Showing posts with label Domestic violence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Domestic violence. Show all posts

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Writing Physical Abuse Survival into Your Plot Line with Teresa Watson

At the time that I was writing this blog post, I was in the middle of reading and enjoying Death Vetoes the Chairman by Teresa Watson. But it's a tough story line. 

Teresa, Can you give folks an over view so we have a point of reference as we chat?

Teresa - 
Basically, the main character, Lizzie, meets an old friend of Jake's, who appears charming at first. But as the evening goes on, he manages to get her alone, and tries to take advantage of her. He's not a man who is used to taking no for an answer. So despite his bruised ego, a sore cheek and taking a knee to a sensitive area, he tries to go after Lizzie again a few days later in her office. This shakes her down to her core, because she's never been in this situation before. She's a pretty tough woman, but she doesn't know how to handle this.

But when he ends up dead, and they start investigating his past, they learn that this is a pattern of behavior that has gone on for a long time. It makes the suspect list very long. So they're trying to find his killer, and she's trying to deal with her emotions over what has happened to her.

Was there something that made you want to write this novel? It's not your usual funny fair.

Teresa -
I didn't mean for this to turn into such a serious book. But as I started writing, it went in that direction. When I sent the first few chapters to my editors, one of them told me that they had gone through this in their life, and suddenly, I felt it was a story that had to be told. That's one of the reasons why it took so long to write this book. I wanted to make sure that I got things right, as far as Lizzie's reactions to the attacks and the harassment, as well as the reactions from her family and friends. I checked with my friend every step of the way, and she kept telling me that I nailed everything right. She didn't make me change anything. And since the book has come out, another friend, who works for a women's shelter, told me it was a very good book, and that I had gotten everything right. So to have two people who would know tell me that I had represented the situations correctly was a good feeling. This is just way too serious to get something wrong.

Fiona - 
Just to be clear, this is not something in your history, correct?

Teresa - 

Oh no, I personally have never experienced anything like this in my life. 

Fiona - 
What kinds of things surprised you as your were researching your book?

Teresa - 

  • The statistics are staggering. According to on average, there are 293,066 (age 12 and older) who are victims of rape and sexual assaults each year. That's 1 every 107 seconds. 
  • 68% of sexual assaults are never reported. 
  • 98% of rapists never spend any time in jail or prison. Just those little things right there should be a major signal that there is something seriously wrong with our judicial system.
Also, this is not limited to women. Men are also victims of domestic violence. A lot of people do not realize that. People usually assume that it is the men who are the abusers, because they are bigger and stronger than a woman. But men are just as likely to be a victim as a women, but they will not report it. It's not a stigma that men want known, that they were beaten by a woman. But it does happen.

When the police show up, they see the injuries on a woman, and sometimes assume that the man was the aggressor. But those are from the man trying to defend themselves from a woman who is coming after them with some kind of weapon, etc.

Fiona - 
Those are staggering details. 

As I think through my friends, there are very few of my women friends who have not experienced some kind of physical assault. 

Writing this book correctly must have felt daunting. How did you check to make sure you had the reactions correct? (Recognizing that reactions are individual and any survivor's response is absolutely correct and does not need to fit into a box.)

Teresa -
I knew that one of my editors had been in an abusive relationship, so I did give her a head's up. But I did not realize the extent of her situation until she told me. Having never been in this situation myself, I had no idea how I would react. So I tried to think of it through Lizzie's eyes, and I would think: "Okay, so if this was happening to me, how would I react?" I was really just feeling my way through it. 

I would ask my friend if I wasn't sure, and she would tell me that was exactly how she had reacted. So I knew I was on the right track. I've never been through this myself, as I said, but just writing these scenes would leave me an emotional wreck. I would literally be sitting at my desk, crying. This book is way more emotional than the other Lizzie books, not just because of the subject matter, but because of my personal life. I lost my grandmother on January 29th, and very unexpectedly, my dad on February 4th. So there was a lot of grief on my end, and I poured that into the book.

Fiona - 
I'm sorry for your losses, and hope the writing was cathartic - it certainly rings true as I read.

In your book you gave Lizzie a gift when she first told someone that she had been assaulted: people believed her. Can you talk about why this is so important - to Lizzy in the story and also to real life survivors?

