SALT LAKE CITY — Coming forward with her amazing story of survival, Jaycee Dugard — along with others like Elizabeth Smart — give other children who have suffered abuse the courage to talk about what happened to them.
The story of Dugard's kidnapping and 18 years of captivity has come to light in her new book "A Stolen Life."
Dugard was kidnapped near her California home in 1991 when she was just 11 years old. Convicted pedophile Phillip Garrido took her to his house and locked her in backyard sheds, where he subjected her to sexual assaults.
In her memoir, she wrote, “I try to stop the tears. I tell myself I must be brave.”
Three years later, she gave birth to a girl in the backyard. Three years after that, she gave birth to another baby girl.
It wasn’t until 18 years after she was kidnapped that she was finally reunited with her mother. She wrote, “There she stood, with arms wide open. I walked to her, and she was smiling and crying, and she put her arms around me and I felt so safe and whole again.”
In Utah, other women have come forward and spoke about the abuse they suffered. Elizabeth Smart told her story in court. Deondra, Desirae and Melody of “The 5 Browns” turned in their father. These high-profile cases, experts say, give others courage.
“I think it’s really helped that other victims have come forward and have really had the courage to speak up,” Susanne Mitchell, director of the Children’s Justice Center of Salt Lake County, said. “When they see that people believed them and that they did the right thing and that they protected the other people from being abused, that’s usually the reason why people would come forward.”
The majority of the cases the center sees are children who have been victims of crimes, ages 17 and under. The vast majority are sexual violations toward children and teenagers. The center also serves children who have been seriously physically abused or witnessed a violent act.
Mitchell said a big shift happened in the 1990s, where people really became to accept that child abuse is in the community. It became OK to talk about it and deal with it. Talking about their experience allows victims to put it in their past, so it doesn’t have to be part of their future.
“You’re not a victim forever,” she said. “It was a bad experience, but you are still the same wonderful person that you always were.”
Some people don’t understand why a child might wait months, years or never to tell about what’s happened to them. Mitchell said there are several reasons for that. The child may have been intimidated or threatened, or maybe the perpetrator threatened to harm their pets or family members. The child could have been so terrified by the experience that they are just too scared to speak about. Sometimes it’s just too humiliating to even talk about it.
So what can parents do? “The best advice we can give to parents is really to trust your instincts,” Mitchell said. "Listen to your children when they are talking to you, and really try not to have an emotional reaction, because kids will stop talking when they notice that you’re upset.”
She explained that kids don’t want to upset their parents. They really just want the abuse to stop.
"A Stolen Life" will be in bookstores Tuesday. And like Smart, Dugard has created JAYC Foundation. Hers will provide support and services to families recovering from abduction and traumatic experiences.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc