Jaycee Dugard: Long Road Back After Kidnapping

Experts, families of past victims stress need for therapy, unconditional love.

August 31, 2009, 11:02 PM

Sept. 1, 2009— -- Jaycee Dugard is back with her family 18 years after being kidnapped by Phillip Garrido at the age of 11. Now Dugard and her two daughters face a long road ahead as they try to adapt to a normal life.

As we begin to learn more about the way Jaycee Dugard and her children lived -- in a series of ramshackle tents and sheds amid squalor -- one can only imagine how Dugard will be able to re-integrate back into society.

"It's been suggested that there's been signs of Stockholm Syndrome, that she may be feeling loyalty, perhaps even guilt and that makes it all the more difficult. It also means it's going to require very serious therapy [and] intervention," said psychologist John Lutzker, Ph.D., director for the Center for Healthy Development at Georgia State University. "In addition to therapy, simply spending a lot of time with her family would be useful to help this process move along."

Ernie Allen, the president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said on "Good Morning America" today that it isn't surprising that Dugard was reportedly working for Garrido and had access to a computer and telephone during her captivity.

"I think if ever there's an example [of Stockholm Syndrome]…this is it," said Allen, whose organization helped find a psychologist to work with Dugard and her family. "This child was abducted when she was 11. She was terrorized, she was abused. The mind can only take so much anger, rage and fear, and small kindnesses cause these victims to identify with their captors."

"This happens with adults," he added. "First and foremost, what Jaycee did was figure out how to survive."

Mental health experts have few examples to guide them in dealing with extreme kidnapping cases such as this one.

In Austria Elisabeth Fritzl was held captive in her basement by her father and bore seven children with him until her plight was discovered last year. She has yet to be emerge in public, but reportedly has made significant progress, possibly even finding love.

Closer to home is the case of Elizabeth Smart, who was snatched from her suburban Utah bedroom in 2002 at the age of 14.

More than a year later, as hope was fading, an elderly couple spotted a disguised and frightened Elizabeth with her captor Brian David Mitchell. He reportedly forced her to live as his young wife. For the Smart family, forgiveness was key.

"We don't forget what happened," Elizabeth's mother Lois Smart told "GMA" in 2008. "But we have to move forward. And in order to move forward, we have to let the past go."

Kidnapping Victims Must Find 'a New Normal'

And then there's the case of the 2002 kidnapping of 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck. He was bicycling near his Missouri home when he was abducted by Michael Devlin.

Four and a half years later, police were searching for another missing child, Ben Ownby, in Kirkwood, Mo., when they discovered Hornbeck, who was 15 years old at the time. He had been sexually abused, and had been forced to help Devlin kidnap and hold Ownby. Devlin was sentenced to life behind bars.

For Shawn Hornbeck's mother Pam Akers, hearing the details of her son's ordeal and learning that "some of my worst nightmares were true," was heartbreaking.

"There's a lot of things that happened from 11 to 15 that are firsts that will never happen again. They're just lost forever," Shawn's father, Craig Akers, said. "It's really hard to come to term with that fact that those years are gone."

Dugard's case is complicated by the fact that she has two daughters, ages 15 and 11, with her captor.

"You can never erase those 18 years…but what you can do is create a kind of new normal and you can help her live a positive and productive life," Allen said.

He said it's also important for Dugard to play a role in her daughters' healing.

"Their captor who had limited their access to the world… but this was dad," he said. "It's important again to reinforce with them that they've done nothing wrong. Jaycee will play a key role in this. It's going to take patience and time to help these children catch up."

For Hornbeck's family, healing came through therapy.

"It gave Shawn a safe place to tell us things he had done in captivity and it gave us a safe environment to react," said Pam Akers. "If we wouldn't have had all of that ... I don't think it would have been successful. Individual and group therapy is one of the things Jaycee and her family should do."

Jaycee Dugard: Overcoming Feelings of Guilt

Dugard's step-father told "GMA" Monday that she was experiencing feelings of guilt. Allen said that's not unusual for kidnapping victims.

"It is a slow, patient process, but first you reintroduce Jaycee to her parents," he said. "You emphasize the importance of unconditional love."

Shawn Hornbeck's parents concurred.

"I'm sure there's so many emotions complicated by the fact she has two young daughters," Craig Akers said. "I'm sure that she's confused and uncertain, probably wondering if people are going to blame her."

"We have to make sure they love her no matter what," he added. "She has to know what happened wasn't her fault. You have to make sure she has no thoughts like that at all...she's not responsible for any of it."

Today, Shawn's parents say he's doing well and is a typical high school senior, dating, working part time and starting to look at colleges.

"We're very grateful we have this opp to send a message of hope to families that have children out there," Craig Akers said. "There are more people like this…some perhaps in a situation like Jaycee.. We want to get our message out there that it's ok...your family loves you no matter what."

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