Satan, also known as the Devil, is an entity in the Abrahamic religions that seduces humans into sin or falsehood. In Christianity and Islam, he is usually seen as either a fallen angel or a jinn who used to possess great piety and beauty but rebelled against God.
In Judaism, Satan is typically regarded as a metaphor for the yetzer hara, the evil inclination (or as an agent subservient to God).
The Christian figure of Satan is viewed as a horned, red, demonic human figure with a pointy tail and sometimes hooves. Sinners are sent to the domain of Satan after death—to hell, an underground world of fire and sadistic demons under Satan’s command.
Other versions of Satan appear as a Zoroastrian Devil and Jewish Kabbalism, but the name “Satan” first appeared in the Book of Numbers in the Bible, used as a term describing defiance. In the Book of Job, Satan is an accusing angel. In the apocryphal Book of Enoch (written in the first century B.C.) Satan is a member of the Watchers, a group of fallen angels.
Early on, satan was simply a word meaning adversary. In the Book of Samuel, David is depicted as the satan of the Philistines. In the Book of Numbers, it is used as a verb, when God sent an angel to satan (oppose) Balaam.
In the New Testament, Satan is established as a nemesis of Jesus Christ and the final book of the Bible, Revelations, he is the ultimate evil.
The words “Satanism” and “Satanist” appeared in English and French during the 1500s, when the words were used by Christian groups to attack other, rival Christian groups. For example, a Roman Catholic tract in 1565 condemned the “heresies, blasphemies, and sathanismes [sic]” of Protestants. Anyone who didn’t follow one’s own “pure” Christian views was condemned.
Gradually, it morphed into meaning anyone leading an immoral lifestyle. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that it was applied to those suspected of consciously and deliberately venerating Satan.
According to online sources, during the early modern period, fear of Satanists took the form of witch trials (1400s to 1700s, which doesn’t seem all that modern to me, but hey, witch hysterias, and the inquisition). Across both Protestant and Catholic regions, witch trials emerged. Between 30,000 and 50,000 people were executed as Satanic witches.
Skipping lightly past offshoots and variations, prior to the 20th Century, Satanism did not exist as a real, organized religion. Satanism is a modern, largely non-theistic religion based on literary, artistic, and philosophical interpretations of the central figure of evil. It wasn’t until April 30, 1966 that the Church of Satan was formalized.
Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible was published in 1969. His teachings promoted indulgence, vital existence, undefiled wisdom, kindness to those who deserve it, responsibility to the responsible, and an eye for an eye code of ethics. In his view, a Satanist is carnal, physical and pragmatic, enjoying a physical existence, propagating a naturalistic worldview that seems human as animals dieting in an amoral universe. The ideal Satanist should be individualistic and noon-conformist. He encouraged an individual’s pride, self-respect, and self-realization by satisfying the ego’s desires. Self-indulgence is a good thing. He said hate and aggression are necessary and advantageous for survival. Bottom line: he praised the seven deadly sins as virtues.
By the 1970s, groups were splintering off to form alternative churches. In 1978, the U.S. Army included the faith in its manual for chaplains, “Religious Requirements and Practices.”
The most successful of the church divisions is The Satanic Temple, opened in Houston in 2015. The Temple calls itself a non-theistic religion embracing the Devil as a symbolic form of rebellion in the tradition of Milton. It devotes itself to political action focused on the separation of church and state, religious equality, and reproductive rights.
It was recognized as a religion of the U.S. government in 2016, receiving tax-exempt status.
Note: Practitioners of LeVey’s version of Satanism do not believe that Satan literally exists and do not worship him. For them, Satan is an archetype for adversary, who represents pride, carnality, and enlightenment. The Devil is a symbol of defiance against the Abrahamic faiths that “suppress humanity’s natural instincts.”
However, Theistic Satanism (Spiritual Satanism or Devi worship) holds the primary belief that Satan is an actual deity to revere and worship. They believe in magic and ritual, often focusing solely on devotion.
Bottom line for writers: Satanism isn’t a unitary thing. If Satanism figures into your plot or character characteristics, do your homework, particularly for any historical setting.
The March 13, 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese led to an entirely new field of research in psychology. Genovese was attacked while walking home from work at 3:20 a.m. in Queens, New York. She was stabbed, sexually assaulted, and murdered over a period of 30 minutes. Subsequent reports said 38 witnesses watched the attack from nearby apartments but neither intervened nor even called the police until the attacker fled. Kitty Genovese died on the way to a hospital.
Two psychologists, Bibb Latané and John Darley, conducted extensive research to examine and try to explain such apparently callous indifference to the suffering of another human being. Over time, these and other researchers teased out several factors that will affect the likelihood of bystander intervention.
Diffusion of responsibility is one of the earliest and most powerful variables identified: the more people who are bystanding, the less likely it is that anyone will intervene. Responsibility is diffused among all.
Contrarily, Philpot et al. just this year published the results examining real-life video recordings from three countries and found that someone intervened in over 90% of cases. Even if the likelihood of any one person responding was infrequent, someone in the crowd intervened.
Emergency vs. non-emergency situations. The following conditions are relevant.
