Darkness into Light

Fleeing from the pits of darkness, Amanda Perry, 27, escaped from being held hostage for over a decade.  She called 911 at a neighbor’s house and found freedom after 10 years being held hostage.  She wasn’t the only one, Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, 23, and Michele Knight, 32, were found alive Monday night after they vanished a decade ago near their Cleveland homes. Ariel Castro, the accused abductor, is a school bus driver who was in a musical band in the community where the teenagers were abducted.

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Amanda Berry found alive

As a nation, we are heartbroken, devastated, furious, and have great empathy for these three innocent beautiful girls.  We find ourselves asking several questions like how could this happen again in our nation?  Jaycee Dugard in 2009 was found and freed from 18 years of captivity where she suffered long hours of loneliness and horrific sexual, physical and emotional abuse.  How could no one see the signs in the neighborhood of this sick and twisted man?  Unfortunately this is how it usually works for perpetrators of such violent and sexual crimes because they blend so well into our society, communities, and even our own families.

We may find ourselves asking the question how these three young women will find healing from this long, traumatic and horrific experience that cost them to lose their childhood.  We can learn and find strength from Jaycee Dugard.  In a statement she released earlier yesterday, Dugard said the Ohio women found after apparently being held captives for a decade “need the opportunity to heal and connect back into the world.” Dugard also stated that the suspected abduction and imprisonment of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight “isn’t who they are. It is only what happened to them.”  She further states, “The human spirit is incredibly resilient. More than ever this reaffirms we should never give up hope.”

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We may find ourselves empathizing and relating to these resilient women. Many adult survivors of sexual abuse, assault and/or rape can identify with a stolen childhood or young adulthood. We cannot minimize the dramatic effects this decade long abduction has had on these women’s lives but we may find parallels of the same effects in our own lives.  One out of three women will be sexually abused or assaulted by the age of 25.  Over half of these women will never report the incident to anyone, let alone the authorities.  They will be held captive in their own minds and years later realize how these traumatic events had affected their lives.  It doesn’t matter if sexual assault or abuse happened once, several times, or over several years.  It dramatically impacts an individual’s emotional,  interpersonal health and well-being.

How to Identify Sexual Abuse or Assault Victims | 15 most common symptoms

  1. Anxiety – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Phobias & Panic Attacks
  2. Depression
  3. Addictions/Substance Abuse, Compulsive Shopping, Gambling
  4. Sexual Dysfunction or Promiscuous Behavior such as little interest in sexual relations with their spouse or extramarital affairs
  5. Eating Disorders/Obesity
  6. Dysfunctional Interpersonal Relationships with significant others, family members, or employers
  7. Suicidal Ideation or Suicide Attempts
  8. Self-Destructive Behaviors
  9. Rage/Anger Issues
  10. Insomnia or Sleep Disorders
  11. Lying, Stealing, and Truancy
  12. Excessive Guilt or Shame
  13. Low Self-Esteem
  14. Chronic Headaches
  15. Controlling Behaviors

These common symptoms have a root cause and it is vital for one to address the sexual abuse and/or assault to find their own personal freedom and happiness after tragedy.  The key to healing and moving forward after surviving sexual abuse is counseling with a professional who is educated and trained in the area of treating sexual abuse and trauma.  If you or someone you know is a survivor, please seek help today and begin your healing journey.  Remember as Jaycee Dugard stated yesterday, “The human spirit is incredibly resilient. More than ever this reaffirms we should never give up hope.”

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Authors: Dana West, MSW, LCSW is an Orlando Sexual Abuse Trauma and Addictions Counselor