As I write this, not even 48 hours have passed since three young women escaped a decade-long nightmare of captivity in a house in Cleveland.
In this short time, speculation about them and their ordeal has reached stratospheric heights. Stories parse their 10-year-ago pasts. Headlines declare that “their nightmare is over” and that their escape is “a miracle.” Worse, dark assumptions masquerading as questions are creeping into commentary and social media: Why didn’t they run … try to escape … bang on windows … scream for help years ago?
For the sake of Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight: Stop.
For the millions of female survivors of sexual assault in this country: Stop.
The day after the women’s rescue, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center sent out a news release titled “Compassion for Survivors”:
“Cleveland Rape Crisis Center expresses deep empathy and compassion for Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and their families. As the harrowing facts of this high-profile story unfold, we are aware the nature of this crime will likely have great impact on all rape survivors, their supporters, and the whole community.
“Healing from the wounds inflicted by sexual violence is a lifelong journey. Cleveland Rape Crisis Center is a compassionate resource for those who have experienced this kind of trauma. Support can be found at our 24-hour hotline, 216-619-6192, and more information can be found at www.clevelandrapecrisis.org. We stand ready to support those survivors who will reach out for help, some for the very first time, as they are impacted by the stories of Gina, Amanda and Michelle.”
There is so much we do not yet know about the women’s kidnapping and daily lives in captivity. What we do know, without a single detail, is that it will take years, maybe decades, for them to recover. And they are not alone.
“I got sad when I saw some of the news coverage,” Meg O’Bryan told me Wednesday. She is the president and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. “Twice yesterday reporters asked me, ‘What is the one thing these women need to heal?'”
Wrong question, she said.
“This is a lifelong journey for these women — and a different one for each of them. I don’t see any miracle here. Their nightmare is not over, just as it isn’t for millions of other survivors.”