The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across a keyboard
Showing posts with label abuse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label abuse. Show all posts

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!"

"Mama!"

"Ernie!"

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 www.donnawhiteglaser.com 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.

Cheers,



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Society and Survivors: Information for Writers with Rachel Thompson


TRIGGER WARNING - for those of you who might be triggered by abuse survival stories, please be cautious about reading this article.

Today we welcome Rachel Thompson. 

Many of you will know her as the author of the award-winning Broken Pieces, the newly released Broken Places, as well as two additional humor books, A Walk In The Snark and Mancode: Exposed. She is published by Shadow Teams and represented by Lisa Hagan

Rachel owns BadRedhead Media, creating effective social media and book marketing campaigns for authors. Her articles appear regularly in The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Book Review (BadRedhead Says…), 12Most.com, bitrebels.com, BookPromotion.com, and Self-Publishers Monthly

Rachel is the creator and founder of #MondayBlogs and #SexAbuseChat and an advocate for sexual abuse survivors. She hates walks in the rain, running out of coffee, and coconut. She lives in California with her family.

Luckily, today Rachel is all caffeinated up and ready to help us write it right.

Fiona - 
How would you define stigma? And are you focused solely on crime survivors?

Rachel - 
Well, stigma can have many definitions, for both survivors and their families/friends. I am a survivor myself. The biggest burden we carry is shame, so it makes it difficult (if not impossible, for many) to discuss what happened to them. And because 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are sexually abused before the age of 18, many of these survivors carry the extra burden of dealing with an intimate type of shame (myself included). The result of that shame manifests itself in any number of mental disorders: anxiety, flashbacks, depression, many of which are manageable (to a degree). Some have it much worse: suicide, bipolar, addiction. OCD can be especially difficult

Discussing these behaviors in public makes us feel like freaks or crazy. That's the stigma I personally wanted to help break when I wrote Broken Pieces. That it's OKAY to discuss what happened and also the after effects

As for only survivors of crime, not necessarily for me -- I'm open to talking with any kind of trauma survivor. The advocacy work I do however: #SexAbuseChat is pretty obvious -- it's for sexabuse survivors but also their families or anyone who wants to help survivors in a supportive way. That's why I didn't start the chat until I connected with a certified therapist (Bobbi Parish) who is herself an incest survivor.

I'm not an expert or psychologist; my goal isn't to create therapy for people -- simply a group support community.

Fiona -
Shame has various ramifications in survivor mentality. I think it is critical for writers to understand that a crime is not over, a victim is always trying to prevent that experience from happening again. 

One of the ways that you express your self-protection is not wanting to present anything but perfection for fear of judgement - judgement meaning that maybe you deserved what happened to you because of your imperfections. 

Can you talk about instances in literature that you have seen a writer portray this well? How does this show up in your writing?

Rachel - 
Well, gosh. So many instances. One of my favorite books is John Irving's THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. He strived for have the perfect family when clearly, it wasn't going to happen, given his start and all the craziness of his mother. But I loved the story because of the imperfection and ultimately, it was about love.

Another favorite is THE TIME-TRAVELER'S WIFE -- Henry worked so very hard to have a life with Clare -- to discover why he traveled and to beat it -- but he couldn't outrun his flawed DNA. Even perfect love wasn't enough. But they tried and their story is compelling. I reread that book a lot, actually.

As for my own writing and for my life, I've always felt that what happened to me is an event (or events) that don't define me. I'm not a victim and I don't ever refer to myself or others as victims, but as survivors, because we're still here. We survived.

We may be flawed, or changed, but who isn't? Everyone has experiences of some sort that helps to shape who they become. Not to minimize those experiences (because minimization drives me insane). What happened to us is horrific, and we need to recognize and deal with that. But we also have to progress from it as well.

What I love about the survivor community is that we are fiercely protective and supportive of each other -- I wouldn't have that if I hadn't survived what I did, and so I'm grateful. Which is ironic, in a way.

Fiona - 
In reading books and watching films/tv what mistakes/stereotypes do you find authors leaning on and how would you prefer they portray victim/survivors?

Rachel - 
It's frustrating to see so many 'fairy tales' that still exist -- the man saving the woman from her fate. Though I do see more and more that woman are making their own decisions. For example, like many, I got sucked into watching Showtime's THE AFFAIR this year. I really enjoyed the acting and writing. It was evocative.

But it also kind of pissed me off that the female was in a position of having to depend on men for her fate, going from one guy to another to live. Why not have her go it alone? I know that wouldn't be as interesting -- sex sells -- and maybe that's the bottom line in movies and TV. It's not about independent women, it's about sex.

