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.
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“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. Why would it even be worth screaming out? … Your life still has no value,” said Smart, who is now an advocate for victims of sexual violence.Skip to next paragraph
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The possibility that at least one of the Cleveland women had a child during her captivity could add new and complicated dimensions to her recovery. The situation appears to echo that of Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped in 1991 at age 11 and held in captivity for 18 years in Antioch, Calif., during which time she gave birth to two children.
When victims are raped and conceive children, “the child may serve as a possible reminder of the perpetrator, trigger memories of him, and of those experiences,” says Ms. Berthold.
Yet children can also help victims cope, she adds. “The child may have bonded in a very positive way with the mother in giving them her a sense of purpose to stay alive.”
The fact that the women were so young when they were kidnapped – Ms. DeJesus at age 14, Berry at 16, and Michelle Knight at 20 – also means they will return as adults to lives they were taken from as children. These will be new lives that the women might not recognize. “This kind of upheaval may be hardest to cope with,” says Victor Vieth, director of the National Child Protection Training Center in St. Paul, Minn. “You become a person frozen in time. How do you get that time back?”
Berry’s mother died in 2006 after three years looking for her daughter. “She literally died of a broken heart,” family friend Dona Brady told the Associated Press.
During this process, reuniting with former loved ones can become traumatic if family members or friends push too hard to learn the details about the victim’s experience while in captivity. Recovery can take years, and victims need time to feel that they control their own story, which is a first step to feeling empowerment over their own lives, says Katie Hanna, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence in Cleveland.
“It gives them some of that power back when so much power was taken away from them,” Ms. Hanna says.
Often, victims of sexual violence feel most comfortable talking to other victims.
“It is often difficult for survivors to talk about what happened because of the social stigma of what happened. Individual therapy can help, but sometimes connecting with other survivors can be very validating for them,” Hanna says.
Ms. Dugard told ABC News in March 2012 that a breakthrough in her recovery was realizing she had the power to make decisions on her own, after almost two decades of conceding that authority to her captors.
“Just being free to do what I want to do, when I want to do it,” she said. “That's the whole learning process to, to know that you can.”
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