Teresa - 
Lizzie is a strong woman who doesn't suffer fools gladly (even though she lets Gladys, her archenemy, get under her skin still). She's also pretty open about how she feels about things. Suddenly, she finds herself in this horrific situation where she's been assaulted twice by the same man, and she doesn't know how she let that happen. She's never been in this situation before. She's humiliated and embarrassed, and she doesn't want to talk to anyone about it. I mean, her mother is on her honeymoon, and Lizzie doesn't call her to tell her what's happening. I think she got to the point where it was just so overwhelming that she was afraid she was standing on that proverbial cliff edge. It was just too much for her, so she opened up to a very unlikely person. Those feelings of not wanting to tell anyone are the same for real life survivors. Often, abuse continues, leaving a victim feeling helpless, vulnerable, and afraid. 

To tell someone is to open yourself up to rejection from your family and friends, because they may not believe you. Sometimes, the only way your family believes that it is actually happening is if they see it for themselves.

Fiona -
I saw that you put a caution statement in the front of your book. Often on my articles, I will give a "trigger warning" where I think it's warranted. What made you decide to do this? Do you think authors should consider doing this for their books, as well?

Teresa -
Sexual assault and sexual harassment are not easy topics to talk about. In today's society, sometimes we take the "if we bury our heads in the sand, we don't see it and we don't know about it" view about these types of situations. I made sure that there weren't any graphic and gory details in the book (my head editor, aka Mom, would make me take it out if it was too graphic!). I didn't want to upset any of my readers that may be going through this right now, or have survived this, without giving them some kind of warning. 

And I do have some readers who are young adults, 19 to 20 years old, who have been reading my Lizzie stories since 2011 (when they were in high school).

Fiona - 
What resources are available for victims who might help a writer write it right?

Teresa - 
There are so many resources available for victims. The problem, believe it or not, is getting that information to them. You have to be careful about getting help, because you don't know if the abuser censors their mail, their emails, their phone calls, etc. But there is:
  •  the National Domestic Violence Hotline,1-800-799-7233 FREE 1-800-787-3224 FREE (TTY)
  • the National Center on Domestic Violence
  • Talk to a local pastor 
  • The police; they have resources available that will help you.
  •  The shelters have all kinds of resources available to victims. They will assign you a victim's advocate, who will help you with the legal process, as well as help you find counseling, a job, a place to live, whatever you need to get out of the situation you find yourself in. But there is help, and there's nothing to be ashamed of. You are a survivor!
Make sure you are in a safe place before you call. Make sure you erase the number from your phone history, or erase the web address from your browser history, so your abuser doesn't know that you are trying to leave.

That is one thing that all of them specify. Be safe when you reach out. And for family and friends, be supportive. Don't push them to leave on YOUR timetable. They have to leave when it's safe for them to do so, and not before. And it may take them several times of trying to leave before they actually do. They need your love, support and understanding. There are things you can do to help them, and that information is on the websites that I provided.

Fiona - 
Thank you. 

At ThrillWriting we're always curious to know the story behind your favorite scar.

Teresa - 
Which one? I have so many! LOL My nickname is Queen Klutz, for crying out loud! I'll pick the first one I got. When I was in the fourth grade, I was playing a game called Swing the Statue with some kids in my grandmother's neighborhood. Basically, you swing a person around by the arm, and let them go. They have to freeze in whatever position they land in, like a statue. Well, I was swinging a girl who was in the 9th grade. When I let go of her, I was the one who fell instead of her. I landed on an uneven section of the concrete sidewalk, broke my arm in two places. I have two small white lines on my arm from where I broke it.

And I'm pretty sure the doctor is still deaf in his left ear after I screamed bloody murder when he set my arm. LOL

Fiona - 
A big thank you to Teresa for sharing her insights. If you want to read Teresa's other ThrillWriting article, it's here: Death Grows in Your Garden

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Domestic Abuse and the Counselors Who Try to Help: Information for Writers with Donna Glaser

Today I welcome to ThrillWriting Donna White Glaser. Donna is the author of The Letty Whittaker 12 Step Mystery series and the Blood Visions Paranormal Mystery series. She is a psychotherapist and lives northwestern Wisconsin. As if that weren’t enough, she and her husband own a residential construction company where it’s Donna’s job to deal with any overly emotional, what-do-you-mean-you-can’t-put-roof-trusses-up-in-a-thunderstorm? clients. Strangely enough, she often comes up with ideas for creative murders and hiding bodies during business hours. Currently she is at work on the fifth Letty Whittaker 12-Step Mystery, The Lies We Tell and is plotting the second in the Blood Visions series,  Scry Me A River.

