Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Truth about Jaycee Dugard

Sorry to say, we are about to hear a lot more than we ever wanted to know about Jaycee Dugard. Eighteen years of sex slavery is simply too tempting for our therapy-ridden culture to ignore.

Of course, we all want to help. Those who want to put her and her children on television have the best of intentions. And, details sell.

Yet, as the Los Angeles Times reports, expert opinion is unanimously opposed: "Discussing details of the ordeal in public is especially discouraged." Link here.

Does this mean that Dugard should not tell her story? Didn't Elizabeth Smart write a book and appear on Oprah?

In fact, these are complex issues. Elizabeth Smart told her own story; she did not reveal details about her ordeal. In so doing, I would say, she testified to a truth that did not lie in the events of her captivity.

Just because something happened to you, that does not make it your truth.

Beyond the prurient interest in the details, serious therapists who follow Freud believe that emotional problems arise because people forget and repress traumas. They insist that remembering the trauma and integrating it into personal history is the road to cure.

Common sense begs to differ. Jaycee Dugard will suffer most from being unable to forget what happened.

She has borne two of her rapist's children, and she will always see some of his features in their faces. In her case forgetting does not seem to be a very realistic possibility.

But perhaps she should not try to forget. A forensic psychiatrist turned television talking head declared that the best way to treat her trauma was to force her to confront the truth of what happened to her. Strangely enough, he seems to be afraid that Dugard will forget some of the details of her torment. As a good Freudian, he seems to believe that forgetting will make her her neurotic.

When I heard this I thought that Freud's ghost had come back from the dead to haunt yet another trauma victim.

Most responsible psychologists are not very optimistic about Dugard's chances for recovery.

They know that beyond the pain of the repeated sexual traumas, she has lived a psychosocial calamity that will continue to torment her.

Jaycee Dugard did not have a normal adolescence. She did not go to high school; she did not go to college; she did not live as a young adult in society. For eighteen years the entirety of her social life was her rapist, his wife, and her children. We can easily imagine that she never really developed adult social skills.

She developed survival skills and adaptation skills. The only Self she really knows was the one that lived in a tent beyond a house in Antioch, California.

This makes it almost impossible for her to follow the treatment plan that worked for Elizabeth Smart.

According to the Los Angeles Times, her parents: "did not ask her to relive or to explain the experience to them. She was encouraged to return to the activities she enjoyed before the abduction and has focused on not dwelling on what happened."

Apparently, the people and professionals in Utah have done a very creditable job of helping Elizabeth Smart.

Unfortunately, the analogy is tenuous. Elizabeth Smart had a relatively brief captivity. She had a life to return to; she did not bear her rapist's children; she had a family and a community that knew her and loved and welcomed her back. Not only did they not blame her, they treated her as though nothing had happened.

Two points here. No one in our nation would blame victims, but we should be aware of the fact that some cultures treat rape victims like criminals and punish them for having been raped. Second, acting as though nothing happened means not dwelling on details, not asking about it, and especially, not treating the victim as a victim.

Community reaction is decisive in these cases. If parents and community are able to forget what happened, and are able to relate to the victim as though nothing had happened, this will facilitate cure.

Of course, some psychiatrists might think that Elizabeth Smart's family and community were conspiring to help her repress the truth.. But then again, what do we really mean by the truth?

Here I am thinking of the truth about moral responsibility. Not so much whether the victim is to blame, but whether the victim consented, and, if she did consent, whether she should therefore hold herself responsible for what happened.

Neither Jaycee nor Elizabeth consented to being kidnapped and raped. Neither should feel responsible for what happened. But if they are not responsible for what happened, should they act as though these events are part of their personal history or should they act as though nothing had happened?

From this perspective, the latter is closer to the truth.

But what if both Jaycee and Elizabeth, at some point, ceased fighting back? What if they had consented unwillingly, because it seemed the best way to avoid greater pain?

I am sure we would agree that when consent is not offered freely it is not consent. No one should feel responsible for consenting to their own degradation, however much she appeared to have a choice.

How can the victim of such abuse bear witness to the truth?

If she, like Elizabeth Smart, can write a book about who she is, who she was, and who she continues to be, asserting that her ordeal did not change who she is, was, or will be... then, that is a positive step.

For Jaycee Dugard the extent of her captivity and ordeal will make it very, very difficult even to exercise that choice.


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Anonymous said...

I admire Jaycee, i was abused sexually as a child, and i still have a lot of hurt or hate in my heart, ive been tokd they have enough money to ruin my life if i tell it, fact is i feel like they already did, but I'd hate them to hurt my family, which they would, when i mentioned thearpy they tried to cause my husband to lose his job,