Friday, August 25, 2006


What do psychologists make of the extraordinary case of Natascha Kampusch, abducted at 10, deprived of her childhood, and now back in the real world after eight years?
In March 1998, Natascha Kampusch was snatched from a Vienna street as she walked to school.
For eight long years, she was held in a cellar she believed to be rigged with explosives. Her only human contact was with her abductor, Wolfgang Priklopil, who effectively brought her up. He provided her with clothes, food, helped her with her studies. It is not yet clear if he sexually abused her.
But on Wednesday, Natascha escaped. An elderly neighbour of the man she had to call "master" found the 18-year-old, pale and in distress, and called the police. Natascha was soon reunited with her parents.
"Her life has been suspended, and it will take a lot to reconnect," says Dr Anuradha Sayal-Bennett. "She's obviously a very brave young woman, very resourceful, to have managed to escape."

Cellar girl 'our daughter'

That can only stand her in good stead for the long and difficult task of coming to terms with what she's been through. Natascha's is such a rare case that while she has undoubtedly suffered enormous trauma, there is no way of saying in advance what the precise effects will be - or how best to treat her.
Phillip Hodson, a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, says those treating Natascha will be guided by her, asking her if she wants to talk about her experiences, and monitoring her for depression and flashbacks, for which there are a range of therapies.
"Go in with no assumptions, establish a basic rapport. Establish how used she is to conversation. Always put it as questions - 'they think you should talk about it; what do you think?'" he says.
Arrested development
It will be important to re-establish as normal a life with her loved ones as possible. But the life of a 10-year-old, or of an 18-year-old? For her first words to her father - after "I love you" - was "Is my toy car still there?" It had been her favourite plaything.
Dr Jack Boyle, a Glasgow psychologist who specialises in treating abused children, says a bit of both. "She has moved on emotionally from being a 10-year-old, yet that was the life she had that was abruptly cut off."

STOCKHOLM SYNDROME - Psychological response in hostages, in which they come to identify with their captor.

Named after 1973 robbery in Stockholm, where bank employees sympathised with their captors
Famous case is heiress Patty Hearst (above), who helped her captors rob a bankAnother difficulty will be the feeling of abandonment, that no-one came to rescue her. A 10-year-old believes that adults are to be trusted, that her parents will be there for her, and these expectations have been shattered, says Mr Hodson.
"At the time of the kidnap, she will have been saying 'why don't my parents come and get me?' Then she'll have despaired of that happening, and thought 'bugger them'. That will be a considerable barrier to reunited with her family."
Then there's Stockholm syndrome, the coping mechanism whereby abductees exhibit loyalty to their kidnapper. Because Priklopil committed suicide after she escaped, this will further complicate Natascha's reactions.
"She'll have a lot of conflicting reactions - guilt and relief," says Dr Sayal-Bennett.
Phillip Hodson says his death will, in a way, be like losing a family member - even if she's glad he's dead. "If somebody has been there through your transition from childhood to adulthood, it's impossible to not to form some sort of familial feeling. And she set in train the events that led to his death. That's a lot to come to terms with."



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