May 11, 2013

For ex-captives in Cleveland, it's 'like coming out of a coma'

Therapists say that with extensive treatment and support, healing is likely for the women, who were 14, 16 and 21 when they were abducted. But it is often a long and difficult process.

By JESSE WASHINGTON The Associated Press

CLEVELAND -- Year after year, the clock ticked by and the calendar marched forward, carrying the three women further from the real world and pulling them deeper into an isolated nightmare.

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Freed captives Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus are shown in undated handout photos provided by the FBI.

The Associated Press

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A poster and bow are still tied to a tree outside the Cleveland home of Amanda Berry, where a welcome sign and balloons decorate the porch. For Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, recovery from captivity will be a challenging process.

The Associated Press

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Now, for the women freed from captivity inside a Cleveland house, the ordeal is not over. Next comes recovery - from sexual abuse and their sudden, jarring re-entry into a world much different from the one they were snatched from a decade ago.

Therapists say that with extensive treatment and support, healing is likely for the women, who were 14, 16 and 21 when they were abducted. But it is often a long and difficult process.

"It's sort of like coming out of a coma," says Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a psychologist who specializes in treating abused teenagers. "It's a very isolating and bewildering experience."

In the world the women left behind, a gallon of gas cost about $1.80. Barack Obama was a state senator. Phones were barely taking pictures. Things did not "go viral." There was no YouTube, no Facebook, no iPhone.

Emerging into the future is difficult enough. The two younger Cleveland women are doing it without the benefit of crucial formative years.

"By taking away their adolescence, they weren't able to develop emotional and psychological and social skills," says Duane Bowers, who counsels traumatized families through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"They're 10 years behind in these skills. Those need to be caught up before they can work on reintegrating into society," he says.

That society can be terrifying. As freed captive Georgina DeJesus arrived home from the hospital, watched by a media horde, she hid herself beneath a hooded sweatshirt. The freed Amanda Berry slipped into her home without being seen.

"They weren't hiding from the press, from the cameras," Bowers says. "They were hiding from the freedom, from the expansiveness."

In the house owned by Ariel Castro, who is charged with kidnapping and raping the women, claustrophobic control ruled. Police say that Castro kept them chained in a basement and locked in upstairs rooms, that he fathered a child with one of them and that he starved and beat one captive into multiple miscarriages.

In all those years, they only set foot outside of the house twice - and then only as far as the garage.

"Something as simple as walking into a Target is going to be a major problem for them," Bowers says.

Jessica Donohue-Dioh, who works with survivors of human trafficking as a social work instructor at Xavier University in Cincinnati, says the freedom to make decisions can be one of the hardest parts of recovery.

"'How should I respond? What do they really want from me?"' Donohue-Dioh says, describing a typical reaction. "They may feel they may not have a choice in giving the right answer."

That has been a challenge for Jaycee Dugard, who is now an advocate for trauma victims after surviving 18 years in captivity - "learning how to speak up, how to say what I want instead of finding out what everybody else wants," Dugard told ABC News.

Like Berry, Dugard was impregnated by her captor and is now raising the two children. She still feels anger about her ordeal. "But then on the other hand, I have two beautiful daughters that I can never be sorry about," Dugard says.

Another step toward normalcy for the three women will be accepting something that seems obvious to the rest of the world: They have no reason to feel guilty.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Amanda Berry, right, hugs her sister Beth Serrano Monday after being reunited in a Cleveland hospital. For Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who were freed from captivity inside a Cleveland house on Monday, the ordeal is not over. Next comes recovery – from sexual abuse and their sudden, jarring reentry into a world much different than the one they were snatched from a decade ago.

The Associated Press

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Ariel Castro

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