Gilmore Girls seemed to be the exception, to an extent. I enjoyed watching that show w/ my 15yo daughter (we Netflix binged watched it)

I'm not opposed in any way to love stories -- we live for love, right? But when it shows women as victims or having no fate or future without a man, I get ticked.


Sadly, that is reflective of reality, given domestic abuse stats and sexual abuse stats. Most victims (and I use that term here in a legal sense only) of sexual and domestic abuse ARE women, and most perpetrators are men (look at RAINN.org for stats)

Strong women with strong storylines are often seen in Shonda Rimes shows -- I like her a lot

Fiona - 
Earlier you said, "it's okay to tell our stories and not feel bad about it." Can you talk about ways that society (and here we can see this extrapolated out to include how our survivor-heroines are treated in their plotlines) prevents survivors from expressing their distress. I'm thinking for example if someone has a medical diagnosis they receive support but if it's not a broken leg - if it's broken courage or depression...

Rachel - 
Lots of minimization, for sure. I experienced that in my own life. "Well, her abuse wasn't as bad as some of the others, so it doesn't count," or, "she'll be fine."

I told myself, well, if that's what my parents are saying, then it must be true. But you can only suppress that for so long. I had the whole 'good girl' thing going on, but inside I was dying. Partying, doing things I shouldn't have been, and later, depression, panic, anxiety.
Even now, flashbacks and nightmares.

To this day, my family still doesn't really believe that it was "that bad" because it wasn't "rape" -- JUST inappropriate fondling and touching and showing me things like that makes it okay in some way because there wasn't penetration. Which is totally fucked up.
And not at all uncommon, sadly.

A friend shared a story of domestic abuse on his wall the other day -- it was fairly graphic, about how his father used to beat him and his mother, and his two sisters were very young (less than age 2) so they wouldn't remember). One of his sisters showed up on his wall and yelled at him IN ALL CAPS to take it down, that this wasn't the father she remembered, and how dare he do that to HER.

It's very sad that people want to shut us down (though my folks have been super supportive and for that I'm grateful) because they are uncomfortable with the truth.

In my case, I was 11 -- more than old enough to remember. I even testified in 2 trials. So plenty of documentation.

Depression is similar -- more publicized now of course -- but people have a hard time with intangibles. If they can't see it, they don't understand how to deal with it, which of course, doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It's about respect more than anything, and learning.

Fiona - 
A writer has a unique means of teaching the public about things that are outside of a person's experience. I for example have never had someone close to me die. I only know what to do, say, how to act at funerals because I have read about it. If an author was writing a helpful response from the survivor characters support system, what elements would be most useful to include - yes, our job is to entertain - but getting something like this "right" in literature might just make a difference in someone's life.

Rachel -
Well, that's what I hope my books do -- give insight into a survivor's mind, body and soul. In fact, that's how I set up Broken Places.



Some people will never be open, and that's just a fact. A friend wrote about writing through her depression in the most beautiful, organic way and shared it publicly -- a women tweeted 'how boring and narcissistic' -- I mean... There will just always be ignorance.

And to be honest, that is some of the feedback I receive in 1-star reviews: that it's boring, that everyone has bad experiences, that I should have never said anything. And that's okay -- we as writers put ourselves out there and not everyone will understand or accept our POV.

I didn't really understand grief until my ex- committed suicide. I had lost my grandmothers, and I missed them, but they were old and in so much pain. It was a blessing for them, really.

Some things people have to learn themselves. Just like writing or marketing a book -- you can read how to write, but until you write, you don't know.

Fiona -
A traditional ThrillWriting question is, would you please share your favorite scar story?

Rachel - 
I gave birth to my second child, my son, in 2005. He was supposed to be almost 11 lbs, and I'm not a big person (about 5'3"), so they said, no way, your hips won't accommodate that boy. He was also breech. I had a C-section, and he was almost 9 lbs. Still a big boy! He's 9 now and a big kid, full of life and a big heart, too. Loves his mama. However, I think this quote sums up me and my writing the best:


Stay in touch with Rachel:Web site: rachelintheoc.com
BadRedhead Media Site: badredheadmedia.com
Twitter: @RachelintheOCTwitter (Business): @BadRedheadMedia
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorRachelThompsonFacebook Broken Pieces Fan Page: https://www.facebook.com/BrokenPiecesByRachelThompson


Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Rachel.

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.



Saturday, April 19, 2014

Child Abuse and the Courts - Keeping Our Youngest Characters Safe: Information for Writers with Janet Buck, Esq.



