The United States regularly touts itself as the best country in the world, invariably spurring rounds of boastful “We’re #1!” chants by proud, patriotic Americans. While, in actuality, the country falls near or at the bottom of most OECD rankings, it has earned its spot at the top in one notable category: serial killers.
The United States has produced a staggering 3204 serial killers, amounting to 67% of the world’s serial killers on record in a country containing just 4.35% of the world’s population. The figure is more than 19 times higher than the country with the second-highest number of serial killers, which happens to be the US’s closest ally, England. Roughly 90% of serial killers are men, over half are white and their average age is 27.5 years. In addition, more than 20% of serial killers had a military background, nearly triple the rate of the general population. The top three motives of serial killers are enjoyment (thrill, lust, power), financial gain and anger. The New Yorker estimates that there are currently more than 2,000 serial killers at large in the United States.
Interestingly, four of the six countries that make up the Anglosphere are among the top ten countries with the most serial killers, and seven out of the top ten countries are located in the West. Moreover, fourteen out of the top twenty countries with the most serial killers are predominately white countries. And despite being tarred as violent and barbaric countries in the West, not one predominately Arab or Muslim country made the top twenty.
One common thread that runs through serial killers is child abuse/neglect. One 2005 study found that serial killers are six times more likely to suffer from physical abuse, nine times more likely to suffer from sexual abuse and twenty-five times more likely to suffer from psychological abuse as children than the general population. Other studies have found similar results.
Unsurprisingly, the USA has one of the highest rates of child abuse in the world. Every year, there are more than four million child maltreatment referral reports received, involving more than seven million children. An average of four to seven children die every day from child abuse and neglect, and 70% of victims are ages two or younger. Moreover, one in five girls and one in six boys is a victim of child sex abuse, and one out of every five teenagers has reported experiencing abuse either in school or home. Predictably, children who experience child abuse and neglect are about nine times more likely to become involved in criminal activity.
One possible reason for the USA’s enormous child abuse rate is the perplexing unwillingness of the American judicial system to properly punish perpetrators. In regard to child sex abuse, only 29% of cases even result in an arrest and those convicted are routinely handed light sentences. Indeed, one suspected serial killer currently awaiting trial (who also has a military background) was sentenced to just five years in a state penitentiary for sexual assault, and, upon release, picked up right where he left off. A journalist who attempted to alert the authorities to a potential serial rapist/killer on the loose was consistently rebuffed.
Post-Crescent Media examined 153 child sexual assault cases between the period of August 2009 and September 2014 and found that only about half of the cases ended in a conviction and most perpetrators served an average prison sentence of just 3-5 years. Many were spared prison. The examination also found that over half of defendants were released from jail during court proceedings and 40% were not required to register as sex offenders.
There is also an unwillingness of child welfare and law enforcement authorities to intervene in cases of child abuse. In Los Angeles, multiple social workers are facing criminal charges after failing to protect a little boy from deadly abuse by his mother and her boyfriend, who believed he was gay. Among other things, the boy was brutally beaten, forced to eat rotten food and cat feces and bound without food or water for long periods of time in a small, locked cabinet. Yet virtually all of the social workers’ investigations deemed the abuse allegations “unfounded.” In addition, several deputies visited the boy’s apartment and school on multiple occasions and each time concluded that there was no evidence of abuse. Furthermore, the deputies ignored a suicide note written by the boy and even said that his cigarette burns were “not an emergency.” The boy’s autopsy revealed a cracked skull, shattered ribs, severe burns and BB pellets buried in his body. Two of the social workers are still at work and all the deputies remain on the force.
This tragedy is just one of the many, many, many cases of jaw-dropping incompetence and negligence on the part of child welfare and law enforcement authorities. Even children who are removed from their homes are subject to abuse in foster or adoptive homes. Indeed, a Pennsylvania couple was recently arrested for raping, killing and chopping up their adopted daughter. The rampant abuse of adopted children in the USA even prompted Russia to impose an adoption ban on Americans in 2012.
Not only does the state fail abysmally to properly punish child abuse but it also fails to prevent such abuse. The new administration is pushing through policies that will invariably worsen child abuse by slashing funds for child welfare services, which will very likely lead to layoffs and place even heavier burdens on overworked and underpaid child welfare authorities. The Department of Education is also diverting massive funds from public schools to private schools, which are unaccountable to the public, subject to little oversight from officials and have been plagued by child abuse scandals.
While childhood trauma appears to be the leading cause of serial killers, other theories have been floated, including the glorification of serial killers in popular culture and the easy accessibility of guns. Corroborating the second theory, Radford University’s Serial Killer Database has identified shooting as the most popular killing method of serial killers. Others have pointed to hypermasculinity, militarism and white male entitlement.
But whatever the cause, one cannot dispute that serial killers are as American as apple pie. The term “serial killer” was even coined by an FBI agent. And with such an astronomical rate of serial killers, the United States is poised to retain its title as the serial killer capital of the world for the foreseeable future.