Women Who Rape
This brief narration of the “facts” of this case depict Karla Homolka as, at the very least, a spectator of her male partner’s rapes and murders of young girls. However, her own account attests that her involvement went far beyond voyeurism, making overt her active and sadistic participation.
The politics of Karla Homolka’s specularity was a constant theme throughout Bernardo’s trial, in which she appeared as the star witness for the prosecution. The question as to whether Karla actually witnessed events was vital to the case, but the implications of her having done so quickly became almost more important. For the look held the promise other possible agency in, and therefore accountability for, the crimes, something she became increasingly desperate to avoid. Karla claimed, for instance, that she stood in a doorway and watched while Paul killed Leslie and Kristen. She claimed that she had watched him assault both girls and the other victims. Karla also claimed she helped him videotape the assaults but disagreed with him that they watched those tapes over and over again. Rather than admitting his assertion that the tapes were an essential part of their sexual fantasy life (J. Duncanson, N. Pron, and J. Rankin, Toronto Star, 22 August 1995), she insisted that she got no joy out of watching their repetition (Bernardo v Queen, 1 May 1995). Indeed, she stated that she had not even seen some of the tapes in police possession.
Karla’s troublesome gaze was quickly neutralized through her assertion that, although she had clearly seen numerous horrific assaults on young girls performed both by herself and her ex-husband, she had developed a knack of looking but not seeing. Swaddled in this convenient “defence mechanism,” she was then able to sit impassively through courtroom re-screenings of her rape of Tammy (Pearson 1998,193) and through a video of the rape of a young friend of Tammy’s, known only as Jane Doe, in which she “smiles for the camera and sticks her tongue out saucily.. .[even] employing] one of the hands of the unconscious victim.. .to stimulate herself sexually” (K. Makin, Globe and Mail, 24 June 1995). As she observed to prosecutor Ray Houlahan: “I look at [such videos] and my eyes just stop seeing. It’s not something I can control” (ibid.).
Karla Homolka’s enjoyment of her activities with Paul Bernardo was nevertheless evident in hour after hour of those homemade tapes.14 Apart from the very first such video of her sister Tammy, Karla never once flagged in her depicted enthusiasm for the sexual assault of helpless young girls. In tape after tape of assaults on Jane Doe, Leslie, and Kristen, Karla can be seen laughing lasciviously, waving gaily at the camera, licking her lips, actively engaging in her own rapes of the girls and aiding Paul’s commission of anal and vaginal rapes (N. Pron and J. Duncanson, Toronto Star, 2 June 1995; S. Cairns and S. Burnside, Toronto Sun, 2 August 1995).
Due to the absence of incriminating video evidence at her trial, Karla Homolka was not convicted of the sexual abuse of any of her victims. Her extraordinarily light sentence reflected only her involvement in the two murders. At Paul’s trial, Ray Houlahan stated that, had the tapes come to light earlier, Karla would have been tried for first degree murder along with her husband (Bernardo v Queen, 1 May 1995; K. Makin, Globe and Mail, 30 August 1995).
These statements and tapes would seem to provide evidence, then, that Homolka went beyond the voyeurism of the final stage of the beating fantasy and became a sadist herself. For her activities with her victims evidently demonstrates sexual pleasure that is “conditional on the humiliation and maltreatment of the [sexual] object,” which describes sadistic perversion (Bonaparte 1995, 432). Her evolution as a sadist suggests most powerfully, therefore, that the female beating fantasy is not entirely about masochism: Homolka’s pleasure in causing pain makes overt the beaten’s potential transformation into the beater.15