Missing Women: Why Did It Take So Long to Escape?
Before their rescue on Wednesday, three Ohio women -- Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight -- endured a living nightmare for a decade. Kidnapped and held captive in the house of Ariel Castro, whose brothers are suspected of being accomplices in his crime, questions are now being raised over how the three women could have been hidden and trapped for so long.
In 2012, there were 661,593 missing person records entered with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Crime Information Center. But of those, the vast majority, 659,514 to be precise, were cleared or canceled because the subject returned home or law enforcement quickly tracked the missing person down. Ninety-four percent of children who are kidnapped are found within the first three days.
For the rare cases such as the one that occurred in Ohio, three long-term abductions by strangers, even with a rescue, there's really no such thing as a happy ending.
Kidnapped in 2002 at age 14, Elizabeth Smart was among the most high-profile missing person cases in the United States. During her 9-month captivity, her kidnapper, Brian David Mitchell, who had been hired by Smart's mother to fix the family's roof, forced her to consume alcohol and watch pornography, and he repeatedly raped her.
The attention her case received during her confinement, however, helped bring it to a conclusion by a biker who reported spotting Smart. Her captors, Mitchell and his accomplice Wanda Barzee, were sentenced to life in prison and 15 years in prison, respectively, for their crimes.
Since her rescue, Smart has become a vocal advocate for kidnapping and sexual abuse victims.
For 18 years starting in 1991, when she was 11 years old, Jaycee Lee Dugard was held captive and abused by sex offender Phillip Craig Garrido and his wife, Nancy. Abducted while walking home from school, Dugard would be handcuffed and chained at Garrido's house. During the time with the Garridos, Dugard bore two daughters, 11 and 15 years old at the time she was released from her homemade prison. As is the case with many other kidnappings that endure this long, there were several missed opportunities to rescue her from her ordeal, particularly given that Garrido had a criminal record.
In 1998, on her way to school in Vienna, Austria, Natascha Kampusch, then 10 years old, was abducted by Wolfgang Priklopi. For the next eight and a half years, Priklopi kept her as a sex slave in a small, windowless, underground cell. Kampusch eventually managed to escape on her own, leading Priklopi to commit suicide that same day.
This is the face of Josef Fritzl, who held his daughter, Elisabeth Fritzl, captive for 24 years in his house in Amstetten, Austria. Over that time, he physically and sexually abused her frequently, fathering seven children with her. Following her ordeal, Elisabeth suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and her children still require therapy.
In the case of Shasta Groene, she and her brother, Dylan, were kidnapped by serial killer and sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan III, who brutally murdered her mother, older brother and her mother's fiance, in Coeur' DAlene, Idaho. Groene was rescued weeks later when she was recognized while at a restaurant with Duncan; her brother Dylan's remains were found weeks after that.
Michael Devlin, pictured here, was sentenced to 74 life sentences for kidnapping, child molestation and child pornography. He was arrested in 2007 during a search for a boy, William Benjamin Ownby, who had been missing for four days. However, Ownby wasn't alone. Devlin had another captive that he had been holding for four years, Shawn Hornbeck, who went missing when he was 11 years old. Hornbeck went on to create a foundation to support the search and rescue of missing children.
On Monday, three women were rescued from a Cleveland home after a decade in captivity, police said. One of the women, Amanda Berry, broke through a window and called for help from the next-door neighbor. Three brothers, none related to the women, are being charged in the case. One woman reportedly had a child in captivity.
Why couldn't they escape sooner? Surely there must have been moments when nobody was looking?
Experts say it isn't so easy.
First of all, kidnapping is about power and control rather than chains and shackles, explained Herb Nieburg, an FBI-trained hostage negotiator, psychologist and professor of law and justice at Mitchell College in New London, Conn. He said kidnapping is often the same dynamic between a battered woman and her spouse or boyfriend.
"It's fear," Nieburg, said. "They probably said 'We know where your family members are. If you get away we will kill you and kill them.' They start the mind control process using threats."
Nieburg said this pattern of psychological control has been shown in previous kidnapping cases. He said that sexual abuse is often the root of the victim's inability to escape.
"These victims are also been sexually abused and that makes you feel not good about yourself," Nieburg said. "There's low self esteem and low self-worth. After a while you go along with it to get it over with."
Elizabeth Smart, a Salt Lake City girl who was kidnapped and held for nine months as a 14 year-old in 2002, said recently that the sexual abuse she received from her captors made her feel worthless.
Smart said she grew up in a Mormon family and was taught through abstinence-only education that a person whose virginity was lost before marriage was considered worthless. She spoke after a forum on human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore about a school teacher who urged students against premarital sex and compared women who had sex before their wedding nights to chewing gum.
"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I'm that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.' And that's how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value," Smart said. "Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."
Laurence Miller, a clinical and forensic psychologist in Boca Raton, Fla., said that younger kidnap victims can also form emotional bonds with their captors.
"People in high-stress situations are vulnerable," Miller said. "And once in that lifestyle, human beings are conservative in terms of what they will do to escape. The kidnapper offers something psychologically romantic or parental to a young girl, and that becomes the new normal."
Miller said that it's likely that the Cleveland kidnap victims planned how to escape, but weren't able to take advantage of the opportunity until now. "The kidnappers got a little complacent and they may have been waiting for this moment for years," Miller said.
The good news is that, with proper mental health care, the victims can return to a normal life, he added.
"The best prediction of recovery is pre-existing psychology," Miller said. "Some will bounce back well, others will have long term problems. But several years down the road, most people return to relatively normal life. Most people are not destroyed by trauma."