Forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes talks to Helen Pilcher about psychopaths, stalkers and the surreal side of working with serial killers.
What do you do?
I’ve spent much of my career working with people who have severe personality disorders, including psychopaths and the most violent and sexual offenders. It was my job to make them less of a risk.
What’s it like working with these people?
It can be surreal. I worked with one high-profile serial killer, a trained butcher, who dismembered his victims. You have to build up a rapport with people in order to work meaningfully with them, so we cooked together. He taught me how to bone a turkey! All along I was aware these were the same skills that he used on his victims.
Which are you more like; Clarice Starling or Cracker?
Neither, these fictional characters are ‘profilers.’ Cracker was an emotionally-damaged Scottish guy who went around tramping over crime scenes. It’s a very inaccurate portrayal of what people like me do but it has done us some service. Anything that sparks the public’s interest in science and psychology is not bad in my book.
What was it like the first time you met one of these offenders?
It was a baptism of fire. I was 21 years old and got a job doing research in a high-security prison. I had to interview men who had raped and then murdered their victims. It was incredibly daunting but I think I was able to separate myself from it emotionally and get on with the job. In the end, the difficulty I had wasn’t with the offenders but with the prison officers.
It was a very incestuous, institutional male environment. The guards ordered me to remove my shoes because they said they were ‘too sexy.’ They even ran on a book on who would be the first to sleep with me! I think things have moved on since then and I don’t work in prisons any more. Forensic psychology is actually a very female world.
Does your professional life ever spill into your private life?
Sometimes. I became the victim of a stalker. He watched me, bought websites in my name and said damaging things about me in public. The police could only issue a Harassment Warning but I took civil action against him. It stunned me how inadequate the current laws are, but it did give me first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be a victim. It’s been part of my journey.
Do you ever think about quitting?
I’ve heard enough horror stories to last a lifetime. I’ve worked with the most misogynistic, dangerous men imaginable. It takes its toll. I made a conscious decision a while ago to stop working with this group and start working more in general mental health and with victims. I’ve also branched into the corporate sector.
Do you meet many psychopaths in the business world?
Yes. One in every 100 people are psychopaths and 20% of CEO’s score highly on psychopathic traits. Moderate levels of psychopathic-like traits can be useful, as long it’s tempered with compassion and some humility. I draw on my unique experiences to teach skills to business leaders.
I think I am going to worry about you. Promise me you’ll be ok?
I’m a pretty resilient person. When you do my kind of work, you end up having therapy whether you like it or not. I come from a very stable and ‘normal’ background; that helps. I also have two enormous dogs, Humphrey and Fozzchops. When the complexity and inhumanity of some humans feels a little overwhelming, the simplicity and innocence of a happy dog is a great antidote. They make me smile every day.