Fiona - 
From Janet Buck's photo library
Hi Janet and welcome to
ThrillWriting. Why don't we start by your introducing yourself and your credentials?

Janet - My name is Janet Buck, but I write the Guardian Witch series for Etopia Press under the pen name of Ally Shields. I have a BA in English and a Juris Doctorate in Law. I spent most of my career working
in the Juvenile Court System in 

Fiona - Do you have a particular specialty or an area that interests you?

Janet - I handled both delinquency and child in need of assistance cases, but my favorite time was working in direct investigations of severe child abuse cases with the CATT or Child Abuse Trauma Team.

Fiona - Would you take some time to describe the scope of CATT and how it operates?

Janet - The CATT unit is a special investigative team formed in response to growing concerns from the county prosecutor's office, juvenile court services and child protective services that additional efforts were needed to safeguard child victims of severe and/or life-threatening physical abuse and neglect. 






from Janet Buck's Photo Library








Experience had shown that not only did these children need protection during the abusive crisis but long-term protection in the form of Child in Need of Assistance petitions and possible criminal charges against the perpetrators. Prior investigations had lacked the necessary inter-agency coordination to uniformly achieve those results.

A review of previous severe cases revealed substantial delays in reporting these cases to law enforcement and officer frustration because the victims were often too young to explain what happened. Physical evidence had not been properly preserved, witnesses had often changed stories by the time they were interviewed, injuries had not been consistently documents through photographs, and available medical evidentiary methods had not been utilized. In an effort to correct these issues, a new procedure, utilizing the best tenants of a homicide investigation, was devised to initiate an immediate, multidisciplinary response to every report of severe physical abuse.

In accordance with this plan, the CATT core unit of three investigators: 
(1) a Juvenile Court officer 
(2) an investigator from the prosecutor's office 
(3) a child protective investigator
commences an investigation with 30 minutes of the referral, regardless of the day or hour, by proceeding to the location of the injured child. The parents or caretakers and any available witnesses are interviewed at the scene, photographs are taken of the injuries and the "crime scene" and physical evidence is collected. 



During the court of the investigation, typically two to fourteen days, regular consultations occur with the following "fourth" component of the team:
A. Advisory members
    1. pediatric consultation team of doctors
    2. pediatric radiologist
    3. state medical examiner
B. Case by case consultants
    1. attending physicians
    2. hospital social worker
    3. hospital/clinic nursing staff
C. As needed consultants
   1. law enforcement experts, ie. crime lab, polygraph experts
   2. child psychologist
   3. pediatric dentist (bite marks)
   4. criminal and juvenile attorneys
   5. language/cultural experts ie. interpreters, refuge center, etc.

During and at the completion of the investigation, the team members discuss their findings and initiate the appropriate response by their respective agencies.

At the end of the first four years of operation, the team had investigated more than 300 cases involving 447 children. 69% of the cases were found to be non-accidental abuse, resulting in protection of the children through the juvenile court and department of human services. Criminal charges were pursued in approximately 24% of the proven cases, resulting in guilty verdicts including 1st degree murder, 2nd degree murder, kidnapping and felony child endangerment.

The procedures were eventually adopted into the local law enforcement agencies, received national recognized, and were duplicated in several states. 


Fiona - I see that 24 percent of the cases are successfully prosecuted, is that a good percentage? What happens in the other 3/4 of the cases?

Janet - 24 percent of them were criminally prosecuted, with a 98 percent conviction rate. Every founded cases was filed in juvenile court or placed under supervision of our department of human services.

Fiona - 98 Wow!  

Janet - In child abuse cases, you walk a fine line between punishment and what is in the best interests of the child and family. Criminal charges are not always deemed necessary to safeguard the child and would be too disruptive of the family if the rehabilitation can be done under juvenile court supervision rather than criminal court.

Fiona - What are some other options available to safeguard the child and preserve family?

Janet
* Temporary removal of the child from the home or even better,
   removing the perpetrator. 
* Intensive in-home services, workers who actually are with the
   family, whenever the perpetrator would be present. 
* Counseling 
* Drug screens, etc.

Fiona - So, for example, a mother could be home with her children and the abusive father would be removed. Would they safeguard them only with a restraining order? Have you found that to be effective?

Janet - The Juvenile Court actually has a lot of jurisdiction over parents. If the perp violated a juvenile court order, he could be arrested or his rights to see the child permanently terminated. 

No, restraining orders aren't worth much unless someone is there to enforce them. Fortunately, in juvenile court cases, we don't rely on family members to report violations. There are workers at the house monitoring compliance.

