Cleveland Kidnap Victims Step Out, but Experts Advise Caution

PHOTO: Amanda Berry and Nelly onstage at RoverfestPlayCourtesy Mr.Harrell/@UA_MR_Harrell/Twitter
WATCH Cleveland Kidnap Victim Appears at Parade

Former Cleveland captives Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus have been increasingly visible in recent weeks, after lying low in the immediate aftermath of their escape and rescue three months ago.

Experts say the public appearances might be signs of resilience and recovery, but also urge caution for the women and those around them.

"They've already experienced what we call abnormal circumstances that were negative so now it's sort of out of the pot and into the frying pan," a Drexel University youth counselor in Philadelphia with an expertise in foster care and trauma, told "Now they're dealing with abnormal experiences that may be positive, but they're still for the average person abnormal."

DeJesus, 23, rode on a vehicle Sunday as part of Cleveland's 45th annual Puerto Rican Parade and waving a Puerto Rican flag.

The day before, Knight, 32, visited with Travel Channel star Andrew Zimmern, who hosts the show "Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern." He was in Cleveland visiting a number of foodie hotspots.

Zimmern posted two photos on Instagram of himself and Knight, whom he called "one of my heroes" and "an inspiration."

He also wrote that "food is her first love..and her future!" He noted that avocado is her favorite ingredient and Latin flavors are "her go-to."

In an email today to, Zimmern said, "Michelle's visit with us was personal and reflects her passion for life, for food and her desire to move on, pursuing the things she loves doing. Beyond that her story is hers to share.

"From my own perspective, meeting her and sharing a meal was extraordinary. She is a strong young woman who impressed me very much."

Berry, 27, made an on-stage appearance at a music festival in July that garnered a lot of attention. Knight and DeJesus both separately visited Seymour Avenue last week, the street where they were held captive for a decade.

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"Going to the house and walking away could have been very powerful because for 10 years, they couldn't walk away and now they can," Therese Rando, a clinical psychologist at the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss in Warwick, Rhode Island, told

Rando, who has not had any contact with or treated any of the Cleveland women, emphasized that coping and recovery are individualized processes.

"The old axiom really applies here that one man's meat is another man's poison," she said. "Unlike if we were talking about how does a bone heal after it's been broken, when you're talking about the human psyche, the heart, the spirit, it is very different. There's not just one way it can go to heal."

Rando pointed to similar cases including Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard and Shawn Hornbeck who largely retreated into their families. Dugard was found in 2009, went into hiding with her two children and made her first major public appearance in 2012.

"It does on the surface appear to be much different from some of the other individuals who have been held captive that we have looked at in the national spotlight, but that doesn't mean it's good or bad. It's just different," Rando said.

She added that it is important to consider when the women were taken and at what point they were in their lives. Instagram, for example, wasn't around when Dugard and the others were rescued and the millennials were all robbed of most of their adolescence.

The three women might feel the need to go to public events to show themselves and others that they are taking back control of their lives and moving on, Rando said.

"We shouldn't be surprised if perhaps at some time they wouldn't feel as joyous as they do now and that doesn't mean that they're doing anything wrong now," she said. "It's just speaking to the fact that when you recover from a traumatic event, it's two steps forward, one step back.

"You have to have a process perspective; this is going to unfold and twist and turn and have a great deal of movement and fluidity," Rando said. "It will take a while to get all the pieces so that they can bend their minds around them and work through and move forward with this having happened to them."

Drexel youth counselor Williams, who has also not been in contact with or treated any of the Cleveland women, has been uneasy with some of the exposure.

"It's really hard to say there's a certain, specific way that people need to behave," Williams said. "Having said that, I'm somewhat concerned about the level of exposure. I'm not sure how healthy that is."

He said the attention and sudden celebrity could lead the women into thinking that everything is OK when it might not be and possibly even leave them confused when the limelight wanes.

Williams hat it is easy for anyone to get caught up in fame and that the people around Knight, Berry and DeJesus need to have their best interests at heart and provide grounding in order to "ensure optimum psychological and emotional development."

"It would be hard for me to believe, as a mental health professional, that that grounding is there and that somehow in a few months they've been rehabilitated and they are strong enough to deal with this onslaught of attention that it feels like people are pushing them into," he said.

"What's most important now is just that they get healthy, that they get grounded, that they feel safe," Williams said. "Because without that foundation, then things fall apart."

The women's captor, Ariel Castro, was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years by an Ohio judge Aug. 1. Berry and DeJesus made statements through family members and attorneys, but Knight appeared in court to make her statement.

"You took 11 years of my life away and I have got it back. As for the 11 years in hell, now your hell is just beginning," Knight told the courtroom.

"I will overcome all this that happened but you will face hell for eternity. From this moment on, I will not let you define me or effect who I am. I will live on."