Why did Jaycee stay?

To assume that Dugard, held captive for 18 years, could have just run away is not to understand the power that captors can hold over young kidnap victims, experts say.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    This undated photo shows Jaycee Lee Dugard.
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Of the many questions surrounding the 18-year captivity of Jaycee Lee Dugard, one is why she never escaped.

Since Ms. Dugard reappeared after being snatched from her neighborhood in 1991 and forced to live in a squalid backyard compound in Antioch, Calif., a snapshot of her life is emerging through interviews with neighbors and associates of her alleged captors that suggests she had many opportunities to flee.

But childhood psychologists and abduction experts say that young kidnapping victims rarely risk trying to escape because of fear, coercion, or threats from their captors.

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"She was 11 when she was abducted. She was clearly threatened and intimidated," says Ernie Allen, president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "What we see over and over again in these cases is that these kids figure out how to survive."

Philip Garrido and his wife, Nancy, were charged on Friday in El Dorado County with 29 counts of rape and kidnapping in connection with Dugard's abduction from South Lake Tahoe, Calif. Police have also said that Mr. Garrido fathered Dugard's 11 and 15 year old daughters.

Recent reports suggest that Dugard had contact with customers of a printing business that Garrido operated out of his house, and that neighbors called the police to report children living in tents in his backyard.

Her recovery is indeed a rare ending to the type of kidnapping story that usually ends tragically, but there are parallels to be found with the few cases that resemble Dugard's long captivity.

Steven Stayner, Shawn Hornbeck, and Elizabeth Smart were all young kidnapping victims who came in contact with people other than their captors. All seemingly had a chance to cry for help.

Mr. Stayner was taken in Merced, Calif., while walking home from school when was 7 years old and held for seven years. His abductor even enrolled him in school. But the young Stayner, who was sexually assaulted during his captivity, didn't escape until he wanted to free another young victim taken by his captor, Kenneth Parnell.

Similarly, Smart (kidnapped in Salt Lake City when she was 14) and Hornbeck (kidnapped from Richwoods, Mo., at age 11) would have had a chance to run.

"At some point the abductor was leaving every day to go to a job," says Mr. Allen of the Hornbeck case.

But, he says, to think that children will simply flee when they have the first chance is to underestimate the power that kidnappers have over their young victims.

"It's easy for people to question another individual and say, 'Why didn't you try to get away?' But that's simplistic," psychologist JoAnn Behrman-Lippert told USA Today.

"For many people, the most important part is survival. 'How do I survive this?' If people are captive, they have to figure out what to do to please their captor so they are not further harmed," she said.

Experts also say that Stockholm syndrome – when captives grows sympathetic with their captors – is not necessarily applicable when it comes a case like Dugard's kidnapping. Though Dugard's stepfather, Carl Probyn, has said she does have "strong feelings with this guy," other factors might have further complicated any instinct to flee.

"By the time she had children with him, obviously other things came into play," Paula Fass, a kidnapping expert, told the Associated Press. "Obviously, she wanted to protect her children. You don't have to invoke Stockholm syndrome. She didn't have to necessarily identify with her oppressors."

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Learning from Jaycee's ordeal

Dugard's case sheds light on kidnapping. How many children are kidnapped each year by strangers? How many of these victims are ever found? And what can be learned from cases like this?

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