Future for Survivors

“Let’s get one thing straight! My name is Jaycee Lee Dugard.”

from a stolen life: a memoir by Jaycee Dugard

For 18 years, Jaycee Dugard was not allowed to write or say her own name. She wears a silver pine cone around her neck as a symbol of hope. It was the last object she saw before she was kidnapped by Philip and Nancy Garrido. She was kidnapped, forcably confined, and raped repeatedly over the course of an 18 year period. She hid a small silver butterfly ring away from her captors to try to remember her identity.

Diane Sawyer interviewed Jaycee on an ABC news special. Philip Garrido was a known sex offender who had parole officers that visited his property while Jaycee was confined on the property, and hidden. She wrote her book, a stolen life: a memoir to help give other survivors find the courage to come forward rather than to keep the secrets that breed guilt and shame. This guilt and shame does not belong to the survivors, but unless the silence is broken becomes a life sentence. Jaycee’s book was written with the support of her therapist.

A few things that stick out from her interview:

  1. The unknown is the scarest threat that exists when someone is in a traumatic experience.
  2. Details of what happens during the traumatic event exists as fragments in memory.
  3. A survivor does what is necessary to stay alive, and hope that you will still remain breathing is a powerful thing.
  4. Survivors seek to make meaning out of what appears to be meaningless violence. One example was Jaycee tending a small garden near her tent in Garrido’s backyard.
  5. Healing is a life long process that begins with getting your voice back.

Elizabeth Smart is another example of a high profile survivor who has launched projects to turn her experience into something meaningful. Elizabeth was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was raped repeatedly during her confinement. She, like Jaycee, testified in court against Brian David Mitchell and had the courage to break the silence to put him behind bars. She has established the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to help young people to avoid and overcome violent events. She touches on the foundation’s work during an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune on May 18, 2011. Resist, Aggression, and Defence is a program for young people to know how to survive or to escape if they need to defend themselves.

Both of these women have overcame traumatic experiences only to go on to do important work. One wrote a book to encourage others to break the silence and shame around sexual abuse. The other has established a program to teach young people and children how to survive. Both of these stories are an inspiration.

(c) 2012 Amanda Wilson

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