Notice that something is going on.
interpret the situation as an emergency. Others not reacting provides social influence against acting,
Feel responsible: does the victim deserve help, is the bystander competent, what is the bystander’s relationship to victim.
The form of assistance needed (e.g., medical emergency, harassment protection, etc.).
Implement the action choice.
Ambiguity and consequences: ambiguous situations take up to five times as long to respond to, and even then bystanders will often not intervene until after assessing their own safety.
Cohesiveness and group membership: the more cohesive a group, the more likely it is that the norm of social responsibility will lead to helping. Bigger cohesive groups are quickest to react.
Cultural differences affect intervention—both broad/national culture and subculture.
Digital interference is a relatively new phenomenon. With the spread of cell phones and social media, bystanders at a scene are becoming more likely to try to film the incident (whether as “armchair activism” or simply to attract online attention) than they are to intervene or call for help. This has the doubled impact of overloading nearby cell towers so that actual phone calls to emergency services are not connected.
Bystander apathy can be counteracted by raising awareness of bystander effects ad consciously taking steps to overcome it and help; and victims can overcome the diffusion of responsibility in groups by singling out a single member and asking for help from that one person.
Bottom line for writers: make your readers understand why your character does or does not intervene!
Prejudice is generally defined in one of two ways:
1) A preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. This is the broadest definition and allows for being biased in a positive direction (such as assuming that harpists are poised and elegant). Wikipedia goes a step further, saying an affective feeling towards a person based on that person’s perceived group membership.
2) An unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reasons; unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature (like thinking all wrestlers are vulgar and uncouth), regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.
Prejudice is one of the root causes of human conflict. Conflict, in turn, can result in crime, war, systemic repression, and mass murder. Writers note: anything that creates conflict between characters or between a character and society can be used in your writing.
Where prejudice comes from:
1) We tend to take on the attitudes—including prejudices—of the social groups to which we belong. Social groups include gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, social class, religion, sexual orientation, profession, etc., etc., etc. Adopting the attitudes of one’s social groups, including family, is often a means of fitting in and being liked. Thus, prejudice may serve a social adjustive function.
2) Sometimes assuming a host of characteristics based on knowing one is cognitively efficient. We don’t have to spend time gathering information or even stopping to think.
3) And sometimes, prejudice serves an ego-defensive function. If simply by being who we are we can feel superior to whole groups of people—e.g., all women, all blacks, all immigrants, all yellow ducklings—it helps counterbalance negative information about oneself (such as being chronically unemployed, ugly, or unpopular).
Like other attitudes, prejudice has cognitive, affective, and behavioral components.
Cognitive: overgeneralized beliefs or stereotypes. E.g., Yankees fans are arrogant and obnoxious.
Affective: prejudice, feelings about people that could be positive but are more often negative. For example, I hate Yankee fans. They make me angry.
Behavioral: the treatment of others. When negative, it is discrimination, and may lead to excluding, avoiding, or biased treatment of group members. Example: I would never hire or become friends with a person if I knew he or she were a Yankees fan.
Although people can hold positive stereotypes, prejudices, and discriminatory actions based on group membership—for example, giving preferential treatment to people who are like themselves—it behooves us to focus on the negative because that is what is most problematic.
First impressions: When meeting new people, we automatically note race, gender, and age because these social categories provide a wealth of information about the individual—albeit, based on stereotypes.
Categories of bias: Racism, sexism, ageism, sexual orientation, nationalism, class-ism, religious discrimination, linguistic discrimination, and more.
Self-fulfilling Prophecy: An expectation held by a person about how another person will behave, which leads to treating the person according to our expectations. The treatment can influence the person to act according to our stereotypic expectations, thus confirming the original stereotypic beliefs. (Think teacher expectations, employer expectations, etc.)
Confirmation Bias: Paying more attention to information that is consistent with our stereotypic expectations than to information that is inconsistent with our expectations..
In-groups and Out-groups: An in-group is a group we see ourselves as belonging to, involving a strong sense of belonging and emotional connection that leads to in-group bias and preferences. Out-groups are seen as different in fundamental ways, less likable, often resulting in discrimination. When an in-group’s goals are delayed or thwarted, an out-group is often blamed. This is scape-goating.
Bottom line for writers: stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination can define characters and situations. Think thoughts, affects, and actions and how each can work with POV and plot.
Attitude is a favorable or unfavorable reaction toward something or someone (often rooted in one’s beliefs and exhibited in one’s feelings and intended behavior). It is tempting to assume that there is a direct line between these favorable or unfavorable reactions and behavior. Good news for writers: people’s expressed attitudes seldom predict their actual behavior. This is because an attitude includes both feeling and thinking, and both affect behavior.
Attitudes predict behavior when these conditions are present:
Social influences on what we say are minimal (little social pressure, fear of criticism). For attitudes formed early in life (e.g., attitudes toward authority and fairness) explicit and implicit attitudes often diverge, with implicit being a stronger predictor.
Other influences our behavior are minimal: situational constraints, health, weather, etc.
Attitudes specific to the behavior are examined: e.g., expressed attitudes toward poetry don’t predict enjoying a particular poem, but attitudes toward the costs and benefits of jogging predict jogging behavior.
