Year after year, the clock ticked by and the calendar marched forward, carrying the three women further from the real world and pulling them deeper into an isolated nightmare.
Now, for the women freed from captivity inside a Cleveland house, the ordeal is not over. Next comes recovery — from sexual abuse and their sudden, jarring re-entry into a world much different from the one they were snatched from a decade ago.
Therapists say that with extensive treatment and support, healing is likely for the women, who were 14, 16 and 21 when they were abducted. But it is often a long and difficult process.
“It’s sort of like coming out of a coma,” says Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a psychologist who specializes in treating abused teenagers. “It’s a very isolating and bewildering experience.”
In the world the women left behind, a gallon of gas cost about $1.80. Barack Obama was a state senator. Phones were barely taking pictures. Things did not “go viral.” There was no YouTube, no Facebook, no iPhone.
Emerging into the future is difficult enough. The two younger Cleveland women are doing it without the benefit of crucial formative years.
“By taking away their adolescence, they weren’t able to develop emotional and psychological and social skills,” says Duane Bowers, who counsels traumatized families through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“They’re 10 years behind in these skills. Those need to be caught up before they can work on reintegrating into society,” he says.
That society can be terrifying. As freed captive Georgina DeJesus arrived home from the hospital, watched by a media horde, she hid herself beneath a hooded sweatshirt. The freed Amanda Berry slipped into her home without being seen.
“They weren’t hiding from the press, from the cameras,” Bowers says. “They were hiding from the freedom, from the expansiveness.”
In the house owned by Ariel Castro, who is charged with kidnapping and raping the women, claustrophobic control ruled. Police say that Castro kept them chained in a basement and locked in upstairs rooms, that he fathered a child with one of them and that he starved and beat one captive into multiple miscarriages.
In all those years, they only set foot outside of the house twice — and then only as far as the garage.
“Something as simple as walking into a Target is going to be a major problem for them,” Bowers says.