What Causes Hybristophilia?
Psychologists offer an array of speculations for what causes the disorder. A running theme is that in a world where men’s roles and value are diminishing, the serial killer triggers ancient instincts and represents a sort of heroically promethean being, the alpha caveman whose prowess at brutality demonstrates he’d be able to protect a woman and her offspring. Although “nice guys” may seem desirable in a high-tech world, they wouldn’t provide much protection when there’s a saber-tooth tiger at the door.
Sheila Isenberg, author of Women Who Love Men Who Kill, says that the women are drawn to men who are bold enough to act on their rage:
Even while she denies his culpability, it is his ability to murder that attracts her. He acted on his rage, however unsuitably. [The woman] could never act on her rage. So [his] murder is [her] murder.
Forensic psychologist Katherine Ramsland relates some of the reasons that hybristophiles have used to explain their motivation:
Some believe they can change a man as cruel and powerful as a serial killer.
Others ‘see’ the little boy that the killer once was and seek to nurture him.
A few hoped to share in the media spotlight or get a book or movie deal.
Then there’s the notion of the “perfect boyfriend.” She knows where he is at all times and she knows he’s thinking about her. While she can claim that someone loves her, she does not have to endure the day-to-day issues involved in most relationships. There’s no laundry to do, no cooking for him, and no accountability to him. She can keep the fantasy charged up for a long time.
According to Dr. Joan Harvey, psychologist at Newcastle University, hybristophiliacs may have good intentions, however misguided:
Many people who visit prisoners believe they are there because life has not been kind to them, that it might not be entirely their fault. They may be the do-gooder type, touched by the image of the lonely victim in his prison cell. But if they really wanted to help, they might do well to pick someone who could turn themselves around with a bit of support and self-esteem. With a serial killer, you aren’t going to do any good….They want to engage the pathetic creature in a jail cell. They are not engaging the monster.
British handwriting expert Diane Simpson, who worked on the Peter “The Yorkshire Ripper” investigation, describe some of the women drawn to him:
The women who write to him do tend to be very lonely. Many are religious, many believe they can somehow reach this person, and with God’s will get him on to the path of righteousness. Each of them believes she has reached him, that she is something special. When he writes, ‘Thank you for looking behind the headlines’, they believe they’ve touched his psyche, that maybe he’s repented. What is scary is when you hear women say, ‘Well, he wouldn’t have hurt me.’ He would.
In other words, he’s the perfect boyfriend up until the point that he kills you.