Amy J.L. Baker Ph.D.

Caught Between Parents

Kidnapping Victims and the Psychological Ties that Bind

kidnapping victms and the captors they become attached to

Posted Dec 16, 2011

I have just finished reading two more true stories of individuals who were kidnapped, tortured, and then eventually allowed some freedom of movement yet did not flee. One story is about Colleen Stan the "women in the box" who was kept off and off for seven years in a wooden box the size of a coffin underneath the bed of her captors. Over time she was provided with various liberties yet she never ran away nor signaled to anyone that she was a victim. The second story is about Shawn Hornbeck who was kidnapped at age 11 and kept for 4 years by his abuser. He too did not run away during periods in which he was not supervised by his captor. Both stories do an excellent job explaining how physical restraints become internalized to such an extent that the victim becomes dependent on his/her abuser. The abuser in both cases loomed so large for the victim that s/he could not imagine successfully breaking free. As the author of "Invisible Chains" Kristina Sauerwein explains, the kidnapping itself involves a sudden and unpredictable life threatening experience. Subsequently, the victim is placed under the complete control of the abuser who determines when the victim can eat, go to the bathroom, and sleep. The lack of privacy (the victim must eat and relieve him-, or herself in front of the abuser) coupled with absolute vulnerability (there is usually sleep deprivation, nakedness, and social isolation) results in an almost infantile state of dependency upon the abuser. In this way, the abuser/tormentor also becomes an attachment figure, the person who relieves the victim's pain, isolation, hunger, and all other physical and social-emotional needs. If this dependency is combined with threats that escape will be futile and/or lead to more pain and suffering and/or pain and suffering to the victim's family, then once given apparent liberty of movement and lack of supervision, the victim will not try to escape. The victim becomes psychologically bound to the abuser.

There are obvious parallels to some parental alienation situations in which the child becomes emotionally dependent on the alienating parent, despite psychological and physica—and sometimes —sexual abuse that parent is perpetrating against the child. Understanding how it can occur with stranger abductions can help us understand the mind of an alienated child who is aligned with one parent against the other.