Cleveland Women Face Trauma, Like Prisoners of War


"I am not saying they are unscathed … but we can't make any assumptions unless we have a strong basis for that," he said. "They have been exposed to something really bad and it's horrible and could change anyone. But how did it change you?"

He said there were "really good" treatments for both anxiety and depression.

"Let's give them the help they need and not say they are scathed and ruined."

But in some of the longest and most horrific cases of forced captivity, child victims have not survived unscathed -- either physically or emotionally.

In the most notorious case in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, a girl only known as "Genie" spent her life from infancy tethered to a potty seat or tied up in a sleeping bag in a mesh-sided crib under a metal cover in a dimly lit room in suburban California. She had contact only with her abusive father during nearly 12 years of confinement.

In 1957, believing she was mentally retarded, Clark Wiley locked his daughter Genie away, separating her from her nearly blind mother and 6-year-old brother, under the guise of protecting her. He spoon-fed her only Pablum and milk, and spoke to her mostly in barks and growls. He beat her with a wooden paddle every time she uttered a sound.

In 1970, Genie's 50-year-old mother, Irene, escaped with Genie, then 13, but she was never able to walk properly or even successfully master language, even as part of a scientific study at UCLA funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. The psychological effects were lifelong.

In another case that garnered world headlines in 2008, Austrian Josef Fritzl was convicted of keeping his daughter and three of the seven children he fathered with her in a basement dungeon for 24 years. The developmental growth of the children was stunted from the years of captivity: when released they spoke only in simple grunts and gestures.

READ: The Story of 'Wild Child' Genie

Austrian psychiatrists described Fritzl's daughter Elizabeth like "the walking dead," after her release and her father's imprisonment. At 42, her teeth were horrifically decayed and, like her children, she had vitamin D deficiency, anemia and deformed posture.

She had been raped by her father from the age of 11 and was often left tied to a pole in the family basement while her mother and other siblings enjoyed a normal life upstairs.

READ: Elizabeth Fritzl Like the 'Walking Dead'

"This case is so unique, we can only look for approximations," Dr. Stuart Goldman, a psychiatrist at Harvard University's Children's Hospital in Boston, told at the time. "This would include long-term prisoners subject to extreme mental anguish and parents who have witnessed horrendous acts in some of the genocidal conflicts around the world."

Today, Goldman said that with so few details, it's hard to know the impact of trauma on the Cleveland women and Berry's daughter.

"Whether it's 12 years, 10 years of 24 years, clearly the trauma is extensive," he said. The degree depends on their background, resilience and personal resources not only going into this, but coming out. It's variable. But there is no way that something as horrendous as this is not going to cause some variation of traumatic disorder. Either being imprisoned or being tortured, either way, it will have a long-term impact."

If nothing else, said Goldman, "the pain and sorrow of losing all those years of their lives."

"Most prisoners are wary of people, but if they are able to conjure up an image of a better life, they do better," he said. "People who don't see light at the end of the tunnel, are at greater risk."

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