Fiona - 
Would you please tell us a little more about your psychology background?

Donna - 
I'm a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in WI. My degrees are BS in Psychology and MA in Human Relations, and I've been working in the mental health field for thirty years. Much of that time has been working with children and adolescents. 

Early on, I worked in residential treatment centers with kids who had been removed from their homes and foster homes for severe neglect and abuse. Those that were placed in the RTC after their own behaviors had gotten dangerous, either to themselves or to others. 

Domestic violence is so horrific because it happens in families, the place where we should feel safest. Not surprisingly, the children who are trapped in these situations react with what they see and experience.

I shifted out of working in RTCs after marrying and getting pregnant with my first child. The kids' stories and the intensity of treatment grew too close when I had my own babies, so it was time for me to step back and let others carry that particular burden.

That's also when I began to write. Prior to leaving that field, I think my energies were too focused on pouring into others for me to have any leftover for creative purposes. I did stay working as a therapist, though when my kids were young I kept it part-time. I worked (and still do) with outpatient clients, both adults and children. 

Five years ago, I was hired by an agency that does Children and Adolescent Day-treatment, so I was back working with kids again. In CADT programs, kids remain in their homes, but come to daily treatment during school hours. The particular program I work for is only a half-day program, so the kids head back to school when they're done with our group. During the time they're with us, we provide group therapy and help them deal with traumas and issues that are overwhelming them. Many come from homes where domestic violence is, or has been, common.

Fiona - 

If writers want to see the influence of your work with domestic abuse in literature they can read some of your early stories. Can you tell us a bit about those works?

Donna - 
Description for my first series, the Letty Whittaker 12-Step Mysteries: Letty is a psychotherapist, a recovering alcoholic, and a bit of a smartass. The themes in the series are loosely connected with Letty's journey through her own 12 Step program as well as the tough issues she faces in her own career. In the first book, The Enemy We Know, Letty is attacked by the boyfriend of one of her clients after Carrie leaves their abusive relationship. When Wayne (the boyfriend) can't take his anger out on his usual target, he turns his focus to the person he blames for Carrie's escape. 

The second book in this series also focuses on domestic violence. It's set in a women's shelter where Letty uncovers the fact that several women have been murdered or gone missing over the last several years.

Fiona - 
Let's start with a definition. What is considered abusive by a mental health professional?

Donna - 
I can't answer what is abusive by law. I know there have been many times when I've reported what I felt was abuse to CPS (Child Protective Services), and they've labeled the situation "unfounded." Unfortunately, it's a lot like the old "porn" definition: it it looks like porn to you, it is. But that's so hard to make objective. 

In a therapeutic setting, I let the client decide what is abusive in the context of their lives. As far as reporting goes, as a mandated reporter, I have to report instances where physical or sexual abuses of certain population types, eg. minors, the elderly, mentally ill. Neglect is also reportable, but emotional abuse isn't.

Fiona - 

When folks think about abuse they often imagine bruising and broken bones but abuse also includes

  • emotional abuse
  • physical abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • medical abuse
  • neglect

Abuse happens at all levels of education and socio-economic situation, what kinds of personalities and what kinds of triggers might begin the cycle of abuse?

Donna - 
You're so right about the generalization of abuse. It's not confined to any one demographic or victim personality type. That's because the abuse starts with the abuser. I know that sounds stupid but what I mean is that there is nothing about the victim that triggers the abuse to start. It's all about the abuser, and is born out of inflated insecurities which spawn the need to control. As an example, I've noticed that when a person, any person, is feeling out of control in some (or several) areas of their life, they often turn to another area and overcompensate. For instance when my work as a therapist starts to feel overwhelming, I come home and plot murders. I can control what happens in my books. I can decide every little piece and interaction in my characters. On a much larger and significantly more horrific scale, abusers follow the same pattern. They feel out of control, or less than, in some area--usually public--and they turn to something they can control to compensate.

Fiona - 
And the victim's are frequently not people that we would think could ever become victims. Can you tell us a little about victim cycles and how things escalate?

Donna - 
You're right that victims are often people we would least expect. That's because we have a preconception of the kind of person we think would become victims. Maybe that's because we'd like to think we are safe from falling into that trap. But we aren't. 
Most of the women (and some men) that I've seen are strong, capable personalities. Ones that lead and make decisions in their jobs. I think sometimes it's their very strength that leads to the entrapment. Knowing and believing in her own strength, the victim

  1. has a difficult time seeing herself as such
  2. believes that her very strength can "make a difference" in the abuser's life. Her love will be strong enough to weather this storm. Compassion is also another trait that victims have in plenty. They want to help and they want to be the ones to heal their partner's wounds.

