It’s eerie that we talked just yesterday about Elizabeth Smart (and that I said she’d been held for 9 years vs. 9 months,) because one of today’s biggest stories is the rescue of three women in Ohio who were kidnapped and held for 9, 10, and 11 years in a house just blocks from their homes.
There are few details, and these women are more than entitled to their privacy, so there’s only one thing I want to dig into.
This is a moment to be especially attuned to victim-blaming. Already there are people in the public and the media asking why it took these women so long to escape, how they could have ‘let themselves’ be held for so long.
As an actor, part of my job is to imagine myself in other people’s circumstances. (I think it’s kind of the job of every human being – empathy – but I actually kinda get paid for it.) It took me about a second to think of a pile of reasons someone might stay in such a situation. In addition to the lack of self-worth Elizabeth Smart just talked about, and Stockholm Syndrome and other familiar phenomena, here’s what jumped to mind right away… Threats to the other prisoners (including Amanda Berry’s 6-year-old daughter, presumably fathered by one of her captors,) threats to one’s outside family, knowing the outside world had declared you dead long ago (imagine the impact of that on one’s self-worth,) and plain old physical confinement of a kind most of us won’t let ourselves imagine. I’m speculating, imagining, guessing. But what I know for sure is that none of these women is to blame for a single day of their captivity.
(Also, note that we don’t ask the same questions of other kinds of prisoners and hostages. Prisoners of war, kidnapped journalists, executives abducted for ransom… We don’t blame them for not trying to escape.)
So keep an ear out for victim-blaming as these stories are talked about around you, consider taking the opportunity to educate people about what it is and how to stop doing it, and let’s punch a few more holes through rape culture in honor of these three incredibly courageous women.