From Where I'm Standing

Musings on life during and after child-abduction by Melissa "Liss" Haviv

Cleveland Recoveries – What Happens Next?


The following article was published on the website of the Association of Missing & Exploited Children’s Organizations (AMECO) earlier today. Thanks to Wendy and AMECO for championing this important message…

Missing Women Located in Cleveland – What Happens Next?
(c) AMECO 2013

The nation celebrated the recovery of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus in Cleveland this week, but this “happy ending” is really only the beginning. What’s next for these three women?

The only body of research that captures direct experiences of formerly abducted children comes from Take Root, an organization that runs a support program for victims of child abduction when they are no longer missing. Their research shows that formerly abducted children are at a high risk for drug addiction, depression, and other medical problems. One in every four members of the Take Root support program has attempted suicide. Reunited families are often left on their own to figure out how to heal. Based on Take Root’s data, less than 10% receive the follow up care they need. “Yet children recovered from abductions encounter enormous pressure to be ‘back to normal’ from virtually the moment they come home,” says Melissa Haviv, Take Root’s Executive Director and a leading expert in the victimology of abduction. Haviv is also a former victim who, at the age of ten, was abducted and hidden under a fake identity for two years by her mother. She emphasizes, “The trauma of abduction does not disappear the day a missing child is found. Recovery is often a lifelong process.”

Wendy Jolley-Kabi, Executive Director of the Association of Missing and Exploited Children’s Organizations (AMECO) observes. “In recent years, a growing number of formerly long-term missing children have shared with America how they are moving forward with their lives and recovery.” Elizabeth Smart credits her family and faith with providing her with the strength to move forward and stresses the importance of focusing on the future not the past. Alicia Kozakiewicz acknowledges that she has nightmares and suffers from PTSD, but, like Elizabeth, has found purpose as an advocate to help other children. Shawn Hornbeck’s parents Pam and Craig Akers warn not to pressure the recovered family member to provide details of their ordeal when they first return home, but to let the missing person share their experience in their own time. Shawn himself shares that being in public can be frightening at first and emphasizes the importance of being surrounded by family during the healing process.

According to Dr. Neil Kirkpatrick, Clinical Director of Take Root, “the experience and process of being recovered is different for every child, based not only on the length of their abduction and what they experienced during the abduction, but on their experiences and relationships prior to abduction. In our experience, all too often the recovered child is bombarded with messages, both explicit and subtle, about how they ‘should’ feel about being recovered. The shock of recovery is significant, and it is import to allow recovered individuals and their families time to acclimate to this change at their own rate. Integrating into relationships with families and loved ones takes time and is best done in a private, safe environment, out of the public eye.”

As the celebrations die down in Cleveland over the coming days, Michelle, Amanda and Gina will grapple with what’s next for each of them. “They will face challenges and be forced to make decisions that few are equipped to make – when to share their stories, who to share them with, how to live life after 10 years of captivity and exploitation,” says Jolley-Kabi. “We’re so thankful these three young women have been found and we appreciate the brave voices of recovered children who have come before them. Melissa, Elizabeth, Alicia, Shawn and others offer hope for the future of missing children everywhere.”

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