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Experts on why abductees often don't flee

Experts say the man who allegedly kidnapped Jaycee Lee Dugard and held her for 18 years most likely controlled her by making her completely dependent on him.
/ Source: The Associated Press

In the 18 years that Jaycee Lee Dugard allegedly spent captive in Phillip Garrido's backyard, shielded from the world by trees, tarps, tents and tool sheds, she no doubt had a chance or two to tell someone the truth.

Customers of Garrido's Antioch home-based printing business say the young woman whom they knew as Garrido's daughter "Allissa" designed business cards and helped with the family business.

They never suspected that "Allissa" was a South Lake Tahoe girl kidnapped in 1991 at age 11.

Neighbors also had no idea that Garrido's two young daughters — now 11 and 15 — were Dugard's offspring, fathered by Garrido.

Why didn't Jaycee Dugard escape, reach out, scream for help?

The question arises every time an abductee is found with their abductors after years of hiding. But the question, and its implicit criticism of the survivors, is unfair, say experts on kidnapping.

Complex situation
"It's really important that people not jump to judgments or conclusions in these cases," said JoAnn Behrman-Lippert, a Reno, Nev.-based psychologist who has done extensive research on child abduction cases. "We know there are many cases like this, and it's very detrimental to the survivors to have such a simplistic view that does not take into account the actual situation the person was in."

Authorities say that Garrido and his wife Nancy kidnapped and raped Dugard and kept her imprisoned in the backyard compound. They pleaded not guilty Friday to the charges.

Garrido's printing business customers described Dugard as a polite and efficient aide who straightened out orders on the phone and by email.

One customer, Ben Daughdrill, said he saw her twice in the last six months when he drove to the Garrido home to pick up office supplies and drop off payment. She had an opportunity to escape or seek his help when she came out alone to Daughdrill's vehicle.

"There was a reason she did not say anything," said Daughdrill.

One explanation given to victims who stay with their captors is that they have Stockholm syndrome, where the victim comes to identify with and bond with their kidnappers. The term was coined in 1973 to describe several bank employees held captive for six days in Sweden. At the end of their ordeal, the hostages resisted rescue, refused to testify against their captors and helped raise money for their legal defense.

Stockholm syndrome
Stockholm syndrome is most often associated with Patty Hearst, the newspaper heiress kidnapped in 1974 from her Berkeley apartment by the Symbionese Liberation Army. She joined the group as "Tania," a radical in army fatigues who helped her captors rob banks before she was released months later.

More recently, in 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was snatched from her Salt Lake City bedroom at night and found nine months later, walking in tow with her alleged captors, who spent the time moving frequently from one homeless camp to another. Another famous case is that of Shawn Hornbeck of Missouri, who was kidnapped in 2002 at age 11 and found more than five years later, living with his captor a few miles from his family home.

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Experts say Garrido most likely controlled Dugard by making her completely dependent on him. By isolating the victim and making them dependent on everything — food, clothing, shelter and affection — the kidnapper comes to completely control them, Behrman-Lippert and other experts say.

"In my experience with kidnapping victims," Behrman-Lippert said, "I know they don't always identify with the abductor. They figure out what kind of behaviors they need to survive."

Paula Fass, a professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley and author of "Kidnapped: Child Abduction in America," says another theory is that he told her he and his wife were her family and that she had no one else.

Stockholm syndrome?
"Then she had no contact with the outside world without him. By the time she had children with him, obviously other things came into play," Fass said. "Obviously, she wanted to protect her children. You don't have to invoke Stockholm syndrome. She didn't have to necessarily identify with her oppressors."

Aside from Hearst's situation, many other infamous kidnapping cases cannot be explained by Stockholm syndrome, said Dr. Frank Ochberg, who coined the term.

Ochberg said that when he developed the term "Stockholm syndrome" back in the 1970s, it was to help hostage negotiators.

The paradoxical set of feelings that develop in an adult hostage — that of identifying with their kidnappers — happens when the person has sudden feelings of great fear, regresses psychologically and then little by little develops trust with his kidnappers for not killing him, Ochberg said.

But the situation is different in child abductions because of the victim's age, he said, adding that a "better" theory would be that of a relationship of slave to master.

He believes "somebody at a tender age ends up being raised in captivity by a person who gradually transforms this person into a slave," he said. "There are cultures in which this happens, in which women are given to men at a young age."

"There's still a lot more to learn about this case," Ochberg said.