Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Life Among Predators - Part I

I’m thrilled to have Dr. Matthew Scrivens guest blogging today about sexual predators and the criminal mind. Dr. Scrivens has a Masters Degree in Psychology and a DD in Religion and know knows whereof he speaks. 

First, let me start by thanking the amazingly talented Cris Anson for this opportunity to share some of my experiences and knowledge on her blog. I had the good fortune to spend a three-day weekend with Cris and several other writers at the premiere BDSM for Writers Experiential Workshop presented by Dr. Charley Ferrer. To describe the weekend in one word would be futile, unless “Mind-blowing” counts as one word.

I was both an attendee and a presenter. Based on my educational and work background, Dr. Charley invited me to speak on the subject of “the criminal mind and mental illness.” BDSM is often used in literature as an example of deviant behavior, usually indicative of a disorder. Research doesn’t support such a claim; thus I attempted to show accurate symptoms of mental illness verses fetishes and/or BDSM-type activities.

During my Master’s program in Psychology I received certification in providing therapy to victims and perpetrators of violent crimes.  I was somewhat of an anomaly in my classes. My fellow students were intent on learning all they could to help victims of violent crimes. I, on the other hand, was intent on learning everything I could about the perpetrators.  If this seems odd to you, you aren’t alone. Many of my fellow students as well as a few of my professors found it strange, too.

My reasoning was two-fold.

Firstly, as a child I was the victim of a violent crime. I had spent years healing through self-exploration and therapy. With my personal experiences and the professional training I was receiving, I felt I had a decent grasp on providing therapy to victims. Besides, I was interested in stopping additional victims from being created. It was the old adage: if you put a fence at the top of the cliff, you don’t need an ambulance at the bottom.

Secondly, I felt that if I could understand the perpetrator, I would no longer feel like a victim. In some way, I rationalized if I could make sense of my world, I could once more feel safe in it.

I don’t know if I fulfilled either of my two main reasons for focusing on perpetrators, but I certainly learned a lot about how the criminal mind works. By the way, it’s not a fun place in which to spend time.

Let me set the scene. My professional career began in California’s mental health services. At the time, the profession was still reeling from the McMartin Preschool fiasco—an almost ten-year case that happened at the height of the child abuse/ satanic ritual abuse hysteria of the Eighties and Nineties. The case was based on the bizarre allegations of a woman diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and fed by an over-zealous therapist using highly questionable techniques that ultimately were determined to have coerced young children into making untrue claims through false memories. The resulting trial, considered to be the longest and most expensive in United States’ legal history, resulted in no convictions.

It was under this environment that I worked at a group home for court-mandated teenage sex offenders. Some definitely deserved to be there, and I still worry about them to this day. I had serious questions about whether a few of the residents belonged at the group home or if they were victims of the then current zeitgeist.

One particular resident caused me the most concern. Obviously, I cannot, nor would I, use any real names or identifying characteristics, as all my work was performed under strict laws of confidentiality. So we’ll call the young man Oscar.

Oscar had molested an infant. This, in and of itself, was enough to garner additional attention. However, it was the way he presented himself when he knew people were watching and when he thought they weren’t, that still causes me concern.

At the time I knew him, Oscar hadn’t fully developed his skills of manipulation, but he was hard at work on them. Oscar appeared personable and gregarious, unless things didn’t go his way. Then he would go through three distinct phases. Initially, he would try to cajole with humor. When that failed, he moved to subtle intimidation, using his larger size to imply his power. On those specific occasions when he was determined to gain his goal at all costs, he would become insidious in his attempts to manipulate the younger residents to do his bidding. Through bullying, bribing, and ultimately physical attacks, he worked his way with a single-minded focus.

Scarier still was the way Oscar appeared to troll the streets when the group was out in public. He became a predator; there is no other way to describe it. Oscar was a starving viper and everyone else was food. You could see him assess each potential victim, weighing their value as to what they could do for him: monetarily, sexually, or socially. His head would go down so his bangs would cover his narrowed eyes, but you could see him peeking out, scanning, analyzing. Hands in pockets, shoulders slumped, he’d try to blend in, try to disappear—and Oscar was good at it.

Zeroing in on one particular person—usually female, young, alone, and small of stature—he’d sidle up, make eye contact with a smile, and attempt to engage them in conversation. Whenever I witnessed Oscar’s way of interacting with the world, it never failed to elicit a shiver in me. I knew I was watching a true predator.

You’re probably wondering what I did about Oscar. Honestly, there wasn’t much I could do. Oscar knew the right words to say, the right emotions to express in therapy…how do you convict someone based on gut feelings and nebulous observations? Oscar always expressed remorse and a willingness to change. As I was only one—and the youngest—of various mental health personnel treating him, my observations didn’t hold the gravitas of older, more established providers.

Given the zeitgeist of the time, they were more focused on Oscar being a victim of his difficult childhood. I was more aware of the predator-in-training.

And like any successful predator, Oscar watched, listened, and most importantly learned how to use everything to his advantage—even me. I don’t know what ultimately happened to Oscar; I left my position before he graduated from the program.

Next week, I’ll share what I learned from predators like Oscar, and how I used those things to create Todd Eldin, a serial killer in my gay erotic thriller Sole Survivor.

~ ~ Dr. Matthew Scrivens

Wow! Scary thoughts. My thanks to Matthew for outlining the beginnings of a true predator. Readers, please come back next week to see how Matthew Scrivens weaves chilling facts like these into a truly suspenseful story. On Goodreads, 61% of readers rated Sole Survivor 4 or 5. I can’t wait to read it myself! 


  1. What an intriguing educational and work background Matthew has. Great post, Cris. I'll have to check out his book. Thanks and have a great day!


  2. Thanks SO much, this is amazing. And very timely since I've been suggested by someone I admire to add a single very vile villain to a book instead of a nebulous "agency" Your Oscar gave me the chills and the start of a character. I've met these people in life, and they set off my weird-o-meter. Then I'm shocked when no one agrees with me since they present an entirely different face to the rest of the world

  3. Thanks, Dr. Scrivens, for your insight and your information. Thanks to you, Cris, for having him share on your blog. Excellent blog.

  4. I agree with all of you. Dr. Matthew has a unique background to understand - and write about - very scary villains.

  5. Thank you Cris Anson for bringing Dr Scrivens here to offer some enlightenment on the criminal mind.

  6. Hi Cris & Dr. Matthew,

    Always a pleasure to stop by and read your blog, Cris.

    I’m thrilled to see Dr. Matthew had a chance to share some of his insight into the criminal mind. He was so informative at the BDSM for Writers event in August, I’m hoping he’ll return next year.

    Dr. Matthew, all I can say is, you’ve captured Oscars persona in such detail I can’t wait to read your book. I’m sitting here thinking of the movie, The Good Son, with Macaulay Culkin, which depicts the epitome of a young predator. Sometimes I think people forget that our psychopaths and serial killers all began as young boys (and girls). Though personally, I think the girls are the most dangerous, as no one things to look at them. Look forward to part II.

    Live with passion,

    Doctor Charley
    BDSM The Naked Truth

  7. Kerry, it was my pleasure. Dr. Charley, I'm with you about next year's Writers Workshop. And sheesh, young girls....even scarier. I hear a villain trying to break free from my mind...