Regarding how things escalate: 

  • THE TEST - an abuser starts with a test. Usually a threat, but a real one. Maybe he'll bring a gun home one day, or maybe it'll be a push or a drawn back fist. Some action that will test how his partner will (or won't) react. And then he'll apologize, often quite sincerely, for losing his temper while at the same time casting whatever he did as his partner's fault. He's sorry, but she shouldn't have. . .whatever.
  • ISOLATION - is key too, and happens at about the same time. Isolation can be physical--maybe a move to a location where the partner doesn't know anybody, maybe he'll encourage her to quit her job. Or it could be emotional. He makes her choose between him or her friends/family. He makes it an issue of loyalty and often couches it as an action that will help heal him and prove her love.

The actual triggers, once that prep work has been put in place, can really be anything that adds stress to the abuser. Life. Whatever. His job isn't going well. Financial burdens. Relationship conflicts in other areas. Anything really.

Fiona - 
Upon the initial threat - the test -can you give me three responses? 

  1. A counter move on the would be victims part that would curtail further abuse. 
  2. A neutral act that would lead to a second test 
  3. A response which would solidify the abusers new role. These are simply examples - obviously each situation is unique.

Donna - 

  1. The most effective counter move would be for the partner to leave the relationship. From what I've read, most of the women who've been abused state that there were clear signs and situations prior to getting married. Just leave. We're taught that true love forgives all, but it doesn't have to. 
  2. A neutral act would be one where the potential victim sets a boundary. One that she thinks will clarify acceptable and unacceptable behavior to her partner. Unfortunately, in the world of human interactions, words mean less than actions, and the action taken was, in this case, inaction. He might exert more self-control, which will extend the time between the threat and the next, but if a man is going to be an abuser he's going to abuse eventually. 
  3. A response that would solidify the cycle would be if the woman accepts responsibility for being the trigger and, in turn, apologizes for causing it.

I also want to stress that while I'm using he = abuser and she= victim, that's definitely not always the case. Especially in terms of emotional abuse. The same patterns apply there and in those situations I've seen a 50/50 ratio of men victims as women.

Fiona - 

That's an interesting plot twist.

There are also people who are abusive by nature, and they are looking for victims. Can you talk about some warning signs that -- let's put this in the context of a male looking for a female victim to -- a woman could be aware of. And what kinds of traits might an (psychopath, sociopath, narcissistic) abuser be seeking out in a mate.

Donna - 
If we're shifting to the more extreme personality disorder of an Antisocial Personality (psychopathy,) then he would probably be looking for a malleable, gullible person. 

APDs (antisocial personality disorder) don't feel love, but they are often charming and have learned what people, in this case, a woman, wants to hear. They'll use manipulation before aggression, because over-aggression might make the woman leave. 

If an APD marries, there is going to be an ulterior benefit for him. He might recognize that being married is a kind of screen for him; maybe he gains access to money or her kids, if he's a pedophile.

It's difficult to say what to look for in order to avoid an APD, because they often are highly skilled in getting what they want. They're conmen, and they're usually very good at it. Unless they're dumb, and then they get caught and put in jail. The very, very smart ones go into politics.

Fiona - 
So we are nearing the end of our interview - what did you think I'd ask/want me to ask you about this subject in terms of what a writer needs to bare in  mind when writing this kind of plot line?

Donna - 
One thing I wanted to point out is the #1 question so many people ask about or to the victim: Why do they stay? 

  • They stay, not because they are weak, but because they are strong and compassionate and those very qualities work against their instincts to flee. 
  • They stay because they've been isolated and cut off from resources. 
  • They stay because they've been told that nobody else will have them and nobody else understands what they really are and nobody else will believe them. 
  • They stay because they've been isolated financially or because they have kids together and he's a good father (sometimes). 
  • They stay because they know the most dangerous, unpredictable period for them to be serious hurt or killed is after they finally do leave. Leaving is necessary. It's ESSENTIAL. But it's not easy.

Fiona - 
If an author has written a plot that includes abuse, and characters outside of the situation are becoming aware that there is an issue, what helpful response could the other character offer the victim?

And what can a victim do to get out especially when they're leaving has been threatened with retribution?

