Criminal Profiling in Canada

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Currently, criminals have evolved and adopted various strategies in carrying out their activities without being noticed. One criminal in linked to a series of crimes committed and goes into hiding to avoid arrest. For instance, there are criminals in Canada who are in prison, charged with a series of rape cases. But one may wonder why should someone commit a crime and repeat the same crime? Why should someone rape and kill the victim? Furthermore, history has it that humans have been trying to understand the dynamics of criminal behaviors. They have been wondering why certain members of the society break law willingly. Criminal investigators have been trying to understand the causes of criminal behaviors. Understanding the criminal behaviors such as that of a serial rapist needs a thorough knowledge of the psychological nature of the criminal through the use of psychological perspectives. The paper explores the childhood history of Paul Bernardo, a serial rapist in Canada, discussing his modus operandi and concludes by providing an explanation to his deviant criminal behavior.

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Childhood History

Paul Bernardo was the son of Marilyn and Kenneth Bernardo who were wealthy. He was born on August 27, 1964. His father worked as an accountant but was said to be abusive. After her mother had given birth to a son and a daughter, she started having an affair with her former boyfriend who resulted to the pregnancy of Paul Bernardo; however, Kenneth Bernardo is listed as the biological father (Williams, 2014). His father was convicted for child molestation in the year 1975. Furthermore, he also sexually assaulted her daughter. Such an incident forced Paul Bernardo mother, to withdraw from the family life and reside at their home in Metropolitan Toronto. Also, Paul Bernardo’s elder brother was emotionally and mentally affected by the incident of their father but Paul Bernardo was not. Paul Bernardo was considered a happy child at his younger age. He was very cute and would smile a lot. Most parents considered him a perfect child because he had numerous characteristics of a good child including well mannered, polite and performed well in school.

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When Paul Bernardo was about sixteen years old he learned that he conceived when her mother had an affair with her former boyfriend. Such news from her mother offended him and he started insulting her mother openly. The information from her mother made him view women differently and treated them in an appropriate way including beating and public humiliation. His development of dark sexual fantasy and desires resulted from the influence of pornography. His love for pornographic made him fixate on anal intercourse, dominant and violent sex. Furthermore, he had a lust for younger virgins. I his teenage years, he became more obsessed with women because of his love for pornographic films. At that age watching pornographic films was enough to satisfy his growing sexual desire. He basically was contented with watching and not putting into practice what he saw in the pornographic films (Williams, 2014). Through is frequent watching of the pornographic videos, he became aware of the type of women he wanted. He finally realized that he lusted for young women who were eager to know and submissive.

The realization of the type of women he lusted for was the start of the unusual sexual behavior. Just one year after finishing his high schools, he dated a high school girl who was about sixteen years old. The choice of sixteen years old high school girl was a clear definition of Paul Bernardo’s idea of being naive and sexually inexperienced. Paul Bernardo dated the young high school girl for over three and a half a year but utilized her as his personal a sex toy. During the period that he was dating the young high school girl, she convinced her that what they were doing was acceptable. When having sex with the girl, he would wrap a piece of string around her neck to satisfy his pleasure (Williams, 2014). However, with time he became bored with the act of wrapping a piece of string around the teenager’s neck and adopted a knife as part of his equipment when sodomizing her. All his sexual activities and practices resulted from his love of watching pornographic films. In the year 1982, Paul Bernardo graduated from Sir Wilfrid Laurier College Institution. After his graduation, he worked for Amway where he was deeply affected by the sales culture. In the year 1987, Paul Bernardo met Karla Homolka whom he fell in love with and later got married. However, Karla Homolka was different with other women Paul Bernardo had dated because she encouraged his sadistic sexual behavior.

Modus Operandi

With the assistance of his wife, Paul Bernardo became a rapist. He raped several women in the eastern Metropolitan Toronto city of Scarborough. To undertake his criminal activities he applied several methods including the con method, surprise method, and Drug method.

