REUTERS - The three young women imprisoned for around a decade in a white two-story house in Ohio are going to need support and, most of all, privacy as they re-integrate into society, survivors of other long-term kidnapping ordeals said on Tuesday.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, who went missing in separate incidents about a decade ago, were found alive on Monday in a home in the same blue-collar Cleveland neighborhood where they had gone missing.
Three men, all brothers, have been arrested as suspects in the case.
But even as neighbors celebrated and media from around the world converged on the Seymour Avenue block where Berry led the escape, survivors Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard urged people to leave the three women alone.
“It is so important to respect their privacy, to give them every chance they can to find their own way back, their own path to happiness and well being,” Smart said in an interview with ABC News on Tuesday.
Now married and an activist for missing and exploited children, she was abducted at knifepoint from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002, at age 14. She was rescued nine months later.
Jaycee Dugard, who was taken from a California bus stop at age 11 and held for 18 years before she was freed in 2009, had a similar message.
“These individuals need the opportunity to heal and connect back into the world,” Dugard said in a statement.
She urged the women not to let their ordeals define them. “This isn’t who they are,” Dugard said. “It is only what happened to them.”
Their rescue, she said, “reaffirms we should never give up hope.”
Dugard wrote a book about her captivity, “A Stolen Life,” and in 2011 filed a lawsuit accusing the federal government of failing to properly monitor and track her captor, Phillip Garrido, a convicted sex offender.
Still, she guards her privacy. As an honoree at a dinner on Tuesday night by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington D.C., Dugard planned to deliver a simple, “Thank you,” instead of a detailed speech, a spokesman said.
Rebecca Bailey, author of “Safe Kids, Smart Parents” and a therapist who has worked with Dugard, urged the public and the press not to speculate about what may have happened to the three Ohio women during their imprisonment.
“Please avoid labels and conjecture in order to prevent further stress and pressure,” she said in a statement. “For you this is news, for them this is real life.”
Privacy, said Marsha Gilmer-Tullis, a social worker with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, provides the quiet space that survivors need to come to grips with what happened to them and begin to move on.
They will undoubtedly also need help from a trained therapist, she said.
“There are incredible complexities that are very unique to this type of trauma,” Gilmer-Tullis said. “It really requires an understanding of a treatment professional who can understand and help that child or young adult move forward.”
Family members of victims have sometimes found purpose in creating foundations to help look for missing children or provide support to survivors, Gilmer-Tullis said.
The family of Shawn Hornbeck, who was abducted as an 11-year-old in Missouri and held for four years before he was rescued with another boy in 2007, started a foundation to help other missing and exploited children. Elizabeth Smart’s family also started a foundation.
Gary Toelke, sheriff of Franklin County, Missouri, was at the center of the investigation that led to discovery of Hornbeck and Ben Ownby, who was abducted when he was 13.
Toelke said that he and a deputy sheriff recently attended an Eagle Scout ceremony for Ownby, and said that he was attending college. (Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Los Angeles and Tim Bross in St. Louis.; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)