The news that three female kidnapping victims had been held against their will for roughly a decade each has shocked Cleveland and the nation. But such cases are not without precedent.
Elizabeth Smart, of Utah, was kidnapped at knife point at age 14 in 2002, sexually assaulted and held captive for nine months by a street preacher; Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped in South Lake Tahoe by a couple in 1981, when she was 11, and held for 18 years in tents and a shack in their back yard.
Both Smart and Dugard said Tuesday that the three women, taken in separate kidnappings in 2002, 2003 and 2004 and held in a Cleveland home for years, would need time to recover after their sudden escape and rescue.
“These individuals need the opportunity to heal and connect back into the world,” Dugard said in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times. “This isn’t who they are. It is only what happened to them. The human spirit is incredibly resilient. More then ever this reaffirms we should never give up hope.”
Smart, in an interview from Salt Lake City with ABC’s Good Morning America, grinned at the news.
“I am just so overjoyed, so happy to hear another happy ending,” she said. “I think it’s just proof there are more happy endings out there, and that it just means we need to have constant vigilance, constantly keep our eyes open and our ears open, because miracles do happen and there are happy endings out there waiting to happen.”
Smart’s disappearance triggered a massive search. She later said that Brian David Mitchell forced her into a polygamous marriage that entailed daily rapes, homelessness and forced drug and alcohol use. She testified during Mitchell’s five-week trial in 2010, calling her kidnapping “nine months of hell.”
She also had to endure the intense media attention that came with her recovery, the same kind of attention that is descending on Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight after their rescue in Cleveland.
According to police, Berry had a baby girl while in captivity, now 6 years old.
“I think it’s so important to respect their privacy to try to help give them every chance they can to find their own way, to find their own pathway back to some sense of well-being,” Smart told Good Morning America.
Smart, who also created a foundation to prevent child abuse, had some advice for the trio in how to deal with the memory of their captivity at the hands of the primary suspect, Ariel Castro, 52. His brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, have also been arrested in the case.
Smart’s recommendation was to “not allow this man to ruin another second of their lives.”
“He’s stolen so much from them already, they deserve to be happy,” Smart said. “I would tell them, I hope that they realize there is so much ahead of them, that they don’t need to hold on to the past, they don’t need to relive everything that’s happened, because it’s proof, their rescue is proof there are good people out there ... who want the best for them, who want them to be happy, who want good things to happen.”