Attitudes are potent: stating an attitude and an intention to do something makes the attitude more potent and the behavior is more likely (recycling); asking people to think about their attitudes toward an issue also increases potency.
Attitudes that are developed through direct experience are more accessible to memory, more enduring, and have a stronger effect on behavior.
Behavior affects attitudes when these conditions are present:
Actions prescribed by social roles mold the attitudes of the role players. (Think prisoners and guards.)
What we say or write can strongly affect subsequent attitudes. (Think being assigned a side in a debate.)
Doing a small act increases the likelihood of doing a larger one later. (Think foot-in-the-door technique.)
Actions affect our moral attitudes. We tend to justify whatever we do, even if it is evil.
We not only stand up for what we believe in, we believe in what we have stood up for. (Think adopting a rescue animal or donating to a food drive.)
The question of whether government should legislate behaviors to change attitudes on a massive scale is compounded by the question of whether it is even possible.
Why does our behavior affect our attitudes?
Self-Presentation Theory says people (especially those who self-monitor their behavior hoping to make a good impression) will adapt their attitude reports to appear consistent with their actions. Some genuine attitude change usually accompanies efforts to make a good impression.
Dissonance Theory explains attitude change by assuming we feel tension after acting contrary to our attitude or after making difficult decisions. To reduce that arousal, we internally justify our behavior. The less external justification we have for undesirable actions, the more we feel responsible for them, thus creating more dissonance and more attitude change. (Think threat or reward.)
Self-Perception Theory assumes that when our attitudes are weak, we simply observe our behavior and its circumstances and infer our attitudes (correctly or incorrectly) rather than the other way around. “How do I know what I think till I hear what I say?” And conversely, rewarding people for doing something they like anyway can turn their pleasure into drudgery—the reward leading them to attribute their behavior to the reward rather than the enjoyment of the behavior itself.
Bottom line for writers: to present a character’s attitudes to the reader, write what they are doing, thinking, and/or feeling. And note that each of these affects the other two and is affected in turn. Dissonance among the these creates lots of opportunity for tension, conflict, and misunderstanding!
When someone says something that isn’t true, it’s a lie—except when it isn’t!For writers, any untruth can be a tool for building character, plot, tone, etc. I can think of three situations when an untruth isn’t a lie.
1) The person telling the untruth is incapable of discerning what the truth is. Very young children will often lie because there is no real difference between fantasy and reality in their mind. The cardboard box really did become a rocket ship. A mermaid and a kracken really did come to play in the bathtub.
Depending on the age of the child, this may extend to what seems to adults to be attempts to get out of trouble or deflect blame. Because a child’s sense of reality is not concrete, what an adult sees as a lie a child may simply see as very effective wishful thinking.
Children may also respond with the first answer to come into their mind that they think an adult wants to hear. This is true both for extremely young children who simply try to give an answer they think the adult wants to hear and for children who have trouble concentrating or remembering, such as those with ADD or ADHD.
Dr. Kang Lee, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, sees lying as an indicator of developmental status. I’ll skip the research methodology and simply cite the findings. When asked whether they had peeked behind a screen: of those who had peeked, 30% of two-year-olds, 50% of three-year olds, and about 80% of eight-year-olds lied about it.
2) The person telling the untruth suffers some form of dementia. For example, an obvious case would be a woman in a memory care facility who tells visiting relatives that she baked a chocolate cake and everyone at the party said how good it was, and Paul Newman came in through the window and danced with her.
Another version, often harder to detect, is the person who has temporal confusion. For example, a man who says that his son came to see him yesterday and it was actually last week. (Think false alibi!)
3) The speaker believes something is true that isn’t. In other words, the speaker is mistaken. It could be a misunderstanding of something seen, read or heard—but it could also be that the speaker was intentionally deceived so that s/he would spread a lie.
Which brings us to real lies as opposed to untruths: to make an untrue statement with the intention to deceive. But writers, go beyond the direct lie and use, half-truths, exaggerations, or pertinent omissions.
Not a rare behavior for people or characters. Indeed, Kendra Cherry writing on verywellmind.com pointed out that actual research about lying is relatively recent, and data replications are hard to come by, but some surveys suggest that as many as 96% of people admit to lying at least sometimes.
In 1996, Bella DePaulo, a psychologist at the University of Virginia, published the results of a study in which 147 people between the ages of 18 and 71 kept a diary of all the falsehoods they told over the course of a week. She found that most people lie at least once or twice every day! Over the course of a week, people lied in approximately 20% of social interactions lasting 10 minutes or more. They deceived about 30% of those they interacted with one-on-one.
Although she didn’t find gender differences in number of lies, there were relationship differences. Parents and teens interactions are often deceitful: “College students lie to their mothers in one out of two conversations.”
Little white lies. These lies are typically meant to do some good—or at least do no harm. For example, complimenting a friend’s shirt when you really think it looks dreadful. Coming late to a meeting and saying you were held up by an accident on the interstate when you really overslept.
Although pretty much everyone is told from a young age that it’s always best to tell the truth, the fact is that telling the truth (about oversleeping, for example) may be punished (for example, by a poor performance review). Thus, society often encourages or even rewards lying.