The con approach technique was utilized by Paul Bernardo on Leslie Mahaffy. In the con technique, rapist approaches the victim and offers or requests him or her to assist in a given situation (Petherick and Dawsonera, 2009). Paul Bernardo utilized the techniques in the year 1991 when he took an alternative route through Burlington from Toronto to steal license plates in St. Catharine. Along the way, he found a fourteen years old girl Leslie Mahaffy (Campbell, 1996). Leslie Mahaffy was stranded with nowhere to spend an overnight after she was locked out of the house for missing her curfew after attending a funeral. Paul Bernardo approached her and told her that he was planning to break into the house of the neighbor. However, Leslie Mahaffy seemed undisturbed by Paul Bernardo but asked him for cigarettes. Paul Bernardo informed her that the cigarettes were in the car of which she followed. On reaching the vehicle, she was blindfolded, pushed into the car and taken to Port Dalhousie where Paul Bernardo informed his wife to join him. Both Paul Bernardo and her wife tortured and sexually abused Mahaffy and tapped the act while listening to music. Mahaffy cried out in pain and pleaded with both Paul Bernardo and her wife to stop but all in vain.

The surprise approach was utilized by Paul Bernardo on Kristen French. In the surprise technique, the rapist has a prior knowledge of where the victim would be and the exact time when she would be alone. In most cases, the offender utilizes weapons and threat in the surprise approach (Petherick and Dawsonera, 2009). Paul Bernardo utilized the techniques on April 16, 1992, after-school hours when he and her wife were driving through St. Catharine to look for possible victims. As they drove past the Holly Cross Secondary school they saw Kristen French, a fifteen years old girl, walking energetically back home. Immediately they parked the car and Homolka came out of the car with a map on the hand pretending to ask for direction. Just when Kristen French was looking at the map, Paul Bernardo approached from behind and threatened Kristen French with a knife forcing her to get in the vehicle. She sat in the front seat beside Paul Bernardo who was driving. Homolka sat on the back seat holding Kristen French hair to control her. Kristen French’s parents knew that she usually took the same route daily for about fifteen minutes to reach home but because she was not home yet, her parents thought that something wrong had happened to her and they informed the police (Campbell, 1996).

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The other method used by Paul Bernardo was the drug technique. The drug technique was utilized on Tammy Homolka. In the drug method, the offender utilizes certain drugs on the victims which cause lack semi-consciousness, lack of inhibition and amnesiac for several hours (Petherick and Dawsonera, 2009). Paul Bernardo utilizes the drug method in 1990 when he spent time with the Homolka family. Even though he was engaged to Karla Homolka, the eldest daughter, he constantly flirted with the youngest one. Paul Bernardo was attracted to Tammy Homolka and could sneak into her bedroom when she was sleeping to masturbate. Benardo and his wife Homolka participated in the defilement of Tammy, who was a sister to Homolka (Campbell, 1996). The reason for her participation in this crime was to give her husband the virginity of her sister as a Christmas present. The victim was fifteen years then.

Deviant Behavior Explanation

Considering the childhood history of Bernardo, he began developing dark sexual fantasies at a younger age. He is depicted as one who found it fun in humiliating and beating women in public. However, his father had also engaged in various sexual practices. We have learned before that his father known as Kenneth was charged in 1975 for girl molestation and was also sexually abusing his daughter. The incidence made Bernardo’s mother to cut herself from the life of the family to live at their home basement. His mother had one time told him that he was born illegitimately following extramarital affair. Later on, we see Bernardo joining his friends at the bar practicing pick up methods on young women (Williams, 2014). If we look closely at his criminality, there is a possibility that the fact that Bernardo engaged in sexual abuse was due to the feeling of less guilt for hating his father and mother. There are instances where he began insulting his mother openly upon realizing he was born illegitimately. It’s like he hated her mother for engaging in an extramarital affair. Furthermore, there is a possibility that he did not feel a violation of his moral and ethical principles upon engaging in sexual abuse. If we go back to his childhood history, we found that Bernardo was never affected by the separation of his parents. When the other siblings were affected emotionally and mentally, he seemed untouched and was always happy.  It shows that he was someone with “I don’t care” attitude. Moreover, Bernardo’s bad sexual behavior might have been due to the fact that sexual assault resulted in abrupt satisfaction and pleasure, which he found tough resisting.

