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Abuse of a corpse: A brief history and re-theorization of necrophilia laws in the USA

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In September 2006, Wisconsin police discovered Nicholas Grunke, Alexander Grunke, and Dustin Radtke digging into the grave of a recently deceased woman. Upon questioning by police, Alexander Grunke explained that the three men wanted to exhume the body for sexual intercourse. In the Wisconsin state court system, the three men were charged with attempted third-degree sexual assault and attempted theft. None of the men could be charged with attempted necrophilia, since the state of Wisconsin has no law making necrophilia illegal. What the Wisconsin case exposed was the following gap in US jurisprudence: many states have no law prohibiting necrophilia. This article on US necrophilia laws argues that human corpses and the laws that govern the use of dead bodies are uniquely positioned to cause precisely these legal discrepancies since the dead body is a quasi-subject before the law. This examination also presents an argument about one of the fundamental reasons that this gap in US law exists. Specifically, it is argued that the ambiguous juridical standing of the human corpse in necrophilia cases compounds the sexual monstrousness of the necrophiliac and of necrophilic acts. This article is the first part of a much larger study on the dead body and the law.
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Keywords: corpse; death; deviancy; law; necrophilia; sexuality

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Comparative Studies, The Ohio State University, Columbus, USA

Publication date: May 1, 2008

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