Some lies may serve as a social lubricant. DePaulo (above) found that 25% of lies were “fake positives” intending to make the other person feel better about someone or something. These were 10 to 20 times more common than lies in which people pretend to like someone or something less than they actually do (fake negatives).
But beware: according to Wanda Thibodeaux on Inc.com, telling lies to spare someone’s feelings is not good in the long run. Yes, we do take the liar’s intention into account, but it also raises doubts about whether a person willing to lie to us actually has our best interests at heart. These lies can cause doubt, uncertainty, suspicion, and trust issues.
White lies made up to excuse being late, unprepared, unwilling to do something, etc. bring into question a character’s ultimate trustworthiness.
Also, telling little white lies can desensitize the liar, making it easier to tell bigger/more serious lies.
People lie for the same reason they do everything else: a lie is the best perceived alternative at the time. Thus, lies are a means to an end, and those ends can be broadly grouped into four overlapping categories; to get what they want, to take the easy way out, to avoid criticism, to build a positive self-image. The likelihood of lying increases when someone is “pushed into a corner” or needs to react quickly.
1) To get what they want. This could be almost anything. In relationships, it might be to attract a partner, to hide cheating, to get a partner to agree to sex, to avoid an argument—and these are just a few possibilities.
In the workplace, lying to get ahead, discredit the competition, get even with a colleague, take credit for someone else’s work, cover up procrastination, avoid being fired, etc.
In any relationship, people lie for quick financial gain, to avoid taking responsibility or unwanted chores, to be liked/popular, or nearly any other objective that the liar sees as more important (at the moment) than the truth.
2) To take the easy way out. This overlaps with the good Little White Lies above, not wanting to deal with hurt feelings, for example. It also includes plagiarizing and making up data in a research project.
3) To avoid criticism. When people aren’t comfortable with some aspect of their behavior, character, or past they are prone to deceive in any of the ways mentioned above (lie, half-truths, exaggerations, intentional omissions). Closely related to inflate one’s image, to cover up for a mistake, or to excuse doing something wrong.
4) To build a positive self-image. Basically, this is lying to oneself. The liar wants something to be true and pretends that it is until eventually s/he believes it. Making excuses for behavior or thoughts or wishes that at some level are unacceptable to the self.
Other reasons people lie
One lie has led to another, especially good for writers. (Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.—Walter Scott)
To be malicious and hurt other people
To take control of a situation
To hide a disorder such as an eating disorder, compulsive gambling, alcoholism, etc., which goes beyond avoiding criticism
It is integral to certain occupations
Pathological lying. A person who feels compelled to lie, and will do so with no apparent benefit to self or others is a pathological liar. This is often part of a diagnosis of a mental health disorder:
Antisocial personality/sociopathy (no regard for right or wrong, no remorse, often become criminals)
Borderline personality (varying moods and behavior, often impulsive, conducive to unstable relationships)
Factitious disorders (acting as if s/he has a physical or mental illness but does not)
The severity and frequency of lying, and the reasons for lying are what point to a psychological problem.
How to tell when someone is lying. (As summarized by Kendra Cherry, above.)
Folk wisdom is wrong. It says that liars tend to fidget, squirm, avoid eye contact or have shifty eyes when lying. Research indicates that these are virtually useless as indicators. (Looking away, for example, is more likely to indicate the person is trying to access long term memory.)
Some of the most accurate (although still weak) indicators of lying:
Being vague, offering few details
Repeating questions before answering them
Speaking in sentence fragments
Failing to provide specific details when a story is challenged
Grooming behavior, such as playing with hair or pressing fingers to lips
More active ways to uncover lies
Ask the person to tell the story in reverse. Increasing the mental load makes lying more difficult—although telling a lie is more mentally taxing than telling the truth anyway.
Trust your instincts. We may have an unconscious, intuitive response to lying that gets drowned out if we spend too much time focusing on the non-verbals stereotypically associated with lying.
Consider an individual’s tells
Successful card players learn to hide when they are bluffing and to identify what the other players do when they have good or bad hands. The same might be true for your characters. Does she blush? Does he stutter? Does he rub his chin? Does she bounce her knee? Does your character have a poker face? And if so, is s/he on the side of good or evil (so to speak).
Bonus info about lying
The closer the liar is to the deceived, the more likely the lies are to be an altruistic (fake positive) one
Women are especially likely to stretch the truth to spare someone’s feelings
Men are more prone to lying about themselves: conversations between two guys contain about eight times as many self-oriented lies as they do falsehoods about other people
Bottom line for writers:
Lying is rampant, so there ought to be at least a little of it in your story
Lying can abet virtually any goal
Lies can be of virtually any size or seriousness
Pay attention to age, relationship, and gender differences
People—and by extension, characters—regularly do things that they don’t mention, or even admit to, even though they aren’t illegal, immoral or physically harmful. Writers can make their characters more realistic when said characters engage in unmentionable behaviors. What follows is an extensive but not exhaustive list of possibilities.
Nose Picking is a prime example of a virtually universal unmentionable behavior. It has its own Wikipedia entry, complete with a technical definition (extracting nasal mucus with one’s finger) and formal label of rhinotillexis. Psychiatrists at the Dean Foundation for Health, Research, and Education in Wisconsin conducted a study revealing that 91% of people said they were currently nose pickers (though only 75% believed everyone did it).
