“We know that resilience exists and that recovery is possible,” said Dr. Judith A. Cohen, medical director of the Center for Traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh. “For people who believe that it’s inevitable that a horrific experience like this would leave lasting scars, the evidence does not necessarily support that.”
David A. Wolfe, a senior scientist and psychologist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto, said that in situations of long-term sexual abuse and threat to life, victims inevitably develop complicated and ambivalent emotions toward their abuser in order to survive.
“You turn the devil into something you can handle,” he said, adding that the first thing he would want to know from someone who survived such an ordeal would be “What was your feeling about this person during the captivity?”
Dr. Wolfe and other therapists noted that all traumatic experiences are different and that many details of the women’s ordeal have not been made public; some experts argued that for the women’s sake, they should not be.
But they said many people can and do rebound from even the most extreme abuse, aided by the support of family and friends, the use of specifically tailored therapies and the privacy, safety and time to digest and come to terms with their experience. It is important, some therapists said, that the women not be turned into a spectacle, their identities as individuals diminished to “kidnap victims.”