Why Didn't She Escape ... She Had the Chance; ANALYSIS

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), August 30, 2009 | Go to article overview

Why Didn't She Escape ... She Had the Chance; ANALYSIS


Byline: Dorothy Rowe AUTHOR AND CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST

ON THE surface, it makes no sense. Jaycee Lee Dugard was handed the perfect opportunity to escape. Her abductor, a convicted sex offender, was ordered to visit his parole officer and took Jaycee with him.

After 18 years of captivity, the chance to return to the world from which she was snatched as an 11-year-old child presented itself and she did nothing.

It was only the parole officer's suspicions which led to her eventual release last week. To most people, Jaycee's behaviour is baffling. The only explanation offered so far has been the predictable one: Stockholm Syndrome. This has become a catch-all term used to describe the intense bond that can form between hostages and captors.

The syndrome was cited in the case of Austrian girl Natasha Kampusch, a captive of Wolfgang Priklopil for eight years who, it turned out, holidayed with him without trying to escape. Similarly, in 2007 American teenager Shawn Hornbeck was found after four years, having taken on a new identity and living in apparent 'normality' with his abductor.

Thanks to such examples, Stockholm Syndrome is presented as something that 'just happens to hostages'. But, in my experience, coining a 'syndrome' is a good way of avoiding the complexities of individual situations and rarely helpful. Besides, not all hostages do 'suffer' from it. Famously Terry Waite, John McCarthy and Brian Keenan spent years in isolated confinement and none exhibited any signs of it.

So what is going on? And what part does the youth of the captive have to play in it?

The reality is that, far from being incomprehensible and alien, this 'syndrome' is simply an example of how we work as human beings. We all like to be in contact with friendly people. We don't like to be on our own.

Even the most solitary of characters struggles with true isolation. Ultimately, we simply fall apart. …

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