Psychological Analyzation of Film "An American Crime"

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Recently I watched the film “An American Crime”, and it really affected me. This horrifying movie is a true story based on a 1960’s murder case in Indiana involving Sylvia and Jenny Lykins. At ages 15 and 16 these two sisters lived with Gertrude Baniszewski for $20 a week while their parents worked in the traveling circus. Gertrude was poor and already had six children of her own. Several events varying from late babysitting checks to rumors of Sylvia’s promiscuous sex life brought Gertrude to despise Sylvia and punish her. This punishment started getting more and more severe resulting in on-going torture. Gertrude’s children and their friends, following in her footsteps, began torturing Sylvia as well. Sylvia could expect being burned by cigarettes, being thrown down stairs, getting bathed in boiling water, beaten, cut, having objects inserted into her vagina, and being forced to eat her own feces on a day to day basis not only from Gertrude but also her children and other neighborhood teenagers. This torture lasted for months. Towards the end of Sylvia’s life she tried to escape and failed. This infuriated Gertrude so much that she proceeded to tie Sylvia to a bedpost and carve the words “IM A PROSTITUTE AND PROUD” into her stomach with a hot sewing needle. Eventually Sylvia died of malnutrition and bodily stress. Gertrude was sent to jail for life and was released twenty years later for good behavior. Her children and the neighborhood teenagers were all tried in court and had to serve short sentences. This case may be horrendous but we often hear of horrific accounts of torture on the news. A question that people often look to psychologists for is “What draws people to commit evil acts?” Often the answers are complicated and can’t be proven. No psychoanalysis of Gertrude survived the court case but by looking at her life history and her actions against Sylvia it

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