Donna -
If you see someone in the situation, encourage her to leave and don't judge her when she is afraid to. Try not to be frustrated when she goes back and forth in her decision or when she gives you the excuses for him that she tells herself.

For the victim? 

  • Tell everyone. Get out and tell everyone. 
  • Tell the police 
  • Tell your friends and family 
  • Tell your coworkers. 
  • Be alert and aware of self-protection strategies and do what you have to do, including move, to keep yourself safe. 
  • If you need to find a safe place like a women's shelter for a while, do it. As heartless as this sounds, feeling ashamed won't kill you, but the abuser might. It's awful, but it's not fatal and it will get better.
Fiona - 
Awesome! Thank you.

You have a book up on Kindle Scout - Folks if you go over and vote, and Donna is offered a contract, you will get the book for FREE a week before anyone else gets to a chance to see it. That's a no-brainer win-win situation!

Donna, can you tell us about the story - I think it's so intriguing.

Donna - 
A SCRYING SHAME Book One in the Blood Visions Paranormal Mystery series. Following a near death experience, twenty-five-year old Arie Stiles decides she might as well take the job nobody else wants: a crime scene clean-up technician. It’s good money, which she could use, and death doesn’t hold a lot of mystery for her. Or so she thinks. Arie isn’t on the job long before discovering she’s been “gifted” with a new psychic talent—the ability to scry. Whether she wants to or not, Arie can read the memories of the dead in their blood. When she is assigned to clean the crime scene of Marissa Mason, the socialite author of the best-selling gold-diggers' bible, Rich Bitch, Arie finds herself haunted by blood visions day and night, and to her shock discovers an unexpected family connection to the victim. With her brother suffering the unwanted attention of the police as the primary suspect, can Arie face her fear of the blood visions long enough to follow the trail of clues left in the murdered woman's memories and find the real culprit?

VOTE NOW - and (hopefully!) GET A FREE COPY

Fiona - 

And now for our traditional ThrillWriting tell all :)
Can you tell us one of your harrowing stories?

Donna - 

The first one that pops to mind was when I was still in college and I started working at a residential treatment center for developmentally disabled adults. I filled in as a substitute at the school. Most of the classes were designed to teach life and work skills--some as basic as sorting buttons to learn counting, colors, and differences in size. At the other end of the spectrum, was the wood shop. Residents there were quite skilled and made craft items like lawn ornaments and birdhouses, which were sold at fundraisers. The men and women who worked in the shop were quite proud of their independence and enjoyed having a real job.

For some unknown reason, I started subbing in the wood shop, despite the fact that I knew nothing about wood-working or tools. Or anything, really. But ignorance is bliss and I was making good change so I toddled happily along. The shop was a cavernous room filled with bandsaws, routers, drills, and various other tools that made a lot of noise and had the potential to slice off important body parts. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is every body part. The room housed three different classes-nearly forty people, teachers included.

The plus side was there were two other teachers to help me figure things out, although their interactions with me started out fairly crabby because they were essentially doing my job since I was so CLUELESS. But I was all they had. Eventually, when they saw I was going to stick around, they lightened up a bit and gave me some tips about how to run the class. I kept my students away from the scarier tools and we stuck to sanding and painting wooden tulips in messy but cheerful colors. And I got to know several of the residents, especially a very dapper middle-aged man named Ernie who wore a faded plastic rose in his lapel and called me "mama."

Things were going well.

Until, that is, the school administration decided to prohibit smoking. Keep in mind, this was twenty-five years ago, so smoke-free environments weren't as much of a given as they now are. A further complication was that the residents were adults. Working adults, as they saw it, and they wanted their cigarettes.

Oh, my.

The announcement was made in the morning and it caused a stunned silence in the shop. For about four-point-two seconds, anyway. Then the dam broke and a steadily building roar of consternation and anger began to rise. The other teachers promised to find out what was going on and we split the classes up and set everybody to work. A few protesters had trouble moving on, but the majority, although still frowning and sullen-looking, got to work on the day's chores. After a while, things seemed to settle back into a routine of sorts. But the air felt tense and brittle.

At first break, the resentment rebounded. The smokers were used to having a cigarette or two on their breaks, and the fact that they couldn't was brought back to them. The wood shop seemed divided into two camps: the angry and the anxious. I was firmly in the second camp. Things were not looking good. But the other teachers stayed calm and professional, and kept the groups moving through their schedules.