So, how and where does your character nose pick? Always the same digit? Always the same place? Always the same time of day?
And then what? Is the residue flicked off? Wiped on a tissue? Wiped on the underside of an article of clothing? Wiped off on a rug? On furniture? Added to a booger wall? Or maybe the residue is eaten.
Mucophagy is the technical term for eating nose pickings. Most societies condemn it, but some scientists claim there are health benefits. Dr. Friedrich Bischinger, a leading Austrian lung specialist, says that eating one’s mucus gives “a natural boost to their immune system” because the mucus contains a “cocktail of antiseptic enzymes that kill or weaken bacteria that become entangled in it.” Reintroducing weakened bacteria may allow the immune system to safely produce antibodies.
Time considerations for nose picking. How often? A few times a day—however unmentionable—isn’t odd. But one-to-two hours daily? When it becomes an obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s called Rhinotillexomania.
Wiping your nose on anything available.
Urination is another universal. How about peeing in the shower? Or the bathtub? The ocean—or the swimming pool? Is your female character comfortable urinating outside?
Recently, there have been a number of devices developed and put on the market to allow women the same ease of urination as men. They come in very handy on long car trips or when getting to the bathroom requires a trek through an unheated house, up a snowy mountain, and behind a tree to squat over an unsettlingly drafty hole in the ground.
I once spent two weeks on a whitewater rafting drip on the Colorado River. People were required to pee in the river. (Recall that urine is sterile.) In camp men simply walked to the edge of the water. Women often waded out and pulled down their pants. On the water, men stood at the stern. Women pulled down their clothes, hung onto the cargo straps, and cantilevered out over the water.
In all of these circumstances, the other people politely looked the other way. But then how did it happen that the last night out I was voted the person most improved in peeing off the side of the raft? So if your character is urinating in unmentionable ways, consider both culture and circumstances.
Defecation is always fertile ground. It seems whole herds of people get completely naked to poop—every time. Imagine trying to use a public toilet!
Consider a character who wipes his/her anus and looks at it. Or smells his/her fingers afterward. One justification for frequently smelling one’s anus or genitals (via finger swipes) is being familiar with one’s usual smell so that changes that might signal a change in health status would be recognizable.
Not washing hands after using the bathroom. Or even turning on water so others in the public toilet will think you washed when you didn’t. And it raises the question of why not wash?
Burping, a cousin to the more offensive Passing Gas. These things happen.
I remember a joke from grade school. “What did the stomach say to the burp?” “Be quiet, and I’ll let you out the back door.”
But what about someone who burps and/or farts on purpose, on demand, or as loudly as possible?
What about someone who intentionally farts in elevators, subway cars, on trains or busses and casts a blaming glare at those nearby?
What about intentionally expelling loud farts and/or burps but only when alone?
Or sniffing farts to try to figure out which food made it smell that way.
For truly obnoxious characters (and spouses), there is the dreaded Dutch Oven: farting in bed and then pulling the blanket over your bed partner’s head, trapping them in the stench.
And consider whether your character has an extreme reaction to other people’s flatulence. I know of a woman who became furious if someone passed gas in her presence: smell is a molecular sense, so smelling a fart means taking in fecal molecules.
Eating is fraught with unmentionable behaviors. For example, eating food off the floor after 5 seconds have passed.
Eating from the cooking pot. Eating/drinking directly from thecontainer. (In this case, whether your character lives alone is relevant. )
Eating food other than snacks or sandwiches (for example, tossed salad) with fingers. Eating the unthinkable as a regular thing: chalk, insects, dirt, tissue paper, etc.
Nakedness is sometimes necessary, of course. But what if your naked character regularly sits on the sofa and reads? Cooks dinner? Sits on the deck or patio—and if so, at what time, and how private is the space?
What about taking naked selfies for no particular reason? Saying you deleted the naked pictures sent to you but you didn’t?
Sucking Blood From a Cut.
Having sexual thoughts about an inappropriate target. Think relative, someone else’s spouse or partner, subordinate—whoever is beyond the pale because of relationship or other taboo.
Self Absorption.is almost always unmentionable! Narrating thoughts aloud—while driving, planning, etc. Closely related to talking to oneself.
Consider cracking up at one’s own jokes, even when alone. Practicing pick-up lines in the mirror, ditto facial expressions. How about making weird faces at yourself? Or googling oneself?
Women Only Unmentionables.Shaving—where and how often. Plucking or shaving facial hair from eyebrows to chin and jowls. Obsessing about changes in body odor during menstruation. Collecting “fuck me” shoes in colors to match every outfit.
Men Only Unmentionables: measuring his dick, jerking off to fantasies of his friend’s girlfriend, windmilling/ helicoptering his penis, frequently resettling his junk in his banana hammock.
Miscellaneous unmentionables could be almost anything.
Dancing like no one with the authority to commit you is watching
Running up the stairs on all fours
Eavesdropping or otherwise spying on people—including reading another person’s mail, email, or texts
Squeezing pimples or blackheads
Climbing on furniture
Bouncing on the bed
Making weird noises
Breath syncing to someone else, music, in the extreme known as sensorimotor obsession
Arithmomania, a strong need to have one’s life governed by odd, even, or certain numbers, brushing teeth to setting the thermostat, etc.
