Why the phenomenon of women attracted to criminals fascinates Lisa Keenan

A CROUPIER turned graduate, whose father and former partner served time in prison is now working on a groundbreaking project to help rehabilitate offenders and turn their lives around.

With a keen interest in the phenomenon of women who are specifically attracted to criminals, Lisa Keenan is eager to do more research in the subject after finding a gap in academic knowledge.

After graduating with a First Class BSc (Hons) in Crime and Investigation, Lisa Keenan has a newly created role as the Community Justice Co-ordinator for Durham Tees Valley Community Rehabilitation Company.

Her undergraduate dissertation focused on little-known psychological disorder of Hybristophilia, a predatory paraphilia that is the “sexual arousal of having a partner who has committed a particularly heinous crime, such as rape, murder or armed robbery”, as defined by the sexologist Professor John Money.

Studies have focused mainly in America but after working with a professor in Texas Lisa now wants to use her findings to kick-start academic research in the UK and go on to study for an MA and PhD.

Returning to England in 2011, she’s back in Darlington, the hometown she could not wait to leave and is determined to make it a better place for her two-year-old daughter to grow up in.

ACHIEVEMENT: Lisa Keenan on graduation day at Teesside University with her two-year-old daughter, Tilly.

ACHIEVEMENT: Lisa Keenan on graduation day at Teesside University with her two-year-old daughter, Tilly.

With a father who spent time in prison when she was younger, she later left the council estate where she grew up to move in with a man who was often behind bars or in trouble with the police.

Looking back on the relationship that she left in her mid twenties, she now feels that being with someone in prison was seen as ‘acceptable’ due to her dad’s criminal background.

Knowing that there was more to life and looking for a new direction she applied to be a croupier. She trained at Newcastle Grosvenor and was relocated to Manchester in 2002, before landing a dream job, travelling the world on Royal Caribbean cruise liners based in Miami.

“I lived a glamorous and carefree life – I pretty much partied all over the world for 10 years,” she said. But by the time she was 34 she had started think about the future and starting a family and decided to return to her roots and a town she’d always thought was too small for her in the past.

But before her last cruise had come into port she’d enrolled on an Access into Social Science at Darlington College from Florida. “A scary day, leaving the Sunshine State for Darlington, I was filled with doubts.”

Soon striking up a relationship, Lisa was four months pregnant when she started her degree at Teesside University in Middlesbrough, but worked to complete all of her first year assignments in advance before the arrival of daughter Tilly, now aged two.


“The degree choice was simple for me as I’ve always been fascinated by crime and to work within in the criminal justice arena. So much so, my brother-in-law joked that I’m the sort of person who would write to serial killers in their spare time which made me think about studying Hybristophilia and why people would devote their lives to letter writing and prison visits and was surprised to find that it is actually really under researched.”

Lisa Keenan

A subject that can be explored from various different angles, is it the prisoners who are often stalked and harassed by streams of love letters and prison visits or is it the women who are often manipulated physically and emotionally by especially dangerous and devious criminals?

“Shockingly, research shows that the more heinous the crime is the more attention a person will get, with two the most famous cases of prison groupies being sadistic rapists and serial killers Ted Bundy and Richard Ramirez.”


During her time in academia, Lisa volunteered with Stockton Probation Office and with Victim Support as well as being part of a Coroners pilot scheme in Crook by the Witness supporting the bereaved family and friends through Coroner’s inquests.

“My third year at uni was tough, I had a small child and three volunteer posts when I joined the Darlington Neighbourhood Resolution Team as a restorative facilitator and mediator. However I am proud to say I managed to gain a Level 3 OCN in implementing a restorative approach in my final year and whilst writing my dissertation.”

“I volunteered to support both victims and perpetrators to see which side of the justice system I wanted to work on and feel that by trying to help people successfully desist from crime, hopefully my work can contribute to a domino effect of less crime and fewer victims.

Lisa’s vision is shared by her inspirational boss, Helen Collins, who earlier this year went out to America and Canada to research community based justice/social action projects and how and why they work. Bringing back her pioneering ideas to stop reoffending to the North-East she presented her finding to the Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg and the Community Safety Partners responsible for Darlington who are excited about her vision and have agreed to let her to put the learning into practice, with Lisa’s role being integral to its success.

“My current role involves developing social action projects for people on community based court orders or on license from prison to help them desist from crime by ‘Making Good by Giving Back’,” she explained.

With three projects up and running or in the pipeline, The Parkgate Lunch Club involves participants preparing, cooking and serving lunch to the public “Identifying a positive sense of self is key to reducing offending behaviours.

Based on desistance theory, they all enable people to use their time effectively and constructively, learn new skills, build their confidence, improve their employability skills and feel good about them selves by developing feelings of generavity”.

With the latest initiative being Re-cover, an up-cycling furniture workshop connected to FRADE charity furniture shop and involvement with an upcoming memorial garden project in Russell Street.

In essence, if rehabilitation is to be successful it needs to involve the community, therefore we hope that here in Darlington, people will see the efforts that people are trying to make to change and support us in our social action projects, both now and long into the future.

Lisa Keenan

She added: “I always thought Darlington was too small for me but it’s the town where I’m from, where my family and friends live and where my daughter and nephews will grow up and I feel it’s important I try to make it a better and safer place.”