Cleveland Women Face Trauma, Like Prisoners of War

Health & Fitness

0  Updated at 9:47 pm, May 7th, 2013 By: ABC Digital
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Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — While little is known about the conditions in the home where three Cleveland women were allegedly enslaved for a decade, the trio likely suffered from the same kind of deprivation as prisoners of war, according to at least one psychological expert who trained in hostage situations with the FBI.

“Certainly diagnostically, we are looking at post-traumatic stress disorder in its severest form,” said Herbert Nieberg, associate professor of law and justice at Mitchell College in New London, Conn. “Not only were they held in captivity, but nobody picked up on it and that makes people feel hopeless.”

Gina DeJesus, 23, Amanda Berry, 27, and Michele Knight, 32, vanished near their homes in Cleveland in separate incidents in 2002, 2003 and 2004, but were found Monday night only miles away from where they had disappeared in a home owned by 52-year-old former school bus driver Ariel Castro.

Berry broke through the door of the home with the help of neighbor Charles Ramsey, and called police, who rescued the two other women. They also found Berry’s 6-year-old daughter, who was allegedly conceived in captivity.

Police said Castro and his two brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, were arrested in connection with the crime.

The Cleveland women are said to have told police they always knew they would be rescued.

“If I had to guess, they are grateful to have been liberated, but what I expect to see is difficulty trusting people,” said Nieberg.

The women were allegedly kidnapped in their mid-teens, a time when they are more vulnerable, according to youth psychologist Chuck Williams, founding director of the Center for the Prevention of School-Aged Violence at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

“These young women were kidnapped as teens at a time when they were impressionable, their every move was controlled and dictated to them, and they were most likely told that they would be found and killed if they tried to leave,” he said. “They are no longer thinking for themselves. In a sense, the captor has taken over their mind.”

John Walsh, host of America’s Most Wanted whose son Adam was abducted and murdered in 1981, said the women should “get psychological help and therapy.”

“Get ready. Get prepared,” he told ABC News. Of Berry’s daughter, he added, “Here is a little girl in this mix that looks like she may have been created by a sexual assault of the kidnapper.”

But Alan Kazdin, professor of child psychiatry at Yale University and director of the Yale Parenting Center, said media should be careful not to speculate about the effects of even the most severe form of trauma on the victims.

“Post-traumatic stress disorder as we know is a measure of psychiatric impairment in a continuum,” he said. “We look for impairment of daily function….Our job is to talk about right now…we don’t have to work out the past, and it can even make it worse.”

“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.”

Dr. Stuart Goldman, a psychiatrist at Harvard University’s Children’s Hospital in Boston, 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.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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