Blow-drying “down there”
Overview for writers: Make your character more human by giving her/him a characteristic unmentionable behavior or two. Don’t go overboard unless your character is totally neurotic and/ or you are going for humor. And remember that such behaviors are even more revealing if the characters do such things in the presence of others. Have fun!
Monday’s child is fair of face Tuesday’s child is full of grace Wednesday’s child is full of woe . . .
This was part of a solicitation on behalf of a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence with their children. The last line is heart-wrenching,and it raises a question: was the bruise on Erica or someone she loved? All of this led me to explore two topics—child abuse and child bystanders in families experiencing domestic violence and abuse.
Writers, note: it behooves you to know about these things so your writing is realistic.
In 2015, an estimated 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect in the United States.
Nearly 700,000 children are abused in the U.S. annually.
Children in the first year of life have the highest rate of victimization, 24.2 per 1,000 children.
Types of abuse vary, but three elements are most common: neglect, 75%; physical abuse, 17.2%; sexual abuse, 8.4%.
NB: some children suffered more than one type of abuse.
90% of alleged abusers are related in some way to the child victim.
40% of abusers were a parent or caregiver.
Nearly 25% of abusers were themselves children.
Writers: consider these behaviors for your villains.
Several studies have analyzed the cycle of child sexual abuse, including at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine in London and the University of New South Wales Faculty of Law in Sydney. Among 747 males studied, being a perpetrator was correlated with their reports of having been victims of sexual abuse. The overall rate of having been a victim was 35% for perpetrators and 11% for non-perpetrators. Of 96 females studied, 43% had been victims but only one became a perpetrator. Males who were abused in childhood by a female relative or who had lost a parent in childhood were more likely to become a perpetrator. The bottom line: there is evidence of a victim-to-victimizer cycle for a minority of male perpetrators but not for females.
When someone says “abuse” images of physical abuse are likely to come first to mind. However, as I learned when I volunteered at Hanover Safe Place (providing services for those suffering sexual assault and/or domestic abuse), there are at least five types of abuse.
Physical abuse: hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, pinching, biting, hair pulling, etc. This type of abuse may include denying medical care or forcing alcohol and/or drugs on the victim.
Sexual abuse: coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact or behavior without consent, including marital rape, attacks on sexual parts of the body, forcing sex after physical violence, or treating someone in a sexually demeaning manner.
Emotional abuse: undermining a person’s sense of self-worth and/or self esteem by constant criticism, denying one’s abilities, name-calling, or damaging one’s relationship with children.
Economic abuse: making a person financially dependent by taking total control of financial resources, withholding access to money, forbidding attendance at school or employment.
Psychological abuse: including—but not limited to—intimidation; threatening harm to self, partner, children, or partner’s family or friends; destruction of pets or property; forcing isolation from family, friends, school and/or work.
Writers: if you have a domineering character, consider the last three forms of abuse as tools to use.
DoSomething.org posted 11 facts about child abuse. Some of those facts not covered in the preceding:
Approximately 5 children die every day because of child abuse.
1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 5 boys are sexually abused before they turn 18.
In 2012, 82.2% of child abuse perpetrators were between the ages of 18-44, of whom 39.6% were between the ages of 25 and 34.
Victims of child abuse/neglect are 59% more likely to be arrested as juveniles, 28% more likely to arrested as adults, and 30% more likely to commit violent crime.
About 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children meet the criteria for at least one psychological disorder.
14% of all men and 36% of all women in prison were abused as children.
Those abused as children are less likely to practice safe sex, putting them at greater risk for STDs.
They are also 25% more likely to have a teen pregnancy.
Last but not least, according to National Public Radio, through WBUR, the effects of abuse and mistreatment add up over children’s lives. Abuse and neglect survivors are much more likely to have physical and mental health problems later on, including higher risk of suicide and running afoul of the law. Summing across years, 12.5% of children overall have experienced at least one episode of abuse or neglect by age 18. The numbers are worse for minority children: 21% of African-American children, 14.5 percent of Native Americans, and 13% of Hispanic children.
HOW CHILDREN LIVING WITH DOMESTIC ABUSE ARE HARMED
It turns out that finding data on this topic was more difficult than finding info on abuse of children per se, but there are indices of the harmful effects of witnessing abuse.
Development and Psychopathology (Vol 15, Issue 2) included a research report documenting that children exposed to high levels of domestic violence had IQ’s that were, on average, 8 points lower than unexposed children. The researchers attribute this to the harmful effects of extreme stress on brain development.
The Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (Vol 71(2)) included a meta analysis of 118 studies of the psycho-social outcomes for children exposed to “interparental violence.” Child witnesses exhibited more child problems, and witnesses’ outcomes were not significantly different from those children who were physically abused themselves.
Child Abuse & Neglect: The International Journal (Vol 32, (8)) reported that children and adolescents living with domestic violence are at increased risk for emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. They’re more likely to develop emotional and behavioral problems, and they’re more vulnerable to other adversities. The researchers concluded that the impact of living with domestic violence can endure even after the child is safe.