The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, proposes that the psychological well-being of a person depends on healthy interaction among the id, ego, and superego, which forms the three key aspects of the human psyche (Vito, 2006). The id composes of powerful desires and control of satisfaction and indulgence. The ego acts as a mediator within id and superego, often referred to as personality’s decision-making. The superego represents the moral conscience. According to Freud, criminality is as a result of an overactive conscience or superego. In the process of treating his patients, Freud realized that those who were faced with intolerable guilt engaged in criminal acts so as to be detained or punished. Upon punishment, they were relieved from such guilt feelings (Vito, 2006). The anger of abandonment of Bernardo by his biological father and mother might have developed unconscious feelings of guilt. He decided to get rid of such feeling through committing crimes and facing punishment. His continuous engagement in sexual assault and rape shows us that his conscience was too weak. The superego was too weak to an extent that he was unable to take control of the id impulses. Since superego is basically an adopted parental image, developed when the child assumes that moral values and the attitudes of the parents, it is possible that lack of such image may result to unrestricted id and thus to crime. Furthermore, another suggestion from psychoanalytic theory proposes another explanation to the behavior of Bernardo, linked to the unappeasable need for abrupt reward and indulgence. A defect in the rapist character formation pushes them to satisfy their desires immediately, despite the consequences of such actions. The urge, majorly linked to the id, is so strong that relationship with individuals is significant only if they assist in its satisfaction. According to most analysts, rapists are seen as individuals who are incapable of surrendering their desires for abrupt pleasures.

Additionally, we can explain Bernardo’s behavior from the Evolutionary Perspective. An evolutionary explanation of criminal behavior is from the view of eventual causes of the typical characteristics of species. Eventual causes are characteristics of the ancestral environment that singled out specific features seen in the current population with varied reproductive success and are different from proximal causes, the systems producing characteristics in the current environment (Quinsey, 2012). Evolutionary explanations are environmental and selections in alignment since the previous environments are seen to have designated features of organisms through action at the level of personal genes, especially resulting to increase in the frequency of genes linked to reproductive success over generations (Quinsey, 2012). Therefore, most behaviors are controlled by genetic predispositions but are to some extent put under revision and influential by our environment. They are products of evolutionary pressures that, through composite environmental-genetic factors relations, result to the pursuance of a life history strategy of unscrupulous and destructive social interactions by some people. In families that are abusive or in sexually unsuitable environments, introduction to pornography at childhood or adolescences and upcoming nonstandard sexual fantasies caused the growth of deviant sexual preferences including rape. Such factors contribute to continuing later abusive behaviors (Bader, 2002).

According to Bader (2002), such actions formed the part of the subconscious drive towards healing and the pain was too much that it required healing through actions so as to resolve internal conflict. Bernardo became addicted to pornography at a tender age. He ended up fixating in anal intercourse and violent sex. Through pornography, he began lusting for younger virgins (Williams, 2014). Rapists are also affected by the guilt of separation. Disorganized attachment is a threat to the safety of some children. Children in homes with unstable parents are threatened by the feeling that something is wrong with their parents than themselves since an evolutionary history involving young children with no caregiver would have lost (Bader, 2002).  Bernardo had been under the watch of a violent father, who also engaged his sister in a sexual behavior and being violent to his mother. Bernardo might have been growing watching his father abusing his sister and engaging his mother in physical violence, which we are told he took normal as exhibited by the happy face he showed. He grew knowing that sexual assault and violence is part of life.


We can now understand the reason behind the behaviors of some criminals such as serial rapist. The history of Paul Bernardo tells us that he never had a past of difficulty, under the guidance of the family who abandoned him at a tender age. His love for sex began during his childhood from watching pornography, using his high school girlfriend as a sex toy to pick up techniques on young ladies in the bars. He grew to be a serial rapist using methods like coning, surprise and drugging to trap his victims. Paul Bernard criminal behavior can be explained through the psychoanalytic approach and evolutionary explanations. However, the psychoanalytic approach is the preferred explanations of such behaviors. It had three basic principles that were still attractive to psychologists. First, to understand the action and behavior of an adult, one needs to know his childhood development. Second, in understanding criminality, there is linking of behaviors and unconscious intentions and unraveling their interactions. Finally, criminality basically represents psychological conflict.  Through the approaches, we can understand the criminal behaviors of most serial rapists.

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  1. Bader, M. J. (2002). Arousal: The secret logic of sexual fantasies. New York: Thomas Dunne    Books.
  2. Campbell, A. (1996). Bernardo investigation review. Toronto: Ministry of the Solicitor General            and Correctional Services.
  3. Petherick, W., & Dawsonera. (2009). Serial crime: Theoretical and practical issues in   behavioral profiling. Boston: Academic.
  4. Quinsey, V. L. (2002). Evolutionary theory and criminal behaviour. Legal and criminological             psychology7(1), 1-13.
  5. Vito, G. F. (2006). Criminology. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.
  6. Williams, S. (2014). Invisible darkness: The horrifying case of Paul Bernardo and Karla           Homolka.
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