this cycle of life and sometimes forget what we are doing. The college environment is a great example to explain this theory. Why do we all go to college, to get a degree and that nice paying job later on in life of course? We go to college to improve our quality of living, we want the money, and the material things in life have become of most important to many people in today?s society. What we all have lost is that sense of community and all we think about is what is best for ourselves and not what will be good for everyone in the community. Now that we have lost the sense of helping each other out, we have this competition for power and greed, which creates criminal behavior in our society. Bonger?s ideas directly explains the motive of arson for profit which is committed for monetary gains including insurance fraud, creating employment, eliminating competition to name a few. I feel that if we as a society would get out of this mind frame that ?if its not to the best of my interests than count me out?, we would see a slow decline in criminal behavior. I request that we get back to our grass roots and not only think about ourselves but thy neighbor as well.
On that note I think that it is important to not only discuss the whys?, and the characteristics of these people but to also suggest help or treatment for these people. The most popular and most effective way to help these people is with therapy. The American Psychiatric Association suggests a number of different types of therapy for arson and pyromania. Behavioral Therapy: In this type of therapy it is believed that behaviors are learned, that we are a product of our environment. Focus will be on present and overt behavior. In this type of therapy it is Behavior therapy is always undergoing refinement and uses learning to overcome specific believed that reinforcement and imitation teaches normal behavior and that abnormal behavior is a direct result of defective learning.
Therapy will be based on learning theory. The therapy will include a treatment plan, the goals of the treatment will be laid out up front, and the outcome expected from the therapy will be set right up front too. To eliminate unwanted behaviors you need to learn new behaviors. This may include assertion, behavioral rehearsal, coaching, cognitive restructuring, desensitization, modeling, reinforcement, relaxation methods, self-management, or new social skills. Both client and therapist need to take an active role in learning the more desired behavior. Transactional analysis focuses on the persons cognitive and behavior functioning. The therapist helps the person evaluate there past decisions and how those decisions affect their present life. They believe self-defeating behavior and feelings can be overcome by an awareness of them.
The therapist believes that the client?s personality is made up of the parent, adult, and child. They believe that it is important for the client to examine past decisions to help their make new and better decisions. These are just a couple of suggested treatments for arsonists and people labeled with pyromania tendencies. These problems are always undergoing research and we are learning something new each day. With the help of professionals in the medical field hopefully we can treat the troubled people and turn their lives around so they can live a normal life.