Friday, September 11, 2009

My Take on the Jaycee Dugard Case

by Cassie Nelson

I’m turning 18 in November, and Jaycee Dugard has been held captive for longer than I’ve been alive. I spent my 18 years enjoying a happy childhood and the typical turmoil of teenage years. Jaycee has spent her 18 years as a victim of sexual abuse. At the age of 14, when most girls are looking forward to starting high school, Jaycee became a mother and went on to raise two children sired by her abuser.
The incredible good fortune of Jaycee’s rescue is matched by the horror of her long ordeal. There are so many questions and issues raised by her experience: how could the neighbors and the authorities have failed to see what was going on; could the abuser’s wife be complicit; and most confusing of all, how could Jaycee have made no apparent effort over the years to escape? The neighbors have explained why they were not aware; the authorities have admitted they failed in their responsibility. The wife was apparently just as much a monster as her husband, but what about Jaycee?
Psychiatrists have explained that anyone under the complete control of an abuser will come to feel a connection with their abuser, based on fear but also dependence. Jaycee was only 11 when she was taken and, although the backyard she was hidden in was only 35 miles from her home, it must have seemed like a world away. The experts say that no individual can maintain the level of fear or anger that being abducted and abused would cause for a prolonged time. Eventually hopelessness sets in, followed by a growing sense of identification and bonding with the abductor.

Young children are capable of finding joy even in the most difficult circumstances. Children living in dire poverty can enjoy playing street games while their parents sink into despair. It is this very innocence and resilience that saved Jaycee at the same time it imprisoned her.
Jaycee made the best of a horrifying situation. Although escape may have seemed ridiculously easy to an adult, to a child even crossing the street alone is a frightening experience. In fact, Jaycee was doing just that, on the way to the bus stop, when she was abducted less than 100 yards away from her stepfather.
My parents warn me constantly to be aware of my surroundings and never, ever text while walking through a parking lot. I know that if the unthinkable occurs, if I do the wrong thing and am taken, my parents will not be angry at me and will never give up looking for me. A child does not have the same ability to reason as an older teen or adult. Like Shawn Hornbeck, who was abducted at age 11 and held for four years, Jaycee couldn't believe that there were still people out there looking for her -- an abstract concept -- when her abductor told her she was his forever.
Psychology calls this the pre-operational stage of development. In a recent interview, Shawn described his situation this way: “It’s like you are on autopilot, only someone else is controlling all the switches. They control every little, minute detail in your life. Everything.” Like Shawn, Jaycee deserves our understanding and support, so that perhaps the next 18 years of her life will finally be happy.


Anonymous said...

Excellent and compassionate post. You are very insightful.

I heard a quote from Jaycee's aunt saying that she (Jaycee) did everything right - she survived. I could not agree with that more. If the same were to happen to my 11 year old son (I have one), I would wish for him the skills it takes to adapt and have good days, regardless of the circumstances. If that's what it takes for him to survive such an ordeal, that's what I want him to have.

I would be proud to be Jaycee's parents as obviously she had a foundation of inner joy that enabled her to go on & actually thrive - considering the circumstances.

I would also be proud to be your parents as obviously you have an empathy and compassion that is uncommon.

Much success to you in the future.

Annaly said...

I can't imagine the years of work it will take to get her head straight as well as her girls. Great post!

reen said...

I believe it was more like 150-170 miles from home, but you're right, it wouldn't have mattered to someone so young. She had no idea where she was. Very eloquent and thoughtful piece. Peace and strength to these victims and their families.

Robin Sax said...

Great post Cassie-keep listening to those great parents of yours!

Ronni said...

You say in your entry, "If I do the wrong thing and get taken..." I want to point out that you can still be taken, even if you do everything right. It happens. Even people who do everything they should (such as be aware of their surroundings) and nothing they shouldn't (such as jogging alone with their IPod), can still be snatched. Doing the right things lessens the chances, but does not eliminate the danger entirely. All we can do is our best.

You have a great understanding of the situation that Jaycee a Shawn both suffered.

As adults, it is sometimes hard to think like a child does, and you have bridged that gap.