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Psychological Autopsies continued from page 15
sis of the victim’s life and can be thought of as a technique which “looks through the victim’s eyes” in order to ascertain as to why they died and to see the world from the victim’s perspec- tive. It must be stated here that the terms “vic- tim”, “deceased”, and “decedent” will be used in- terchangeably throughout this writing in order to avoid any confusion from arising in their usage. Turvey (2008) states that the origins of psychological autopsies can be traced back to the 1950’s when the Los Angeles medical examiner consulted with the LA Suicide Prevention Cen- ter for further classification of equivocal deaths, but it was E.S. Shneidman who first coined the term “psychological autopsy” in order to refer to the procedure that was initially designed to assist medical examiners in classifying deaths that ap- peared to be ambiguous, uncertain, or equivocal as it pertained to the manner of death. The PA technique/process consists of two types: “Suicide Psychological Autopsies” (SPA) and “Equivocal Death Psychological Autop- sies” (EDPA) . An SPA is a clinical approach which is performed when the manner of death is unequivocally a suicide based on the presence of self-inflicted injury evidence and explicit/ implicit intent to die. Tasu (2008) defines and EDPA as “A form of death investigation that must analyze alternative manners of death in at- tempting to provide new information concern- ing the circumstances surrounding an equivocal death which can then be investigated further by investigators. He also provides an example of a death applicable to an EDPA being that of a homicide made to appear as a suicide through crime scene staging. It should be noted that the most common form of equivocal deaths which are examined in the United States are those sus- pected to be of a suicidal nature but are not for certain (See “Psychological Autopsies”) . The question may arise as to who performs a PA. Psychological autopsies can be thought of as a form of mental health assessment but in this particular scenario, the assessment is done without the active participation of the individual in question. Tasu (2008) explains that psycholo- gists or psychiatrists who have training and/or experience in death investigations and forensic pathology typically perform the PA. Diana Mc- Coy (2011) states that in order for one to per- form a PA, expertise is required in suicidology, personality theory, and high risk behavior as well as some familiarity with crime scene evidence.
Cooper (2011) states that psychological autopsies have four main purposes for their uti- lization and are as follows… (A) determine the mode of an equivocal death (B) to discover why the death in question happened at a particular time and date (C) discovery of the motivational factors of the death and (D) therapeutic purpos- es for helping the survivors of the deceased to come to terms with the tragedy. It is the intent of the PA and those conducting it to determine the manner of death to as high a degree of cer- tainty as possible, therefore, a working knowl- edge of statistical databases is important. It is pertinent to speak of the victim due to their being the focal point of the technique in question. The lives of any individual can be thought of as a story and the same can be said of an individual’s death. Information about the vic- tim is an invaluable source to investigators as well as to those performing a PA, therefore, a profile of the victim must be constructed. Victim infor- mation speaks volumes and is critical to criminal investigations. Another purpose for a PA, in ad- dition to those already mentioned, is that of a PA having the ability to establish the relationship between offender and victim in cases where an equivocal death can be deemed as suspicious in nature and due to criminal actions. The impor- tance of information about the victim cannot be stressed enough and it can be said that “to know the offender, you must know the victim.” No individual “asks” to be a victim, however, many contribute to their plight during their life course. Investigators should perform an “Exposure Anal- ysis” when looking at deaths that are suspicious in nature. Vecchi is in agreement with Turvey (2008) in that exposure analysis can be thought of as “ex- posure vs. blame” as it relates to the relationship of a victim to their lifestyle and environment, and of an offender to that victim. An individual can become a victim due to two types of exposure… lifestyle and situational. The two aforementioned terms are defined by Turvey & Petherick (2009) and are as follows… lifestyle exposure holds that some people are more prone to being victimized due to their behavior, habits, or customs which exposes them to a greater amount of contact with crime and criminals (i.e. prostitutes, narcotics users). Situational exposure is the amount of one’s exposure to harmful elements experienced by the victim that results from their environment and personal traits at the time of their victimization (i.e. “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” such as tourists in a foreign country).
Whether a victim’s exposure is due to their lifestyle or is situational in nature, an analysis of these concepts is very much prudent when conducting a PA in order to ascertain as to how this contributed to an individual’s victimiza- tion in that either form of exposure allows an offender to gain knowledge of their victim and also assists them in seeking out the appropri- ate opportunity also. Exposure analysis during the course of a PA can give investigators insight into the mindset of an offender. Psychological Autopsy: Methodologies The utilization of a PA can be thought of as a process of “taking a person’s life apart” and due to this fact, it is an exhaustive and painstaking endeavor. In fact, James Knoll (2008) reveals that it has been estimated that a PA can take as long as 20-50 hours to be completed. The material and informa- tion needed to perform this process can be voluminous, and is held that the greater the amount of relevant information pertaining to the victim that can be reviewed and analyzed, the more accurate the conclusions formed by investigators will be upon its completion in determining the manner of a victim’s death. The material and information required for the completion of a PA falls into two catego- ries: human and documentary. This article will delve into both categories summarily but it should be noted that due to the enormity of material required for the procedure in question, there is neither the time or space in this to expound upon all of the elements required but for a more comprehensive list of relevant materials required, the reader can refer to the table provided in “Forensic Tech- niques in Crime Scene Investigation- the Psy- chological Autopsy” by Bogdan Tasu (2008). The forms of documentary information required during a PA will include the review and analysis of the following… histories of the victim which will entail financial history, legal history of the decedent (including crim- inal), residential history (this should include a reference as to the stability of the individual in matters of as to if they had the tendency to relocate frequently), employment history (this should allude to any difficulties the indi- vidual may have had while employed as well as if they had the tendency to change jobs frequently).
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