Why Didn't Elizabeth Smart Escape?
Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped and kept for nine months, apparently had ample
opportunity to escape. Why didn't she?
Alan Hilfer, PhD, child psychologist with Maimonides Medical Center in
Brooklyn, speculates that in Elizabeth Smart's case, she came to identify with her kidnappers. She began to understand and
empathize with their reason for kidnapping her -- whatever that reason was.
Hilfer explains, "It's not that she made a conscious decision that these
people were right to kidnap me. It's her mind trying to understand the horror of the situation and justify the reasons for
it. It's the mind's way of saying 'This is what I need to do survive. I need to believe there's a reason for this, that these
people make sense in their demands.'"
For Elizabeth Smart, this unconscious attachment to her captors could develop
to prevent more harm. If she resisted their violence, she likely would get beaten more, for example. But if she says, "I understand,
I understand," she won't get hurt as much, he tells WebMD.
This attachment process takes time to develop, Hilfer says. "It's a process
of indoctrination. It's why a girl who appears to be a relatively bright, articulate 15-year-old doesn't run to a policeman
in a town 15 miles away from her home. It's because there's a level of identification with her aggressors."
Barry Rosenfeld, PhD, a forensic psychologist at Fordham University in
New York, has doubts that Elizabeth Smart was experiencing Stockholm syndrome. Rosenfeld offers other scenarios: Elizabeth's
captors may have lied to her. She may have been told that her parents had been killed. She may have been told that her parents
or sister would be killed if she tried to escape.
Because of her age, Elizabeth is not the typical abducted child, Rosenfeld
acknowledges. "When a 14-year-old disappears, the first thought is that she's run away. But I don't see any basis for that.
She certainly didn't seem reluctant to come home."
"But at 14 years old, she's probably somewhat naive," he tells WebMD. "It's
easy to mislead a girl that age, easy to convince her that if you don't do this, your sister's life depends on it. So we just
don't know what impressions she had. And that's the crucial factor, what was she thinking, what did she believe the situation
"For all we know, the captors may have pretended to be working with police,"
Elizabeth Smart is likely just beginning to realize what has happened to
her, Rosenfeld says. "I'm not sure how much trauma has sunk in. ... It had to be traumatic being pulled from her home. We
just don't know what happened. What was their motive -- was it some bizarre sexual cult? We just don't know."
Can she live a normal life after all this? Absolutely, says Hilfer.
"I've known people who have overwhelmed me with their power to survive,
by their will to live," he tells WebMD. "I'm speaking of Holocaust survivors, people who have survived terrible traumas in
their lives -- and yet they have led healthy, productive lives afterward. Is it always a part of them at some level? Sure.
We all bear our scars. But she'll hopefully be able to heal. I'm not sure she will get totally past it. She needs time to
get past it."
Excerpts from the full story at WebMD: