Abigail Hernandez endured 'unspeakable violence': Will she be given privacy?

The abduction case involving New Hampshire teen Abigail Hernandez has sparked curiosity from the public. But she and her family have asked that she have time and space to heal.

Charles Krupa/AP/File
Abigail Hernandez (r.) sits with family and friends as she listens to her mother Zenya Hernandez (c.) talk with N.H. Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young (not pictured) prior to the arraignment of Nathaniel Kibby, of Gorham, N.H. at Conway District Court in Conway, N.H., July 29, 2014.

A new statement on behalf of Abigail Hernandez and her family says that the New Hampshire teen “was violently abducted by a stranger ... and for many months suffered numerous acts of unspeakable violence.”

Along with that information came more pleas for the public to give Abigail “some time and space to physically and emotionally heal.”

As has happened with many other criminal cases, the one involving Abigail has sparked curiosity from the public and a desire to understand what happened. But such inclinations often come into conflict with the need of victims to have a large measure of privacy as they recover from their ordeals.

Only time will tell how much the media and the public will heed the request to give Abigail time and space. But speculation and intrusive media coverage already are “going to complicate the recovery” for Abigail, suggests Loretta Brady, a psychology professor at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., who has expertise in trauma recovery.

Abigail returned to her home in Conway, N.H., on July 20, nine months after disappearing on her way home from school. Nathaniel Kibby, of Gorham, N.H., has been arrested and charged with kidnapping her.

Professor Brady says it’s particularly distressing that both before and after Mr. Kibby’s arrest, speculation about whether Abigail had run away on purpose circulated in some press reports and social media commentary. And after she went to the court and faced the man accused of kidnapping her, a photograph of her gesturing negatively to a camera as she was surrounded by press was published by some outlets.

“Do we generally photograph child victims as they attend hearings for their alleged abuser?” Brady asks. Even when media reports are responsible, she says, if they have Internet comments after them full of speculation, those often leave a more lasting impression on readers.

All this can lead to a victim feeling betrayed, and that can be as difficult to recover from as the events themselves, Brady says.

“Will Abby recover? Absolutely – people are very resilient,” she adds. “But the public and the media have to understand we are part of what she’s recovering from, with all these conversations and speculations. We’re making her journey harder than it needed to be.”

During the approximately 18 months that it could take for Kibby to be tried, and sentenced if convicted, Brady suggests that Abigail’s support system will most likely be getting her psychological help to “prepare her for the emotions associated with seeing evidence and hearing the details and being exposed to him” in court. This can “bolster her ability ... to heal” once the legal issues are resolved, she says. 

Abigail and her mother, Zenya Hernandez, recognize the tension “between the public’s desire to have information” and their desire to support Abigail’s privacy and recovery, says Michael Coyne, a lawyer from Andover, Mass., who recently agreed to assist the family, pro bono, as it works through the justice process and the media attention. The law firm Coakley & Hyde of Portsmouth, N.H., has also been helping them.

Abigail “is so grateful for everyone’s efforts, including the media, to keep the story alive and have her returned to her family,” Mr. Coyne says in a phone interview with the Monitor.

But “everyone wants answers to questions that can only come with time,” he says. “I’m not certain that people understand we’re dealing with a child who has been through an event that no one, much less a child, should have to go through.... Even in this social media age, those that choose to have some level of privacy should be entitled to it.”

In contrast to Abigail’s low profile, a year ago California abduction victim Hannah Anderson apparently took to a social media site to answer questions about the experience just two days after her rescue. In that case, the ensuing criticism of Hannah online became another burden: “She’s doing okay, but the hostility and judgment just makes it harder,” her grandmother, Sara Britt, told MailOnline.com, the online version of the British newspaper the Daily Mail.

Kibby maintains his innocence, his lawyer says.

Kibby’s next court appearance is scheduled for mid-September. He has been charged with felony kidnapping, but “at some point I would expect there will be additional charges,” Coyne says.

The search warrants and related police affidavits detailing the allegations have been sealed because it is an ongoing investigation. 

Coyne says he doesn’t expect many public statements beyond what was posted Wednesday on the website BringAbbyHome.com, which reads in part: “Abby simply asks that you respect her wishes and the justice process as this case moves forward. We trust that justice will be done. On behalf of Abby, we ask that you be sensitive to the well-being of this child and give her the time and space she needs – that any of us would desire for a member of our own family or loved one who suffered as she has.”

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