For Jaycee Dugard, It'll Be A Long Way Back

August 30, 2009|By Karen Kaplan, Shari Roan and Thomas H. Maugh II | Karen Kaplan, Shari Roan and Thomas H. Maugh II,Tribune Newspapers

For kidnap victims such as Jaycee Lee Dugard, recovery is rare.

A full portion of her life - her entire teens and 20s - was poisoned by her abduction at age 11 and the 18 years of brutal captivity and deprivation that followed.

Even psychologists and psychiatrists skilled at confronting the worst of human nature find it hard to fathom how Dugard can put the pieces back together and live some semblance of a normal existence.

Things could well be worse for Dugard's two daughters, who were born into captivity in a ramshackle Antioch, Calif., compound and have known only lives of deprivation. They have never attended school or visited a doctor, and their father - alleged captor Phillip Garrido - is now in El Dorado County Jail facing charges of rape, kidnapping and other criminal offenses.

For all three, adjusting to freedom will be a long, arduous process.

Dugard's top priority should be to get reacquainted with her mother - though not too fast - and begin intensive psychological and psychiatric treatment, experts said.

She is at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder now that her ordeal is over. But if proper steps are taken early, the chances of her developing that, and other problems such as depression, can be minimized.

"The adjustment to the outside world is going to be very brutal," said psychologist Naftali Berill, director of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioral Science. "How do you undo years of abuse, years of being held captive?"

In the first weeks and months after a kidnapping victim is freed, he or she is likely to experience anxiety, tension, sleep disturbances, loneliness, headaches and intestinal problems, among other symptoms.

A key issue for Dugard, now 29, will be how she re-establishes her relationship with her mother, Terry Probyn, who lives in Riverside County, Calif.

Mother and daughter should resist the urge to try to pick up their lives as left off in June 1991, when Dugard was abducted in her South Lake Tahoe neighborhood as she walked to a bus stop. Dugard "needs to be in intensive therapy and slowly come back so that her emotional feelings can be transferred back to her mother," said Katherine van Wormer of the University of Northern Iowa, who has studied the behavior of kidnapping victims.

And though it may seem cathartic to recount 18 years' worth of horrific details, this might make matters worse. You especially don't want to discuss details of the ordeal in public.

The parents of Shawn Hornbeck were roundly criticized when they appeared on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2007 with their 15-year-old son, less than a week after he was rescued from the suburban St. Louis apartment of kidnapper Michael Devlin. The 11-year-old had been bicycling near his Richwoods, Mo., home when Devlin snatched him.

Hornbeck's parents told the TV audience that their son was sexually abused during his 4 1/2 years of captivity. Media critics and mental health experts were appalled.

Therapy is not just for the victim. Probyn may also need counseling to help her deal with feelings of abandonment and adjust to the fact that her daughter is no longer a little girl, experts said. She may struggle with things Dugard might say that seem infuriating, such as expressing sympathy or affection for her captors.

Carl Probyn, Dugard's stepfather, said his wife told him that Dugard "feels guilty about bonding with" Garrido. (The Probyns are separated.)

"I think he had total control," Carl Probyn said. "Maybe she felt guilty because she didn't fight him off." Ed Smart, whose 14-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, was abducted in June 2002 from her Salt Lake City bedroom and held for nine months by a pair of drifters, said the family saw a psychiatrist for some time.

But they did not ask her to relive or explain the experience to them. She was encouraged to return to activities she had enjoyed before the abduction and has focused on not dwelling on what happened.

Smart said the biggest hurdle is helping the victim know she has nothing to feel guilty about. Dugard's two daughters, 11 and 15, will certainly complicate their mother's recovery. They "are constant traumatic reminders," said Dr. Jim McCracken, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. "At every moment, they would tend to evoke memories, feelings, even flashbacks of the traumatic experience." But the girls may have helped her cope with captivity, and the relationships she has with them could now make it easier for her to form attachments with others, van Wormer said.

"It's better that she had the children," she said. "She wasn't alone." In many ways, the task of building a normal life will be harder for the daughters.

If they haven't already learned basic skills like reading and writing, it's not too late to do so - though it will be harder because of their deprivation. And though they will need intensive therapy, they have one advantage of youth: adaptability.

But unlike Dugard, who according to her stepfather recalls a lot about her life before the kidnapping, they don't have any memory of a well-adjusted childhood to draw on.

All they have known is the bizarre dominion Garrido had in his Antioch home.

"These children have missed normal developmental stages for their entire lives," said psychologist Frederic Bemak of George Mason University, an expert in child and human trafficking.

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