Children exposed to complex trauma (including witnessing domestic violence) often experience lifelong problems that put them at risk for additional trauma and cumulative impairment (e.g., psychiatric and addictive disorders, chronic medical illness, legal, vocational, and family problems). These may extend from childhood through adolescence into adulthood. (Psychiatric Annals, 35(5).)
Children exposed to maltreatment, family violence, or loss of their caregivers often exhibit depression, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and disorders of anxiety, eating, sleep, communication, separation anxiety, and reactive attachment.
The literature on complex trauma suggest seven primary domains of impairment in exposed children: attachment, physical illness/disease, affect regulation, alterations in consciousness, behavioral regulation, cognition, and self-concept.
Writers: consider the POV of a child witness to domestic abuse.
Emma Katz in Child Abuse Review points out that the forms of domestic abuse beyond the physical are still harmful to children. Perpetrators’/fathers’ coercive behavior toward women (psychological, emotional, verbal, financial abuse; isolation and monitoring their activities) spills over to children. They often prevented children spending time with their mothers and/or grandparents, visiting other children’s houses, getting involved in extra-curricular activities at school. These non-violent acts isolate children, dis-empower them, and create a constrained world that stunts children’s resilience and development and contribute to emotional/behavioral problems.
Bottom Line for Writers: domestic abuse as it affects children is a rich vein for writers to mine. Consider the complex possibilities: whether a character, whether now a child or adult, was a child also abused, the child’s gender and age, and the time since exposure to the abuse. Consider whether a child witness would actively support the mother/victim (e.g., urge her to leave her abuser) or identify with the aggressor. Take it anywhere!
Some of us—dare I say most of us?—are not inherently cruel or sadistic. Therefore, when our plots require a scene that involves such behavior, there is a great temptation to fall back on the stereotypes of many TV shows and movies. Don’t. If you need really gruesome, vivid, compelling cruelty, look to reality!
As you may know, I recently toured northern Italy. In San Gimignano (“of the beautiful towers”) I visited the earliest of the city’s torture museums.
And of course I bought a book.
The implements on display were truly horrifying—and thought-provoking!
Not long ago, I had a medical procedure that required me to lie absolutely motionless, face-down, arms stretched above my head for 45 minutes. By the end of the procedure, my shoulders ached and muscles twitched, and I wondered how long those condemned to the rack might last before at least passing out.
My point here is that although many types of torture are intended to cause death eventually, this doesn’t happen immediately. Might writers use a less-than-lethal version? For example, using an implement like a head crusher only to the point of cracking the skull bones.
Some mechanisms that I would label instruments of torture had other purposes—at least ostensibly. But besides ensuring a woman’s virtue, consider the discomfort of long-term use, and the humiliation of such an item at all.
Immobilizing someone in any way becomes painful after a time.
And many body parts, from skin to fingers and toes, tongues and scalps, can be removed without causing death. Ditto broken bones.
It is possible to force someone to drink so much water—or other liquid—that the stomach actually explodes. But short of that? What about a parent pinching a child’s nose shut and forcing her/him to drink milk?
Forcing someone to wear a heavy weight around the neck is tiring, humiliating, and eventually very painful. What about a modern version, that required the wearing of a loaded backpack without relief?
My point is that if you need inspiration for a truly cruel and haunting scene, you really don’t need to be able to create it out of thin air. Start with what people are known to have done!
If your plot involves any sort of violent crime, whether you’re a mystery/crime writer or not, you should know forensic nursing. In broad terms, forensic nursing is where the healthcare system and the legal system intersect.
Survivors of violent crimes typically come through the ER, where their medical needs are taken care of—setting broken bones, stitching wounds, etc. Ideally, the patient spends as little time as possible in the controlled chaos and tension of the ER; the goal is no more than 45 minutes.
Then they are escorted to a quiet, comfortable room furnished much like a small living room, but with drinks and snacks as well as TV. Anyone accompanying the patient would typically wait here during the examination. The area is secured, and only people the patient chooses to bring are allowed into the room. These people might be family or, perhaps, a trained volunteer from an organization such as Hanover Safe Place, which supports survivors through what is inevitably a traumatic time at the hospital.
The patient then meets with a forensic nurse. The forensic nurse’s role is to record the details of the crime and collect physical evidence. This process typically takes 3 to 4 hours.
Forensic Nurses’ Work
Background information comes first, including general medical history as well as questions about any injuries, surgeries, diagnostic procedures, or medical treatments that might affect the physical finding. But then come pages of more detailed and focused questions. For example, in cases of sexual assault, not only question about the assault itself and perpetrator(s) but also about the date, time, type, partner’s race, and relationship of last consensual intercourse; and since the assault, whether the patient bathed or showered, douched, brushed teeth, defecated, urinated, vomited, wiped or washed affected area, changed clothes, or had consensual intercourse.
For strangulation cases, they ask how the patient was strangled—one-handed, two-handed, knee, forearm, ligature—how long it lasted, and whether there was more than one incident.
