Thursday 23 October 2014

Stockholm syndrome may have aided captors

Colin Freeman

Published 09/05/2013 | 17:00

Kidnap experts say it is possible the three women held prisoner in a Cleveland house may have developed a bond with their kidnappers, reports Colin Freeman.

With its white boarding, neatly-kept lawn and Stars and Stripes flag fluttering from the porch, nothing at the house at 2207 Seymour Avenue gave away its secrets. Yet for up to a decade, it appears to have served as the home – or indeed prison– of three missing girls, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. Their neighbours in Cleveland, Ohio, never noticed anything unusual until hearing Miss Berry's screams for help on Monday evening. So how could it happen?

What might seem the most obvious theory, that the house was some kind of cleverly-disguised jail, is not the necessarily the most likely. While police said on Tuesday that they thought the three girls had been tied up, kidnap specialists point out that holding them prisoners against their will would be difficult to do without neighbours becoming suspicious, especially over a long period of time.

Quite apart from the challenges of building a cellar or strongroom that was both sound-proof and escape-proof, the logistics of keeping people fed, watered and guarded would be considerable. "If you are holding hostages, you have to set up a routine or pattern in terms of guards, logistics, and food," said Leslie Edwards, a hostage specialist with British firm Compass Risk Management, who has dealt with more than 100 different kidnap cases.

Not all barriers have to be physical, however. With younger, more vulnerable abduction victims, threats of violence and other psychological intimidation tactics could ensure that they would never dare escape.

Such was the case with Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian schoolgirl who was abducted at the age of ten and held for more than eight years by Wolfgang Priklopil in the cellar of his home in Strasshof, outside Vienna. As she grew older, she was given the run of both his house and garden, and was even allowed to go out with him at times, once taking a ski-ing trip. However, she later told investigators he had regularly beaten her up, and threatened to kill her if she ever tried to raise the alarm.

In similar manner, another Austrian, Josef Fritzl, who kept his daughter Elisabeth locked in a cellar for 24 years while fathering seven children with her, told his captives they would be gassed or electrocuted if they tried to escape.

A final theory is the three women may have acquired Stockholm Syndrome, the condition in which hostages bond with their captors, out of gratitude for the fact that they are still alive. However, most analysts agree that genuine Stockholm Syndrome cases are the exception, not the rule.

"These things are rarely one or the other, it is usually a combination of factors," said Mr Alvarez. "Stockholm Syndrome happens much less frequently than people think, although it's likely that over the course of ten years, a prisoner will encounter some of their captor's humanity as well as their brutality, and they may have conflicting feelings about it all afterwards.

"Having said that, in this case, Miss Berry appears to have escaped, so whatever element of Stockholm Syndrome she might have had clearly had its limits. It is, in a way, a case of 'if I can't beat 'em, I will join them', and that can change at any time." (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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