3 freed Cleveland women face long road to recovery

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Year after year, the clock ticked by and the calendar marched forward, carrying the three women further from the real world and pulling them deeper into an isolated nightmare.

Next for the women freed from captivity inside a Cleveland house last week comes recovery -- from sexual abuse and their sudden, jarring re-entry into a world much different from the one they were snatched from a decade ago.

Therapists say that with extensive treatment and support, healing is likely for the women, who were 14, 16 and 21 when they were abducted. But it is often a long and difficult process.

"It's sort of like coming out of a coma," said Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a psychologist who specializes in treating abused teenagers. "It's a very isolating and bewildering experience."

In the world the women left behind, a gallon of gas cost about $1.80. Barack Obama was a state senator. Phones were barely taking pictures. Things did not "go viral." There was no YouTube, no Facebook, no iPhone.

Emerging into the future is difficult enough. The two younger Cleveland women are doing it without the benefit of crucial formative years.

Challenges they may face

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"By taking away their adolescence, they weren't able to develop emotional and psychological and social skills," said Duane Bowers, who counsels traumatized families through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. "They're 10 years behind in these skills. Those need to be caught up before they can work on reintegrating into society," he said.

In the house owned by Ariel Castro, who is charged with kidnapping and raping the women, claustrophobic control ruled. Police say that Castro kept them chained in a basement and locked in upstairs rooms, that he fathered a child with one of them and that he starved and beat one captive into multiple miscarriages.

In all those years, they set foot outside of the house only twice -- and then only as far as the garage. "Something as simple as walking into a Target is going to be a major problem for them," Bowers said.

Jessica Donohue-Dioh, who works with survivors of human trafficking as a social work instructor at Xavier University in Cincinnati, said the freedom to make decisions can be one of the hardest parts of recovery.

That has been a challenge for Jaycee Dugard, who survived 18 years in captivity and is now an advocate for trauma victims. "Learning how to speak up, how to say what I want instead of finding out what everybody else wants," Dugard told ABC News.

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Like Amanda Berry, one of the freed women in Cleveland, Dugard was impregnated by her captor and is now raising the two children. She still feels anger about her ordeal. "But then on the other hand, I have two beautiful daughters that I can never be sorry about," Dugard said.

Some keys to moving on

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Another step for the three women will be accepting something that seems obvious to the rest of the world: They have no reason to feel guilty.

"First of all, I'd make sure these young women know that nothing that happened to them is their fault," Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped at 14 and held in sexual captivity for nine months, told People magazine.

Donohue-Dioh said that even for people victimized by monstrous criminals, guilt is a common reaction. The Cleveland women told police they were snatched after accepting rides from Castro. "They need to recognize that what happened as a result of that choice is not the rightful or due punishment," Donohue-Dioh said.

Family support will be crucial, the therapists say. But what does family mean when one member has spent a decade trapped with strangers?

"The family has to be ready to include a stranger into its sphere," Bowers said. "Because if they try to reintegrate the 14-year-old girl who went missing, that's not going to work. That 14-year-old girl doesn't exist anymore."

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The world has reacted to the Cleveland women with sympathy and support. Dugard, Smart and other survivors often stress the importance of not being defined by their tragedies.

"A classmate will hear their name, or a co-worker, and will put them in this box: This is who you are and what happened to you," Donohue-Dioh said. "Our job as society is to move beyond what they are and what they've experienced."

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