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Snatched women defend US kidnap victim

24 may 2014, 17:47
0
Isidro Garcia (L), 41, and his attorney Charles Frisco. ©Reuters/Alex Gallardo
Isidro Garcia (L), 41, and his attorney Charles Frisco. ©Reuters/Alex Gallardo

So why didn't she just leave?

That's the question being increasingly asked in California after a 25-year-old woman came forward saying she had been kidnapped a decade ago and held against her will, while being repeatedly sexually abused, AFP reports.

Doubters point out that, unlike in similar cases involving forced imprisonment in dungeon-like cellars, neighbors here say she was apparently happily married to her captor, with whom she had a child.

But at least two high-profile victims who themselves spent years held captive have rallied to the unidentified woman's defense, saying no-one who has not experienced it themselves can really understand what happens.

"Unless you were walking in her shoes, you have no reason to talk, none at all," said Michelle Knight, one of three women freed last year after being held captive for years by Ariel Castro in a basement in Cleveland, Ohio.

Isidro Garcia, 42, was indicted in Los Angeles this week on charges of kidnapping, raping and imprisoning the girl he allegedly seized when she was 15 and who walked into a police station this week to tell her story.

Tried to escape twice

Garcia faces up to 19 years in jail for allegedly kidnapping his victim in 2004, keeping her effectively confined with a mixture of physical and mental abuse, and forcing her to marry him and have his baby a couple of years ago.

"On two occasions, she tried to escape. He caught her, he beat her for her efforts," said Anthony Bertagna of the local police in Santa Ana, southeast of Los Angeles.

But as reporters swarmed on the neighborhood where she was allegedly held, the LA suburb of Bell Gardens, the stories local people told were confused, and appeared to contradict the police's narrative.

There were reports that she had a car and drove her child to daycare; that locals knew Garcia and her as a "happy couple," even that they had parties together in the neighborhood.

"Practically everybody connected to the family... finds these allegations unbelievable," Garcia's lawyer Charles Frisco told The Los Angeles Times, adding: "She had her own car, her own job.

"It's mind-boggling why she would wait this long... Why is she coming forward now?"

The victim, identified by neighbors as "Laura," contacted her sister on Facebook in April, the first the family had heard of her since 2004. She then met her sister and mother, and walked into a police station.

According to police, Garcia told her for the last decade that her family had not been looking for her. He also warned the young woman, originally from Mexico, that she risked being sent back if she contacted police.

Some have suggested that she could also have developed Stockholm Syndrome, in which kidnap victims develop empathy with their captors, even while suffering what can be horrific abuse.

Past victims speak out

Other past US kidnap cases include Jaycee Dugard, seized in 1991 in South Lake Tahoe, California, aged 11, and held for 18 years. And Elizabeth Smart, snatched in Salt Lake City in June 2002 and tormented over nine months.

In Austria, Elisabeth Fritzl vanished in 1984 aged 18 and was kept in a dungeon-like basement by her father for 24 years. Also in Austria, Natascha Kampusch spent eight years in a tiny basement from 1998 to 2006.

Knight, collapsing in tears at one point in her CNN interview, lambasted those casting doubt on the latest horrifying story.

"You're making her life not being able to function or heal properly," she said. "You're making people not wanna come out, not wanna say anything. You're making people... go through the abuse when you say stupid crap like that."

Smart also urged the latest victim to ignore critics and doubters. "It's so easy for us to be curious and think, 'Why didn't you escape? Why didn't you run away?'" she said.

"But it's really important that we don't ask that question because all the survivor hears is, 'You should have done something,' and, 'It's your fault you were gone so long.'

"And that's what they do not need to be hearing right now."


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