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Fiction crossed with criminology - the ACEs test

When I write fiction, I often find criminological theories creeping into the words. It’s not surprising that my two main areas of interest would intersect with each other. I feel that basing my stories on things that happen in real life gives them a sense of honesty, which readers appreciate.

I decided to give the main character in Clay-Stained Memories, Eva Parsons, the ACEs test. For those who aren’t aware of this measure, the ACEs test is a 10 question inventory that quantifies the number of adverse childhood experiences an individual has experienced during the first 18 years of life. The 10 questions relate to experiences involving abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. The higher your score on this test, the more likely you are to experience mental and physical health issues, substance abuse, and additional traumas later in life. An ACEs score of 6 or more, can shorten the lifespan by as much as 20 years.

So what did Eva score? The total number of ACEs she experienced during childhood was 7. Let’s look at the questions she said yes to.

  • Did a parent or other adult in the household often….

1. Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? Or act in a way that made you afraid you might be physically hurt?

2. Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? Or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?

  • Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever…

3. Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? Or try or actually try to have sex with you?

  • Did you often feel that…

4. No on in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? Or that your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?

5. You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? Or your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?

  • Before your 18th birthday…

6. Was a parent ever lost to you through divorce, abandonment, or other reason?

7. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide?

If you’ve read Clay-Stained Memories, you know that the book opens on a traumatic event the main character experienced. This event, and others over time, sends ripple effects through her entire life. Eva’s choices are a reflection of the trauma she lived through.

The same can be said of the millions of people who live with the residual effects of their childhood environment. Society is quick to call out those who abuse children, but is also quick to turn their backs on the victims of violence, neglect, or household dysfunction. Those with high levels of childhood trauma can be angry, depressed, anxious, physically unwell, and exhausted—factors that make them less "attractive" than the grateful person we want to help. But, these are the people who need help the most.

A trauma-informed and compassion-based response to individuals with backgrounds heavy in adversity is the only way to tackle the underlying causes of trauma manifestation. Recognizing and addressing the pain that incarcerated or addicted people carry with them, may be the beginning of calming the impact that adversity early in life can have.

To find out your ACEs score, follow this link: Take the ACE quiz.


Centers for Disease Control, Adverse Childhood Experiences

The Illinois ACEs Response Collaborative. (2013). Justice brief: Juvenile and justice systems. Health & Medicine Policy Research Group. Retrieved from