Thursday 26 April 2018

Mind matters: Kidnapping has serious psychological consequences

Chloe Ayling Pic: Instagram
Chloe Ayling Pic: Instagram

Patricia Casey

British glamour model Chloe Ayling alleges that she was kidnapped by a gang and threatened with being sold as a sex slave on the internet by a group known as Black Death. The mum-of-one says she was released by her main captor earlier this month and is now back in England, staying with her mother.

Ms Ayling (20) was interviewed briefly for a TV station and read a prepared response saying she constantly feared for her life. She was calm, smiling, made-up like any model, hair in a crafted tussle and dressed in skimpy summer gear. It was not possible to detect any signs of the distress, fear, panic or detachment that one would expect in a victim of serious crime. It is possible that she is concealing it well and that over the coming days her composure will crumble and her emotions will exhibit the force that anybody would experience in such terrifying circumstances.

It is difficult to imagine the impact of being tied up, mouth taped shut, while locked in a car boot for several hours, as Ms Ayling reportedly was. The darkness, the inability to open one's mouth, the reduction in the intake of air and the uncertainty about the next step in this harrowing journey of captivity can barely be conceived of.

Will the next stage be rape, torture and death? When will it happen? Will it be slow and painful or swift and relatively painless? Depending on the amount of drug used, the victim may be fortunate enough to have no recollection of the kidnap. But this in itself will lead to questions as they try to piece together the events in jigsaw-like fashion.

Then imagine your captor sharing the bed with you and wanting sex. The fear of sexual assault must be very real. It may be impossible to sleep for fear that the captor will assault the victim when she is in this most vulnerable state. For a mother thinking about, and perhaps even dreaming about, her little boy at home, must be heartrending, contemplating that she may never see him again.

Knowing that the plan was to sell her as a sex slave perhaps helped diminish Ms Ayling's fear of immediate torture and death - but this would have been little consolation as the future, had she been sold, would have been grim.

The emotional maelstrom that such a situation creates is likely to be in evidence for months, if not years. Some develop 'frozen fear' or panic attacks. Most of us believe the world to be a safe place, but an overwhelming threat such as a kidnap will definitively dent that image. Our trust in those we know - and even more so in those we don't - will be fragile, if not totally absent, and we will try to avoid reminders of the event.

There is initial relief following release, but as the horror of the event sinks in and the possible outcomes are contemplated, talking about it becomes distressing. Some avoid doing so but with media interest, such as there is in this case, it will be impossible to avoid. And this will generate visible emotion. So too will being reunited with your child.

In such a vulnerable and distressed state, in the aftermath the individual needs time and space along with appropriate psychological assistance and support to recoup. This resolution may be delayed because of social withdrawal. During the period of psychological recovery the person should not make any major life decisions as they are likely to be coloured by the anxiety that the event has generated.

If the event occurred as Ms Ayling described, she would be strongly advised to seek a respected trauma therapist and to follow his/her advice. It is unclear what psychological support she has received, if any.

Over the coming days and weeks this unusual kidnap will be dissected and it is likely that new information will come to light and some of the unusual features surrounding this crime and Ms Ayling's emotional responses will become evident.

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