And then, lunch time. Nicotine withdrawal and the indignation of trampled rights combined into an unholy cataclysmic event. They rioted. And, by riot, I mean, the adult residents started chucking two-by-fours and Sawzalls and metal stools. Open cans of tulip paint sailed through the air, leaving streamers of red and blue and yellow in their wake. I grabbed several pacifists who were frozen in fear and shoved them under the work tables. I dove behind the lumber racks. This, I decided, was going to be my new home.

Except from across the woodshop I heard, "Mama! Mama!"

"Ernie? Ernie, get down!"



I started crawling. When I got to Ernie, he was standing fully upright in the chaos, clutching his fingers and sobbing as hammers and birdhouses whizzed past his ears. I hauled him down beside me and dragged him under a table where we shivered and cried together for a while. Eventually, the police and several teachers from other classes showed up and restored order. When they finally found Ernie and myself, he was drawing pictures of kitties in the sawdust and I was curled in the fetal position sucking my thumb. (Actually it was the other way around, but I promised him I wouldn't tell.)

Over the years, I've been involved in many other precarious situations, but this one helps keeps things in perspective. Having survived the Cigarette Wars, everything else is cake.

Fiona - 
Donna would love to hear from you via her website at or on Twitter: @readdonnaglaser.

Thanks so much, Donna.

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Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"911, What is your Emergency?" - Emergency Communications Information for Writers

found publicly on Facebook
Fiona - 
Hi David, welcome to ThrillWriting. Would you please introduce yourself to the readers and tell a little bit about your background and your writing?

David -
I am a retired 911 operator living in northern Kentucky. I also worked as an operations manager for a large transportation company and as part of my job investigated accidents. I worked as an emergency operator for the Department of Public Safety in northern Michigan until 2006. I have written in several different genres, mystery, romance, and even some literary, short fiction and novels. I have five published novels

Fiona - 
Is there a difference between a 911 operator and an emergency operator?

David - 
David Swykert
The duties would be the same. 911 is an emergency system. Houghton, Michigan had no 911 system of its own, neither did its neighboring city, Hancock. I worked for the Department of Public Safety for MTU, a large northern university. we were a state licensed police agency for the university, and also our officers were deputized in the county and assisted local law enforcement agencies. We contracted our emergency 911 services to the two cities, and their fire departments, as well as taking emergency
calls for the university. We also dispatched
the police officers for the two cities, and
their fire departments.

Fiona - 
Can you tell me about the qualifications and training of a 911 operator?

David - 
I was trained by the Michigan State Police to obtain a LEIN certification, which is an acronym for law enforcement information network. This certification enabled me to access databases maintained by the states, NCIC which is the FBI's database, which searched for federal warrant information and CMIS, which is a corrections database for prisons. The law enforcement training was done in house for operators by the Department.

Fiona - 
What do your duties entail?

David -

Amazon Link $2.99

Taking emergency calls, although, "emergency" is a pretty broad term. For some people this meant the neighbor's dog was barking.

We answered the phone like this: "Public Safety, what is the nature of your emergency?" 

At this juncture, you determined a course of action, i.e. my house is on fire. Or, my
husband is threatening me. I'm going
to hang myself. There was protocol
for almost every emergency you can
think of. 
* Fire - I would engage the alarms for the appropriate fire
   department and forward the information. 
* Police calls, depending on the nature of the call determined what
   action I would take. 
* Domestic violence, generally we would send a car and always
* Suicide call, we would try and keep the caller on the line and send
   initially a police car to the scene, the officers observations then
   would determine further action, i.e. notification of the emergency
   at the nearest hospital.

Fiona - 
In an emergency, do you talk the caller through stabilizing the situation? For example, in a fire do you make sure they leave the house?

David - 
Not in a fire. We would advise them to leave and wait across the street for the fire department. For a domestic violence call, I would ask them to stay on the line with me until the officers got there, and there is some information I'd want, for instance, "Is he armed? Are there weapons in the house? Are you injured?"

Most common call was about what kind of situation?

David - 

Amazon Link $6.50

One of the most common calls we would get would be lockouts. "I locked my keys in my car." Our officers all carried a tool that would allow them to unlock cars. But the newer cars with all the electronics it's getting tougher. We insisted on the driver signing a waver, in case the officer yanked a few wires loose trying to open the vehicle.

Fiona - 
See and I thought that was a call to AAA unless my kid or dog was inside (which would NEVER happen).