A danger assessment is conducted as well, focusing on whether the violence is escalating in severity or frequency, whether weapons (especially guns) are available and/or used, drug or alcohol use, presence of children, and control of the survivor’s daily activities and social interactions.
The Physical Exam
Although the verbal data are crucial, the physical exam is central to forensic nursing. Samples of blood, urine, hair, and swabs of orifices are taken. Specialized equipment is available. Photographs are taken. Hair is combed, nails cleaned and clipped. The patient stands on a plastic sheet to remove clothing, to catch any random debris.
Chain of custody must be carefully controlled and documented.
Children have special treatment as well. They are given a toy that they can keep. They’re also given tablets and pencils or markers to draw pictures that can help in understanding the assault. Sometimes an outline of a person is presented for the child to mark where he or she was touched or hurt.
Improving Forensic Nursing and the Patient’s Experience
Improvements and refinements are always in progress. Once upon a time, a survivor might be asked to detail the crime by a dozen different people. Now recounting the crime waits for the forensic nurse, diminishing the impact of reliving it.
When a patient’s clothes are taken in evidence, they are given generic going-home clothes. These are grey sweatpants, t-shirt, and—until recently—the granny panties pictured above, one size for all. A college student survivor said that having to wear those granny panties made her feel violated all over again.
She organized her sorority sisters to provide hundreds of pairs of new panties in varied colors, styles, and sizes. All of the clothing provided to survivors is donated. Should you or your group want to donate new clothes, new toys, child pillowcases, gas cards, food cards—or money!—here’s your contact. And, by the way, she gives talks about the program.
History of Forensic Nursing
Forensic nursing is a relatively new medical specialty. In 1992, 72 registered nurses—mostly sexual assault nurse examiners—came together to form the International Association of Forensic Nurses. Since 1993, Bon Secours Forensic Nursing in Richmond has served survivors of sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and domestic violence. Now a team of 10 full-time nurses work with 26 agencies to serve survivors of any type of violent crime.
Bon Secours is atypical. There are over 300 hospitals in Virginia, and many of them have no full-time forensic nurses. Therefore, patients from all over central Virginia can end up at Bon Secours. They assist more than 2,200 patients per year.
Additional Facts For Writers
Forensic nurses have from one to three certifications beyond the RN degree, which are essential for presenting expert testimony.
Approximately 9% of patients are male.
Patients are 50/50 adults and children.
In descending order, the busiest days for forensic nurses are Monday, Friday, Wednesday, and Sunday.
Rush hour starts at 11:00 a.m.; the slowest times are 2:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m.
Most forensic nurses are recruited from ER nurses, but they need to be “softened up” on the job, not to rush.
Patients can choose 1) medical treatment only, 2) anonymous evidence collection, or 3) identified evidence collection.
Evidence that must be refrigerated cannot be anonymous; other evidence can be made identifiable later.
Although immediate evidence collection is best, kits can be collected up to 5 days after the fact.
All patient info is secured in the Forensic Nursing Department; it isn’t part of general medical data bank.
Part-time, floating forensic nurses tend to burn out after a couple of years.
Perhaps surprisingly, most long-term forensic nurses are married to police officers, firefighters, or EMTs.
Bon Secours is a premier forensic nursing program. For the sake of your story line, you might create more conflict in the story if the characters botch the process. A screw-up could taint evidence or miss it. Insensitive treatment could leave the survivor among the walking wounded.
Support Forensic Nursing
Last but not least, put this worthwhile event on your calendar!
Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’ve been on a death kicklately. And given that this is tax season, it seemed a natural segue. As I—and many others—have often said, everything is fodder for writers.
Of course there is the obvious: the frustration of the forms, last minute scramble, missing documents, taxes due and no money to pay them, filing for extensions, and so forth. Being obvious doesn’t preclude rich story possibilities.
Then there are variations of the theme: your character finally wedged a CPA appointment into a jammed schedule only to discover that said CPA has moved, s/he can’t find the office, misses the appointment, etc.
But dig deeper. Virtually every item on the topic index is rife with writing possibilities. These may or may not be directly related to the taxes due, but dealing with them at tax time could well trigger the strong emotions that fuel great stories. Here is a select list:
alimony paid or received (or not)—and associated hostility
business use of home—and the strain it puts on family
casualty or theft loss—and the aftermath of being a victim of crime
child and dependent care expenses—meeting them, but also finding such services in the first place
contributions—a willing tithe to church, or possibly being pressured to support your alma mater
education expenses—and doubts about whether the degree is worth it
foreign assets, expenses, taxes, and income—and what to do about off-shore accounts and tax shelters
gambling winnings (or losses)—and whether to join Gamblers Anonymous
gifts—and why they were given
medical and dental expenses—and the trauma of diagnosis, surgery, recovery (or not)
miscellaneous income and adjustments (They really expect people to report illegal income??)
mortgage or education loan interest paid—and the continuing burden from years ago
moving expenses—whether the move was up or down, willing or forced
sale of home, stock, or other capital assets—and why the sale? Was the market down at the time or up?
unemployment compensation—whether it was enough, whether it ended too soon, whether filing for it was humiliating
TAKEAWAY FOR WRITERS
As you do your taxes this year, consider the good and the bad—and then think how you could make it even better or worse in fiction!