I DO look like a forensic psychologist. People constantly tell me that I don’t look like someone who would have this job title. What they mean is, I don’t look like Robbie Coltrane, a.k.a Fitz in the early nineties TV series Cracker, and I am not a man. In fact, over eighty percent of forensic psychologists are women, so I think my look must be pretty representative.
I was brought up in Stockport, on the boundary between Greater Manchester and Cheshire. My mother thinks I should tell people that I come from Cheshire, because it sounds posher.
I went into forensic psychology with idealistic notions of contributing to a future with less victims in it. As an individual, I think I have achieved some part of that – I once received a thank you card that said “without you I would have killed my ex-wife”! I still hold the same idealistic notions but have had to concede that, as a whole, the social and criminal justice system in the UK not only fails victims, but also creates new ones.
I swear to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, about true crime. ‘True crime’ is somewhat of a misnomer, as the genre does not reflect the majority of what goes on. It is highly skewed towards the lurid re-telling of rare cases involving serial killers, dark-alley molesters and ‘crazed’ loners. It creates a misleading picture of the nature of violent and sexual crime that perpetuates stereotypes of offenders and victims alike.
I see the consequences of these stereotypes and assumptions every day in my work. From juries who are reluctant to convict ‘ordinary’ men of rape because they don’t match their idea of what a perpetrator looks like, victims who are not believed, or worse yet, blamed for their own abuse through to people with mental health problems who are shunned as potentially dangerous. I am constantly reminded that the stories we tell matter and I kept it at the forefront of my mind when writing my book.
My party trick is fire-eating and fire-breathing. I learnt how to spit an eight-foot burst of flame because it felt like an interesting workshop to take one Saturday, and as an exercise in conquering my anxieties. Once I had arrived, it occurred to me that fear of fire is entirely rational, useful and probably best not conquered, but by then it was too late to back out. Fire-breathing gives me a strange chemical headache and paraffin chronically repeats on me. But on the upside, it makes me the ideal summer barbecue guest.
It disturbs me that people think Ted Bundy is somehow ‘sexy’. I can understand people’s endless fascination with the behaviour of serial killers but when women are having his bite mark tattooed on their bodies (yes, this is really a thing!) it shows the extent to which popular culture has fetishised, glamourised and trivialised violence towards women. That’s not ok.
I could never quite master the art of mindfulness, until I got my dogs. My chow-chows, Fozzchops and Humphrey, both have arthritis and our walks are more meanders, long examinations of every blade of grass and wildflower, punctuated by sits. It forces me to slow down and pay attention to the scenery. It is the best therapy I have found for calming my wrangling thoughts and it beats staring at a raisin for forty-five minutes any day of the week (those who have been subjected to that mindfulness staple will understand!). We should prescribe less anti-anxiety medications and more dog walks on the NHS.
I am a psychologist, but I have a growing dislike for psychological and diagnostic labels. In this era of ‘mental health awareness’ it seems that there is an ever-expanding list of disorders to fit any one of us. People casually point to all manner of mental illnesses and shorthand psycho-bollocks to explain and excuse their own personality flaws, unpleasant or anti-social behaviours, or that of others. I find it incredibly unhelpful. It stigmatises those who struggle with real psychological distress without ever troubling others, and provides only very lazy, simplistic explanations for criminal behaviour.
I believe that even society’s least endearing member has an important story to tell. We don’t have to empathise with their story, but we can learn from it.
KERRY DAYNES - Forensic psychologist, campaigner and author of new book, The Dark Side of the Mind
Kerry Daynes has spent her working life delving into the psyche of the most complex and challenging convicted men and women to try to understand what lies behind their actions and help them on the path to becoming law-abiding citizens.
Law and order are very firmly back on the national agenda in a way that we haven’t seen since the James Bulger case. The rise in reoffending and our appalling rape conviction statistics have led Kerry to become a campaigner for change and for a better understanding behind the stereotypes of crime - of good vs evil and monstrous psychopaths. She believes it is time to change the question, from ‘What is wrong with them?’ to altogether more awkward, uncomfortable questions starting with 'What has happened to them?' And 'what has happened to us as a society?'
In her acclaimed new book, The Dark Side of the Mind Kerry reveals what she has learnt in 20 years of working closely with extreme behaviour, how it affected and changed her and taught her the value of new beginnings for us all; victims, criminals and for society as a whole.
Many people express surprise when they find out what Kerry does for job. She doesn’t fit their stereotype of what a forensic psychologist should look like (basically Robbie Coltrane in Cracker) - she is pretty, softly-spoken, funny and, of course, a woman. However, women make up 73 per cent of the British Psychological Society (the professional body for practising psychologists in the United Kingdom), and a whopping 80 per cent of its forensic division.
She has witnessed a mushrooming in prisoner numbers (more than doubling throughout her career), the effects of some of the deepest austerity cuts on the work of the Ministry for Justice and explosion in the reporting of child sex offences. Kerry herself has been the victim of stalking and has had to withstand abusive, misogynistic behaviour from both clients and from prison staff.
Part of her day job still involves acting as an expert witness in court, for parole boards and training the police. She is often invited to act as psychological specialist in major police investigations and is a trusted advisor to the British government regarding the safe management of high-risk individuals. But rather than feeling compromised and frustrated within the system, she now spends the majority of her time trying to effect change from the outside – as a speaker and media expert and as an advocate for better conversations on mental health. She is a patron of the National Centre for Domestic Violence and Talking2Minds.
The Dark Side of the Mind: True Stories from My Life as a Forensic Psychologist by Kerry Daynes, published by Endeavor, Hardback, rrp £16.99 also available as e-book and in audio.