Loving the tormentor – A look at Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome

Let me recount certain incidents that received massive press coverage during the time of their occurrence. They have a common characteristic running through them.

When he went to the Richwoods, Missouri police to report a stolen bike, the little boy called himself Shawn Devlin. He didn’t let on to the cops that his real name was Shawn Hornbeck and that just eleven months prior, he had been kidnapped and held captive by pizzeria worker and pedophile, Michael J.Devlin. Devlin had nabbed him while riding his bicycle near his home in 2002 and tortured him until the boy agreed to do anything he asked. The pedophile had then used him repeatedly for his own sexual pleasure over the next 4 years. Even though there had been numerous occasions when he could have escaped, the boy had shown no desire to be found and he never would have been, had there not been a search on for another abducted boy that brought the cops to the same address.

Jaycee Lee Dugard too must have had many chances to escape or cry for help, in the 18 years that she had been held captive by Phillip Garrido and his wife. Instead, she had helped him in his mail order business, behaving like a secretary, sorting out orders by phone or e-mail and even occasionally greeting customers alone at the front door. Sometimes she even went out in public but never made a run for it, returning each day instead, to a shed in the backyard of the man who degraded and sexually assaulted her every night and fathered two children with her. Jaycee had been abducted when just 11, as she was walking to her school bus-stop in South Lake Tahoe, California, in June 1991.

Shortly after a TWA flight took off from Athens in 1985, two AK-47 wielding Palestinians broke into the cockpit and forced the plane to land in Beirut, Lebanon. On the ground, they held the passengers captive, threatening them with execution and even murdered one hostage, dumping his body onto the tarmac. After the captives were finally rescued, one of them reportedly said of his captors, “They weren’t bad people. They let me eat, they let me sleep, they gave me my life.”

Austrian 6 year old, Elisabeth Fritzl, was the the only daughter to Josef and Rosemarie Fritzl, doting parents who spoiled their daughter every chance they got. A picture of the perfect family they were. After lights-out however, the picture perfectness gradually blurred and solidified into something unspeakably evil. Every night, Josef Fritzl would creep into his daughter’s bed and sexually assault her while she lay on her side pretending to be asleep. There is enough circumstantial evidence that her mother knew what was going on but chose to remain silent.

Elisabeth turned out to be an exceptionally pretty girl in her teens and naturally she would go on dates with boys in her neighborhood. Not able to tolerate this, one evening in 1984, Josef Fritzl lured the by now 18 year old beauty into the basement on the pretense that he needed help carrying a piece of furniture down. Once downstairs he smothered her with a towel soaked in chloroform and held her there for the next 24 years. In those years of captivity there, Elisabeth gave birth to seven children, all fathered by Daddy dear.

For six days in August 1973, thieves Jan-Erik Olsson and Clark Olofsson held four Stockholm bank employees hostage at gunpoint in a vault. When the captives were released, their reaction shocked the world. They hugged and kissed their captors, declaring their loyalty even as the kidnappers were carted off to jail. The hostages not only resisted rescue attempts but later even refused to testify against their captors.  Stockholm Syndrome is a term attributed to the astonishing behavior of the captives and is believed to have been coined by the Swedish criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot, who had assisted the police during the robbery.

In most cases of Stockholm Syndrome, victims continue to defend and care about their captors even after they escape captivity. 10 year old Natascha Kampusch, who had been abducted while walking to school in Vienna and kept confined in a five foot by five foot windowless, sound-proof cellar for 8 years, broke down and wept inconsolably when she heard that her abductor had thrown himself in front of a train a few hours after she escaped.

Did Jaycee Lee Dugard suffer from Stockholm Syndrome? Almost certainly, yes. Psychiatrists aver that the 11 year old had little choice but to bond with her captor. To maintain the grief and the numbing homesickness and finally the rage, through all those years, would have been too traumatizing, so she masked them and built herself a story of security and contentment. After she was freed, her family members noticed that she still had strong feelings for Phillip Garrido and felt as if she had been married to him.

14 year old Elisabeth Smart was snatched from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002. She was held captive for almost a year during which she never attempted to escape even though she often went out with her kidnapper and his wife. She was saved only when someone recognized her on a trip to the mall. Afterwards she said that she felt soiled and impure from all the sexual assault and was convinced that her family would no longer be interested in finding her.

By far the most well known case of Stockholm Syndrome was bizarre story of the newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, granddaughter of publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst, who was popularly believed to be the man on whom Orson Welles’ character in the movie, ‘Citizen Kane’ was based. In February, 1974, Hearst was kidnapped from her Berkley, California apartment, by an urban guerilla group calling itself the ‘Symbionese Liberation Army’. While in captivity, she not only became a fan of theirs but she was even photographed toting an M1 carbine while in the process of robbing a bank with her captors. After her capture, powerful family connections saw her released after just two years in prison.

Stockholm Syndrome is however still an exception and not the rule, as is evident from the recent escape from harrowing captivity of the three women and a child in Cleveland. The desire to escape finally saved them. Two of the women, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, have since reunited with loving family and friendly neighbors, something that will surely help them pick up the pieces and move on.

The third woman, Michelle Knight, had gone through hell even prior to her kidnapping, having been gang raped in high school by classmates just a year before she was snatched. As if that weren’t enough, her immediate family is a dysfunctional one. She has a twin brother who wasn’t even aware she was missing all these 18 years, until she escaped last week! Ms Knight will need all the help she can get.

(The man who had held them hostage, Ariel Castro, hung himself in his jail cell, in September 2013. Good riddance).

While Stockholm Syndrome appears like mind control by the Satan, there are instances where the captors ended sympathizing with their captives. That change in heart in the captors is known as Lima Syndrome, named after an incident where in 1996, members of the Peruvian militant movement, Tupac Amaru, took as hostage hundreds of dinner party guests, in the Japanese Embassy in Lima, Peru. Later, most of the hostages were found to have been well treated and were released unharmed.

Through history there have been myriads of instances of the Lima Syndrome. Nelson Mandela’s white jail guards, for one. The force of his personality was so intense that, in time, while they couldn’t just let him go free, they nonetheless began treating him with kindness and some even became his ardent followers in later years.

Then there have been stray cases of blonde blue-eyed SS concentration camp guards who helped Jewish prisoners escape at risk to their own lives, during the Second World War. In the din of Israeli drumbeats and mushrooming holocaust museums, we don’t get to hear their stories. SS Staff Sergeant August Feld risked his life, bringing extra food from the kitchen for starved Jewish prisoners of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

When he first got posted as a guard at Treblinka, SS Unterscharfuhrer Karl Ludwig was stunned on seeing the piles of bodies. He would regularly get the prisoners woolens, socks and shoes and even try to save a few from the daily ‘selektion’ lines that stood in front of the gas chambers. Hauptsturmfuhrer  Viktor Pestek gave a couple SS uniforms which they wore and simply walked out of  Auschwitz.

During British rule, the white guards and police who arrested and held Mahatma Gandhi, found themselves mesmerized by his sheer goodness and strength of character. When ordered to not let him take his daily walk round the prison grounds, they refused to obey and continued to let him wander around within the perimeter.

Stockholm and Lima. We have had a battle of syndromes raging through history and didn’t even know it till recently.

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