Back home after being held captive for three months, Jayme can start healing from the emotional trauma of her ordeal. We asked a psychologist what her recovery may be like.

By Jessica Migala
Updated: February 20, 2019

It’s hard to imagine what Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old Wisconsin girl who escaped her kidnapper safely on January 10 after being held captive for 88 days, is dealing with in the aftermath of her abduction.

Missing since October 15, her accused abductor, Jake Patterson, 21, fatally shot both of her parents, taped her hands and ankles together, and put her in the trunk of his car before driving her to his cabin in the middle of the night, reports CNN.

The conditions Jayme faced were horrendous. She was forced to go “without food, water, or access to a toilet for as long as 12 hours,” according to the New York Times. She was also barricaded under his bed when he had guests over, and while the details of her captivity have not been made public yet, Patterson allegedly was physically violent. Jayme managed to escape the cabin and run to a nearby road, where a woman walking her dog took her to a house and called police.

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Details of her harrowing experience are stomach-churning, sure, and she showed incredible bravery and strength during her ordeal. But what may lie ahead for Jayme as she begins healing? Here's what a child abduction expert told us.

The road to recovery

“When you compound a kidnapping with the loss of parental figures, the emotion of grief is likely to be overwhelming,” Rebecca Bailey, PhD, a child abduction expert and the director of Transitioning Families, tells Health. Her grief may have been “unprocessed” as she was being held, Bailey explains, so Jayme may just now be dealing with her parents' murders. “During captivity, an enormous amount of energy is channeled into mere survival, leaving the victim with little energy for anything else,” she says.

Now that Jayme is home, the road ahead may be fraught with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), though not everyone will experience this mental health condition, says Dr. Bailey, who has treated Jaycee Dugard, the California woman who survived an 18-year abduction from 1991 to 2009. Shock, numbness, anxiety, guilt, depression, anger, and a sense of helplessness are some of the other emotions that kidnapping victims often face upon their release, according to the American Psychological Association.

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During recovery, it’s also normal to experience intrusive thoughts and flashbacks. Many trauma survivors try to avoid these and think of them as obstacles preventing them from moving on. But they actually may be an important part of healing, says Dr. Bailey. Beyond the mental and emotional fallout is the physical toll of trauma, which can manifest in the body as medical problems and stick around for years.

One common roadblock Jayme will likely face, something all kidnapping victims struggle with, is regaining a sense of safety. “Safety and security is the most important ingredient to the ability to heal and stabilize after a traumatic experience,” says Dr. Bailey.

Even a victim’s ability to make choices for themselves—something that was taken away from them during the kidnapping—can be burdensome. “Freedom, although wonderful, can come with a number of stresses,” she adds.

Facing her captor in court

Patterson has appeared in court on charges of intentional homicide, kidnapping, and armed burglary, according to CNN. His bail is $5 million. If and when he has a trial, Jayme won’t have to testify, prosecutors have said. But she may still have to deal with what Dr. Bailey calls the "overwhelming circus" around a case, which includes everything from public speculation and scrutiny to TV commentators “projecting doomsday futures for the survivor." 

What will help Jayme get through this is a strong family network, people she trusts who she can retreat to for support and love. “Individuals and families need a place to heal and reconnect. Having this time [together] is imperative,” says Bailey. It’s also worth noting that her family members likely have their own complicated feelings associated with her kidnapping and release that they will need to process and work through.

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The long-term outlook

People are incredibly resilient—something that is proven after horrors like natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and mass shootings. Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home in 2002 and held captive for nine months, has spoken out about Jayme's ordeal and has urged her and her family to "create a new normal," according to People.

But how can a 13-year-old who has lost both of her parents adjust to that new normal, as well as thrive and forge a successful future? “I have experienced firsthand individuals who have survived incredible circumstances,” says Dr. Bailey. “The people I’ve worked with express they are grateful each day for their release and do not dwell on the past. They can absolutely recover. The kidnapping will always be a part of them but does not need to define them,” she says.

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