Why Did She Not Escape?

Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 13, 2003

The sightings now seem to be coming from everywhere — Elizabeth Smart, Brian David Mitchell, who had changed his name to David Emmanuel Isiah for religious reasons and held himself as a messenger of God, and Wanda Ilene Barzee, who are being questioned by police.

Based on similar cases, one expert said it is likely fear or psychological pressure kept the 15-year-old from making an escape — that she experienced Stockholm syndrome or another psychological reaction that made her believe escape was impossible because of mystical or overt forces.

“We have no idea what psychological or pressure manipulations he used with her,” said Janja Lalich, a sociology professor at California State University, Chico, and author of Margaret Singer of Stockholm syndrome, coined in 1973 after a bank holdup in Sweden, has been identified in hostages, cult members, battered women and abused children. Researchers say, in what may be an instinctive survival strategy, it causes victims to sympathize with, care for and be compliant with their captors, according to the Australian-based Center Against Sexual Assault’s Web site.

A similar scenario, experts said, involves a psychologically controlling relationship orchestrated by a charismatic person who professes a belief system or mystical power that is used to control and influence a small number of people.

Lalich says recovering from such an experience depends largely on having a strong support network, and “Elizabeth Smart clearly has a fabulous support network.”

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Topic(s): Elizabeth Smart
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