CONCORD, New Hampshire — Despite the grim picture painted by court documents this week, a trauma expert said Thursday there's every reason to believe a New Hampshire teenager who was kidnapped and sexually assaulted over nine months will not only recover but thrive.
A 205-count indictment released Wednesday charges Nathaniel Kibby, 34, of Gorham, with abducting the North Conway girl at gunpoint in October 2013, when she was 14. He was arrested in July, a week after the girl returned home.
The indictments allege that Kibby repeatedly raped the girl and used death threats, a stun gun, zip ties and a shock collar to control her. While details of the sexual assault charges were blacked out, the sheer number — 160 — indicates that prosecutors believe the girl was terrorized on a daily basis.
That trauma need not define the girl's life, however, said Linda Douglas of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. Though it's a common misconception that those who endure horrific experiences cannot lead successful lives, high-profile cases show otherwise, she said. Those include a Utah girl who was kidnapped in Utah at age 14 and held captive for nine months, a California woman who was abducted at age 11 and freed in 2009 after 18 years, and three women who escaped their captor in Ohio in 2013 years after their abductions.
"Whether it's Elizabeth Smart or Jaycee Dugard or the women in Cleveland or the person in this case — people look at them and think, 'Oh, they're going to be damaged for the rest of their lives — that they're not going to be able to be a parent, that they're not going to get married, that they're not going to be able to go to college," Douglas said. "That's definitely not true. There are plenty of people out there who have not only survived what happened to them, but they've managed to thrive."
Media outlets, including The Associated Press, repeatedly published the girl's name and image after she disappeared and when she returned home. The girl's family and prosecutors have asked that her name and image no longer be published because they fear the publicity and association with sexual abuse will slow her recovery.
"I know that we cannot un-ring that bell now that this child has been in the public eye for so many months. But ... while we can't un-ring the bell, we don't have to keep ringing it either," Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young said.
The first thing trauma victims need as they recover is safety and stabilization, Douglas said. That means not only knowing they are safe from their perpetrators but that they are not constantly reminded of their ordeals.
The next step involves being able to regain trust in others, she said.
"After those two have happened, and the person can feel like they can be in their own body, that they have regained some ownership over their life, they have some people in their life they can trust, then it's about telling the story," she said. "It may not be about telling the whole story from beginning to end, but it may be about telling it in bits and pieces in ways that are appropriate."
Douglas sees reason for optimism, particularly in cases in which a community helps to keep a victim safe.
"We don't hear a lot about those high-profile people anymore because they're busy being protected and kept safe in their own communities. That's the real key piece to this," she said. "People can move on from this. People want to be able to have a life after this ... They want to be able to move forward."
Kibby is scheduled to be arraigned on Jan. 8 and Jan. 9 in each of the counties where he was charged. His attorney, public defender Jesse Friedman, said Kibby maintains his innocence.
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