Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Life Among Predators - Part II

I’m happy to host Dr. Matthew Scrivens for a return visit. Dr. Scrivens has a Masters Degree in Psychology and a DD in Religion. Last week he talked about his personal experience in treating teenage male sexual offenders, especially a singular predator-to-be. Today he delves more deeply into their criminal minds. 

Let’s just be clear. BDSM and fetishes are not criminal behaviors nor do they—unto themselves—represent any type of pathology. That said, there are two sides to every coin.

Take a term like sadism. In psychiatry, sadism is defined as a person who takes gratification, sexual or otherwise, in causing pain or degradation to others. A friend of mine self-identifies as a sadist. She is not however, a predator. Let me give you a recent example. My friend and I were attending a demonstration of fire play at a local BDSM club. After the demo, we went outside and discovered that her car had been towed. As you can imagine, she was very upset and angry. Jokingly, I said, “I know you’re upset, why don’t you go back in the club and take it out on one of those subs.”

“I never play when I’m angry.”

You see, she understands boundaries and safety. She knows herself well enough to know that she could go too far and hurt someone if she is too emotional.

As another Dom said, “If you break your toys, you can’t play with them any more.”

My friend engages in her sadism in a healthy and consensual manner. A pathological sadist would have gone back in that club and vented their frustration on someone. A villain would be a pathological sadist, someone whose needs are paramount and lacking in consideration for their playmate.

In my line of work, I dealt with a lot of pathological people—human predators, people that seemed devoid of all compassion and empathy. A few were as close to evil without being the Devil himself.

If there is a devil, I’m positive that he or she is gorgeous, charismatic, and sexy because no one with horns, hooves, and claws is going to successfully seduce me down the road to rack and ruin. However, put a sexy, beautiful man in front of me and I probably won’t be thinking with my rational brain.

This principle is particularly effective when it comes to villains. Very little can be as deadly or as effective as beauty to lead someone to their doom. Do you recall the famous last line of the classic monster movie, King Kong? As the beast lay dead on the pavement, a reporter says, “Oh no. It wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”

Beauty has delivered many a person into catastrophe. One has only to look at the iconic femme fatale in Film Noir—from Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven, and Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice, to Kathleen Turner in Body Heat, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction, and Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, to name just a few—beautiful women using seduction to lead men into danger, mayhem, and murder.  Yes, an attractive villain can get much further along than one that looks scary.

A good real-life example of deadly beauty was Ted Bundy. He was both charismatic and handsome. He feigned weakness by wearing a fake arm cast. This engendered sympathy and a false sense of security in his potential victims. If he’d looked like a crazy, homeless person, I’m willing to bet that the majority of his victims wouldn’t have been so willing to engage with him.

In my novel Sole Survivor, the serial killer Todd Eldin sees his muscled body as a lethal weapon for seducing and killing. Ironically, I’ve had several readers confide that they were extremely aroused by Todd. He stimulated feelings of both desire and repulsion.

Another attribute of an effective villain is confidence. Have you ever been so clear about the rightness of an action, that all the naysayers of the world could not convince you otherwise?

A common link between all the various perpetrators that I’ve worked with is their conviction that at the time of their crime, they felt justified in the actions they took. One has only to remember the relentless Inspector Javert in Les Miserables to see an example of this twisted conviction at work. There is no mercy or deliberation or contemplation; there’s only the fulfillment of the desire.

In other words, a lion doesn’t consider the impact on the herd when it kills and eats a gazelle. The lion knows what it desires and takes it. The shark does not worry about the feelings of the seal.   The spider doesn’t pity the fly. The same applies to the human predator and his/her victims. They want, so they take:

“The bitch had it coming.” “The fag looked at me.” “If she hadn’t opened the door, I wouldn’t have raped her.” “She said ‘no’ but she really wanted it.” “Nobody disrespects me.”

All the perpetrators I’ve dealt with have reported an absolute conviction in their actions, a single-minded focus. So, everything my villain, Todd Eldin, does directly supports his hedonistic and narcissistic endeavors. His belief, like many of the real-life predators, is based on a perceived innate, God-given right to enjoy the world and its inhabitants in whatsoever manner he desires—for he is superior.