David - 
Some police agencies refuse to do lockouts, too many damage complaints. But our officers were very proficient with a "slim Jim"; the tool they lifted the lock with.

Fiona - 
What was the most bizarre call you ever received?

David - 
One was a report of a large group of very naked young men running down US41 at about 3 a.m. The only officer on duty anywhere near the area was a young female officer. And yes, I sent her to investigate. She found them, got out of the car and went in pursuit of them. She cornered about a half of dozen of them and ended up with all of them, buck naked, in the car with her, crammed in the back, and she transported them like that to the jail. I asked if she wanted me to run any records on them. She said, "No, they're not carrying any ID, no wallets."

Fiona - 
Do you get to know the outcomes? Or is that protected under privacy laws?

David - 

Amazon Link $5.79

I took the job thinking it would provide me with great stories for writing. But, no, you often don't know the outcome of an emergency. You aren't at the scene, and you have other calls coming in. You take the call, you do what is necessary to handle the situation, then you move onto the next call. However, I would often see the officers coming on duty or leaving, or on quiet nights they'd stop by the station and
sit around. And I'd find out how
certain situations ended. 

Most of the calls are quite routine. We would answer what is called a call for a "well being check." Which mean someone was concerned about someone and asked us to check. Calls about murders and things are pretty far and in between. I worked with a couple of officers from large metro police departments. Even there, the kind of calls they responded to were mostly routine. We did have a couple of murders, but these entail investigations I would not have access to. I did take a call where there was a man stuffing a body into a burn barrel. At first I thought it would be just something he was burning. Nope, it was a body.

Fiona - 
When you're watching TV, or the movies,or reading a book that includes a call to 911, what are the writers getting incorrect in the plot line and is there an interesting twist that would change everything?

David - 

Found publicly on Facebook
The only TV shows I recall watching that involved 911 operators were shows about 911. And these were actual calls and operators. 

The operator is a very peripheral participant in the investigation. Our duty is merely to identify accurately the
nature of the emergency
and decide a course of action, 
which is pretty straight forward. 
Send an officer. But then our 
official involvement ends.

I learned a lot about how police departments function, but not a lot of information about a specific case, unless I followed it up myself on my time.

Fiona - 
Traditional ThrillWriting Question: Will you please tell us the story behind your favorite scar and if you have none, could you fill in with a harrowing story?

David - 
I have a long scar over my left eye. Did not get it on duty. I got it in an automobile accident, hit a tree.

The worst 911 call I ever took was from a woman who said, "I'm going to hang myself." Then she hung up the phone and hanged herself. She was found hanging from a basement rafter, deceased, when the officers arrived. 

I had another terrible call with a woman who called that her husband was unconscious and barely breathing. She was hysterical, and I had a difficult time getting the house address. The officers, and ambulance, I had called both, could not locate the house with the number. As it turned out, it was a newer home and the husband hadn't put the numbers out on the house yet. He also was DOA.

Fiona - 
That brings up a good point. Once my daughter was having a seizure - I had been through many of them but this was the first that my husband saw. I sent him to call 911 while I tried to stabilize her. When he got the operator on the phone, he could not remember anything - my daughter's age, the cause of the crisis, where we were. He just stammered into the phone. I could hear her prodding him - and started screaming the information out as loud as I could, so she could hear me from upstairs. You never know how you will do in a crisis especially if it's a loved one, and this is a first time. How do you help people in that kind of situation?

David - 

Found Publicly on Facebook
You're describing a very similar situation. The house was outside of our system, so I had to get the address from her, and she is just unglued, screaming, crying, and perhaps being a new house didn't even know what the address was. He had a heart attack. Anyway, by the time medical techs and our officers got there, he was blue and not responsive. He never regained consciousness. I think that's the 
worst call I ever took, you feel 
helpless, unable to help. By and 
large the job overall is very rewarding.

Fiona - 
Thank you kindly for sharing this information. 

Thank you so much for stopping by. And thank you for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Surviving Human Trafficking - Prt 3 Information for Writers

A white ribbon to commemorate the National Day...
A white ribbon to commemorate the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Right-to-life Awareness. White Ribbon. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I welcome back to my blog, Brynn, LMSW. This is the third installment in her series of blogs written to help writers to understand the perspective of the victim. In this blog she is writing from her position as a professional who deals with other victims. Brynn is happy to answer any of your questions. Please leave questions and comments for her below.


