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

(Continued from page 1)

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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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"First of all, I'd make sure these young women know that nothing that happened to them is their fault," Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped at age 14 and held in sexual captivity for nine months, told People magazine.

Donohue-Dioh says that even for people victimized by monstrous criminals, guilt is a common reaction. The Cleveland women told police they were snatched after accepting rides from Castro.

"They need to recognize that what happened as a result of that choice is not the rightful or due punishment. That's really difficult sometimes," Donohue-Dioh says.

Family support will be crucial, the therapists say. But what does family mean when one member has spent a decade trapped with strangers?

"The family has to be ready to include a stranger into its sphere," Bowers says. "Because if they try to reintegrate the 14-year-old girl who went missing, that's not going to work. That 14-year-old girl doesn't exist anymore. They have to accept this stranger as someone they don't know."

Natascha Kampusch, who was kidnapped in Austria at age 10 and spent eight years in captivity, has said that her 2006 reunion with her family was both euphoric and awkward.

"I had lived for too long in a nightmare, the psychological prison was still there and stood between me and my family," Kampusch wrote in "3096 Days," her account of the ordeal.

Kampusch, now 25, said in a German television interview that she was struggling to form normal relationships, partly because many people seem to shy away from her.

"What a lot of these people say is, 'What's more important than what happened is how people react,"' says Greenberg, the psychologist.

The world has reacted to the Cleveland women with an outpouring of sympathy and support. This reaction will live on, amplified by the technologies that rose while the women were locked away.

Yet these women are more than the sum of their Wikipedia pages. Dugard, Smart and other survivors often speak of not being defined by their tragedies - another challenge for the Cleveland survivors.

"A classmate will hear their name, or a co-worker, and will put them in this box: This is who you are and what happened to you," Donohue-Dioh says. "Our job as society is to move beyond what they are and what they've experienced."

"This isn't who they are," Dugard told People. "It is only what happened to them." Still, for the three Cleveland women, their journey forward will always include that horrifying lost decade.

"We can't escape our past," Donohue-Dioh says, "so how are we able to manage how much it influences our present and our future?"

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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

ASSOCIATED PRESS

 


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