Like most serial killers, Todd sees himself above and beyond society. Throughout the story, he manipulates, taunts, and kills with seeming impunity. An interesting question for the reader is, “Will Todd’s hubris be his ultimate undoing—like it is for most human predators?”

You see, within the inflated sense of entitlement and superiority lurk the seeds of self-destruction. The criminal gets lazy, from too much success (getting away with it) or over-confidence in his or her own abilities. They might begin to believe their own hype. Most common of all, they want credit/acclaim for their actions and reveal (brag) to others of their conquests. This can result in writing letters to the police or media, leaving clues, or just getting sloppy.

For those interested in a more in-depth exploration, in 2013 I’ll be releasing a book through JMS Books the working title of which is Inside the Criminal Mind: a writer’s guide to creating believable villains.

Also, take a look inside a serial killer’s mind in my gay erotic thriller Sole Survivor,  also published by JMS Books:

Two men want Adam Huntington. One wants to love him, the other wants to kill him.

Five years ago, Adam survived an attack by one of California’s most horrific serial killers. The experience scarred him, both inside and out. So to create a new life—one without the world-known moniker 'Adam, the Sole Survivor'—he moves to New York City, where he can be just another face in the crowd.

NYPD Detective Jake O'Malley takes the motto of “Serve and Protect” very seriously in all things, especially in matters of the heart. He’s had enough of cheating lovers and believes in monogamy, respect, and romance. His first date with Adam is a disaster. But when their paths cross ten months later, he asks for a second chance. Despite his large and physically imposing frame, Jake hopes Adam will come to trust and eventually love him.

Todd Eldin sees his muscled body as a finely honed tool, perfect for seducing and killing. When the police begin searching for the killer in a series of sexually sadistic murders, Todd successfully operates below the radar, until he spins a web to catch a more prominent prey—Adam, the one that got away.

Has Adam finally outrun his luck? Can anyone survive the horrors of being caged, beaten and tortured for a second time? Or will Adam be able to use what he learned in California to save himself and his lover? Who will survive this deadliest of love triangles?

~~ Dr. Matthew Scrivens

My deepest thanks to Matthew Scrivens for a chilling look into the mind of a serial killer. Imagine how horrible his villain will be when you read Sole Survivor!


  1. Great post Cris. Lots of valuable psychological info
    And you have me curious about sole survivor. As soon as I settle into my new albeit temporary home it was home a home on my kindle

  2. Thank you Cris for bringing Dr. Scrivens in to enlighten us into the psychology at work in these predators. If we can understand how they are thinking, maybe we can better protect ourselves from them.
    I really enjoyed Dr. Scrivens' posts as I am extremely interested in the psychology of the BDSM lifestyle. I would love to see scientific articles on this subject!

  3. Thanks, Kathye and Kerry. Dr. Scrivens does indeed know his subject.

  4. I want Dr. Scrivens to see this comment, so I'm posting it on behalf of Evie MacK, whose comment didn't get accepted by that prove-you're-not-a-robot gizmo:

    "This was such a fascinating post! The comparison between a predator and a spider, etc. really brought home the fact these people have no conscience. I never understood how that could be until I read this post.

    Thank you and Dr. Scrivens for the information."

  5. Hi Cris and Dr. Scrivens,

    Did so love this post. I especially loved the distinction Dr. Scrivens made between a "criminal sadist" and a sane conscientious individual who enjoys sharing BDSM activities with her or his partner. The two as different as chocolate and vanilla.

    Can't wait to read your new book on criminal minds; and I've just started Sole Survivor...awesome.

    Live with passion,

    Dr. Charley Ferrer

  6. Dr. Scrivens post reflects the knowledge of someone who has not only extensively studied but also lived the information he so intelligently offers his readers. And that knowledge also infuses the characters in his book Sole Survivor. I couldn't put it down until I finished it. His characters are rich and his villain is truly chilling, the pacing is great, the plot doesn't end the way you expect it to and the writing is truly poetic. I would recommend it to anyone who likes a really good intelligent read.

    Thanks, Cris, for hosting such an interesting blog that really delineates the aspects of criminal behavior and how it differs from BDSM, which he makes clear follows the edict of safe sane and consensual.