Missing Women: Why Did It Take So Long to Escape?

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On Monday, three women were rescued from a Cleveland home after a decade in captivity, police said. One of the women, Amanda Berry, broke through a window and called for help from the next-door neighbor. Three brothers, none related to the women, are being charged in the case. One woman reportedly had a child in captivity.

Why couldn't they escape sooner? Surely there must have been moments when nobody was looking?

Experts say it isn't so easy.

First of all, kidnapping is about power and control rather than chains and shackles, explained Herb Nieburg, an FBI-trained hostage negotiator, psychologist and professor of law and justice at Mitchell College in New London, Conn. He said kidnapping is often the same dynamic between a battered woman and her spouse or boyfriend.

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"It's fear," Nieburg, said. "They probably said 'We know where your family members are. If you get away we will kill you and kill them.' They start the mind control process using threats."

Nieburg said this pattern of psychological control has been shown in previous kidnapping cases. He said that sexual abuse is often the root of the victim's inability to escape.

"These victims are also been sexually abused and that makes you feel not good about yourself," Nieburg said. "There's low self esteem and low self-worth. After a while you go along with it to get it over with."

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Elizabeth Smart, a Salt Lake City girl who was kidnapped and held for nine months as a 14 year-old in 2002, said recently that the sexual abuse she received from her captors made her feel worthless.

Smart said she grew up in a Mormon family and was taught through abstinence-only education that a person whose virginity was lost before marriage was considered worthless. She spoke after a forum on human trafficking at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore about a school teacher who urged students against premarital sex and compared women who had sex before their wedding nights to chewing gum.

"I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I'm that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.' And that's how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value," Smart said. "Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."

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Laurence Miller, a clinical and forensic psychologist in Boca Raton, Fla., said that younger kidnap victims can also form emotional bonds with their captors.

"People in high-stress situations are vulnerable," Miller said. "And once in that lifestyle, human beings are conservative in terms of what they will do to escape. The kidnapper offers something psychologically romantic or parental to a young girl, and that becomes the new normal."

Miller said that it's likely that the Cleveland kidnap victims planned how to escape, but weren't able to take advantage of the opportunity until now. "The kidnappers got a little complacent and they may have been waiting for this moment for years," Miller said.

The good news is that, with proper mental health care, the victims can return to a normal life, he added.

"The best prediction of recovery is pre-existing psychology," Miller said. "Some will bounce back well, others will have long term problems. But several years down the road, most people return to relatively normal life. Most people are not destroyed by trauma."