In December 2012, I earned my Master’s Degree in Social Work. One of the requirements for my degree was an eight-hundred hours internship in a single setting. I chose to work in the local police department where I interned as a Victim’s Advocate. I worked predominately with survivors of domestic violence, but I also worked with victims of other crimes: robberies, child abuse, sexual assault, and so forth.

During my training, I received a manual (of sorts) that explained the different types of crimes I might encounter. To my surprise, they listed kidnapping! I am a survivor of a human trafficking ring. Strangers kidnapped me and subjected to atrocities. And in a weird way, I was excited to see that the police manual included at least a paragraph devoted to this horrific crime.

However, when I asked my social work supervisor how I could best respond to an abduction victim, (I never mentioned to her that I was a survivor) her response was that I should simply not worry about it - kidnappings “never” happened.
Once I heard that, I knew immediately what I wanted to do with my social work degree. I would focus on survivors of violent crimes, especially victims of human trafficking. 

Office on Violence Against Women logo
Office on Violence Against Women logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Surprisingly, now that I am a LMSW working in the field, I rarely, if EVER, come across another professional who has anything beyond basic knowledge of abduction and trafficking.
I wrote about what it was like be a survivor in past articles for Fiona Quinn’s blog, now I want to write this:

I despise it when people tell me, “I understand.”  I think, “Do you? Can you really tell me you understand? If we reversed our positions -- you having gone through the same thing that I did and me playing the role of inviolate listener -- could you truly understand my feelings?” I hope your answer is no.

I hope it was no because even standing side by side throughout the entire ordeal, you and I would still have experienced this through different eyes, ears, mental filters, and emotions. Even when meeting another victim of human trafficking, I cannot understand his or her experience simply because I am not that other person. Each individual (and in the same vein each fictional character) will experience a crime in a unique way.

I frequently hear people say, “Wow! How did you survive that?”  To me, this phrase invalidates my experience. It’s almost as if the questioner is daring me to prove that my crime actually occurred. If you are writing a fictional response to a victim’s disclosure (or you are expressing a personal response to a real-life victim), I suggest thinking about ways to validate the crime victim’s experience. As writers, after all, you are teaching your readers how to respond if they encounter this experience in their own lives.

So perhaps, instead of having your characters ask, “How did you survive?” try changing the wording around so that at the same time as getting your question answered you are validating the experience of the survivor (fictional or not). “It must have been difficult to go through that experience. Can you tell me what you think helped during that ordeal?” Or simply say, “How horrific. I’m so sorry. How can I help?”

Personally, the fact that someone can validate my thoughts and feelings about my experience has helped tremendously. Validation is key. I cannot stress enough how important this is! I have been able to begin opening up because I feel as though people believe me.

In writing, please take a moment to consider the character not just as a victim but as a survivor. Validating the feelings of that character/survivor (their anger, denial, and depression) can help to portray adequate therapeutic relationships that can help the victim move forward. Or alternatively, with an invalidating response, you can harm the victim's progress.

Let me offer an example for how you might accomplish a validation in your fictional piece:

During my ordeal, one of the ways my kidnappers punished me was by burying me alive. I distinctly remember the dirt, the smell, the worms…  all of it. I have never been able to talk about that aspect of my abduction. It is simply too painful.

One night, I ended up in the ICU. I was unable to breathe. My condition mystified the doctors. Finally, a lung specialist came in and asked a series of questions.  One of the questions was, “Have you ever been exposed to large quantities of dirt?” I hesitated for a moment before telling him about the time that the kidnappers had buried me alive. The lung specialist did not pause. He did not question me. The results of my medical tests validated my experience. The doctor was able to tell me that my story corroborated my medical test results, and his diagnosis made sense.

Even if your character survives something that reads as crazy or unbelievable, understand that people survive the crazy and unbelievable every day. After all, I survived -- anything is possible.

Fiona Quinn adds: If you want to read a series that includes the survivors of sexual abuse and the appropriate way to hear/validate their experiences, I suggest Sylvia Day’s books Bared to You and Reflected in You. (Heads up - both have an erotic component) Sylvia Day does an excellent job of dealing with her characters in a sound psychological way, and she presents an excellent template for other authors to follow. As an MS in Counseling, I highly suggest these books. As a counselor, I sincerely hope that authors can help to teach appropriate victim response through their carefully crafted writing. And as an author dealing with characters, just as in real life, I understand that sometimes this is a tight-rope walk.

Reflected in You on Amazon
Bared to You on Amazon

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