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For Amanda Berry and other Cleveland victims, recovery begins with patience (+video)

Amanda Berry and the two other victims of the Cleveland kidnappings are now reemerging into a different world from the one they left 10 years ago – and as different people. Experts' advice: Go slowly.

By Staff writer / May 7, 2013

Amanda Berry (r.) hugs her sister, Beth Serrano, after being reunited in a Cleveland hospital Monday. Berry and two other women were found in a house near downtown Cleveland Monday after being missing for about a decade.

WOIO-TV/AP

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After a decade of being held captive in a Cleveland home, three women freed Monday night face a healing process that will not be easy or happen overnight, say experts.

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In 10 years, the world has changed, and they have changed. The youngest captive, Gina DeJesus, was kidnapped at age 14. The mother of another of the captives, Amanda Berry, died three years after she was abducted, and reports suggest that a 6-year-old girl freed from the house Monday could be Ms. Berry’s daughter.

For women who have had little control of their own lives for years, the transition back into a normal life can be overwhelming, and the struggle to regain a sense of control often begins with the need to tell their own story in their own time and on their own terms. The seeds of recovery, experts add, often bloom only with time and no small amount of love.

“It’s going to take a lot of understanding and patience from friends and family to try to help them lead the life they want to,” says Jim Hmurovich, president of Prevent Child Abuse America, an advocacy group in Chicago.

Systematic abuse at the hands of a stranger, particularly when it takes place during a long period of confinement, can create in victims intense feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. Recovery can often be affected by how victims deal with these raw emotions.

“Being held and traumatized for a long time, you often develop questions like, ‘Why me?’ or ‘Will this ever end?’ and will try to determine the meaning of the trauma,” says Megan Berthold, a clinical social worker at the National Association of Social Workers, who has worked with refugee survivors of torture. “Often you don’t know if you will survive, so being able to make some sense out of it, and developing strategies to cope, to be resilient in the process, can make a huge difference on whether one survives the ordeal, and in shaping their response afterward.”

Elizabeth Smart, the Salt Lake City girl freed in 2003 after nine months in captivity, says tormentors use sexual violence to devalue the victim’s individual worth, making them feel they have to remain under their captor’s protection. Speaking at a human trafficking forum at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore last week, Ms. Smart said her captor reduced her to feeling like “a chewed up piece of gum.

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