Fiona - These are social workers?

Janet - Social workers and juvenile court officers in Iowa. Our Guardian ad litem are also very active in protecting their child clients.

Fiona - Why don't you quickly explain guardian ad litems and their role in the courts? And then, I want to go back to social workers.

Janet - Every child that appears in juvenile court (and many other civil proceedings) is appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL)who represents the child's best interests. He goes to court and may participate in any agency meeting where the child is being discussed. In Polk County, Iowa, this person is an attorney (not the case in all states).

The child may also have a separate attorney who represents his legal rights. The same person can act as both attorney and GAL, but it can also present a conflict of interest; i.e. a child may want his attorney to argue that he goes home, but the GAL feels that would not be safe.

Fiona - At one point in my life, I was a court-ordered emergency interventionist, who went into the homes of children at risk and tried to solidify the framework of the families structure. At this time, and in my experience, I found that social workers stayed in their offices and had way to many files sitting on their desks for them to be effective in consistent intervention and protection of the children. Is this your experience? And if so, how does your program help address this issue - or does it even try?

Janet - I certainly find that is the norm on an average case. But on the trauma cases, which were high profile, severe cases, we had a hand-picked group of child protective workers who were dedicated to this project. That's part of what was so incredible about working with CATT, the dedication on everyone involved.

Fiona - I can't tell you how happy I am to hear about this program. Truly, it's a wonderful step for children's safety.

So let's say someone is writing a plot line on a severe case. A character intervenes on the part of the child, calling 911. The wheels are in motion - the police and ambulance en route. What happens next? Who is called? When/where are decisions made?

Janet - Police dispatch immediately pages three people. Originally, that was me from juvenile court, an investigator from the county attorneys office, and a child protective investigator. We would immediately proceed to the location of the child - usually a hospital, talk with the reporting person, observe the injuries, interview caretakers, witnesses, visit the scene and take photographs. 

The child would remain at the hospital while that was going on. The team would then confer again with the doctors and parents to determine what placement - home or elsewhere would best safeguard the child. If a court order is required, we would approach the judge at that point for a temporary removal order. The investigation would continue until we were satisfied we knew exactly what had happened and what needed to be done to prevent further abuse.

Sometimes, after we went to the scene and could report exactly what happened, the doctors would realize that it had been an accident after all. On the other hand, one case was solved quickly by a dry bathtub. It was a scalding case where the parents said the child had turned on the hot water during a bath. We were there within 15 min. and the tub was dry. It was later shown the water temp was also not sufficient to cause the burns. Because we had that info, the caretaker eventually confessed.

Fiona - And what constitutes a case that would garner this kind of attention?

Janet - Severe physical injury - death, broken bones, head trauma, human bite marks, multiple laceration of a suspicious nature - meaning the story given did not fit the injuries the doctors were seeing.

Fiona - Thank goodness this system is in place!

Amazon Link
You have been very generous to share this information with us. I want to make sure we have enough time to talk about your fiction writing. 

You write paranormal fiction - and can I say that your covers are gorgeous. How did you find your way to this genre? Can you talk a little about your writing?





Amazon Link
Janet - I've always enjoyed reading
paranormal fiction, but I never intended to write it. I started out to write a cop story, kind of a police procedural, but the second day of writing my protagonist, Ari, told me she was a witch. So that meant a lot of world building - which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

The series that developed has a lot of my experiences with the CATT team as its basis - Ari often works with a cop partner. The interviews, the discussions of the facts, etc. all those come out of that past experience. As the series has progressed, Ari's "day job" as a supernatural cop has kind of taken second place to all the problems involving the vampires and the charismatic vampire prince Andreas. While there is an strong overall story arc, each book does have a resolution of a police case or some mystery.


Fiona - Before I let you go, I always
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ask those visiting on ThrillWriting to tell us about their favorite scar - if no scar do you have a harrowing
story to share?



AMAZON LINK
Janet - I do have a favorite scar just above my upper lip. I used to have a saddlebred horse that I loved dearly. When his half-brother was put up for sale by the breeder, I of course had to have him. But Feeling Good certainly lived up to his name! On my second ride, I was thrown, he jumped into my face and apparently knocked me out. However, I caught the horse, took him back to the stable, unsaddle, etc. and called for help. But remembered none of it!

Fiona - What a great story. Janet it was wonderful to get to know you. Thank you so much for your care and concern of the children not only in your area - but the spreading use of your program. I'm sure your good karma points are adding up quickly. Best of luck with your writing!



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