Kidnapping Victims Can Rebuild Their Lives

by Anila Alexander

As headlines recount the years of sexual abuse endured by Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, other kidnapping survivors have offered words of comfort to the trio in Cleveland, Ohio.  The road to rebuilding their lives won't be easy.

On Monday, Berry escaped by climbing through a screen door and fleeing with her 6-year-old daughter to a neighbor’s home to call 911.

Berry, DeJesus and Knight were allegedly raped and beaten repeatedly by Ariel Castro and his brothers Pedro and Onil.  In 2004, Child Protective Services were sent to the home but left after failing to make contact with Castro. Neighbors even reported seeing three naked women on all fours being led around on leashes by three men in the backyard. At least five babies were born in captivity, with one survivor suffering at least three miscarriages.

Castro has since been arrested and has been charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape.  

On Wednesday, Berry and DeJesus were reunited with their families and friends. Knight remains at the city’s Metro Health Medical Center. 

But Berry, DeJesus and Knight aren't the first women kept as sex slaves and recovered years after they were taken.  

Katie Beers

Katie Beers was kidnapped in 1992 by John Esposito, a friend of the family, two days before her 10th birthday. Beers was kept in six foot by seven foot concrete bunker under Esposito's garage in New York for 17 days. 20 years after her rescue, Beers has published a book about her ordeal entitled "Buried Memories: Katie Beers’ Story.".  Married with two children, she earned a degree in business management and works in insurance sales in Pennsylvania.  In a recent interview with a local TV Station, she says her foster parents "kept me secluded and kept me out of the public eye for so long, and that gave me the ability to recover".

Jaycee Lee Dugard

Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped in 1991 when she was 11 on her way to school by convicted sex offender Phillip Craig Garrido in Lake Tahoe, Calif. She was held captive for 18 years and had two daughters by Garrido. Witnesses say they saw Dugard throughout the years. Dugard worked as a graphics artist in Garrido’s print shop and would occasionally talk to customers.

Garrido’s increasingly erratic behavior would be his downfall. On August 24, 2009, Garrido and his two daughters went to the University of California-Berkeley to  request permission to hold a special event on campus. A representative alerted police after noticing the withdrawn and submissive behavior of the two girls.

Garrido was arrested along with his wife, Nancy. Garrido was sentenced to 431 years in prison, while his wife was sentenced to 36 years.

Dugard was reunited with her mother and stepfather. She is an advocate for abduction victims and set up the JAYC Foundation to help families of kidnapping victims with reunification. (As well as   traditional therapy, JAYC uses animal therapy, equine therapy, and food therapy to help survivors.)  A memoir chronicling her ordeal "A Stolen Life" was published in 2011.

Her foundation produced a PSA which could have been useful in Cleveland that encourages people to report things that seem wrong; she says, "You could be wrong, but you could save someone's life".


Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002 when she was 14. Her abduction as witnessed by her 9-year-old sister, Mary Katherine. Smart’s kidnapper Brian David Mitchell, led her to his camp in the woods and performed a marriage ceremony. Mitchell repeatedly raped her, sometimes multiple times a day and forced her to watch pornographic films. Nearly four months after her kidnapping Smart was spotted, along with Mitchell’s accomplice Wanda Barzee, at a town in Lakeside, Calif. Yet it was only after her kidnapping story appeared on American’s Most Wanted on February 12, 2003 that Smart was found alive in the city of Sandy, Utah.

Since being freed, Smart has received a degree from Brigham Young University, where she studied harp performance.  She also did on a Mormon mission in Paris and married a fellow Mormon last year. Smart now heads the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, which promotes abduction awareness. In early May, she made news when giving a speech at Johns Hopkins by criticizing abstinence-only education for harming sexual assault survivors' sense of self-worth. Smart will be publishing her memoir, "My Story" in fall 2013.

Colleen Stan

Colleen Stan was kidnapped in Red Bluff, Calif., by Cameron and Janice Hooker in 1977 when she was just 20 years old. She spent the next seven years of her life locked in a box for 23 hours a day and forced to perform sexual acts for Cameron. The Hookers controlled Stan by telling her they were part of ‘The Company,' a Big Brother type organization that would kill her family if she tried to escape.

Stan was permitted to visit her family by herself in 1981, but declined to reveal the truth for fears over ‘The Company.’ In 1984, when Cameron began considering other sex slaves or taking on Stan as his second wife, Janice revealed the truth and Stan escaped.

Since then, Stan has gone back to school and received an accounting degree. She is married with a daughter, and spends time helping abused women rebuild their lives. Stan has changed her last name; she no longer has any contact with Janice.