What the Three Kidnapped Cleveland Women Want to Tell You About Their Paths to Recovery

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
July 9 2013 10:16 AM

Three Kidnapped Cleveland Women Break Their Silence

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight—the three women who endured years of captivity, and gothic horrors, in a Cleveland house—have made a heart-warming thank-you video. They all express gratitude to family, friends, and the people who donated money to help them. They all talk about building new lives. But they also hit three distinct themes that reveal different paths to recovery, different forms of resilience.

Berry goes first and is best able to look into the camera. She emphasizes her gratitude for the privacy she’s been given since her release in May—and asks for more of it. I always wonder how people who have become unwittingly famous for enduring brutality deal with the attention. It can’t be what anyone wants to be known for. Some women who have gone through similar ordeals, like Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, seem to find a way to meet it with grace. But that must take time. Berry is asking for more of it.

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DeJesus appears flanked by her father on one side and her mother on the other. Her parents talk more than she does. The theme here is family: how much it means when they stand by you no matter what you have been through and how long you’ve been gone.

It was Knight who made me cry when she began speaking. She frequently ducks her head to look at her notes, and her voice is high and a little singsong. From what we know of the women’s imprisonment, it seems that Knight suffered the most serious violence and torture. Her way forward now, she tells us, is through God. “We have been hurt by people, but we need to rely on God to be the judge,” she says. “I’m in control of my own destiny, with the guidance of God.” Knight also says that she has suffered so that she can help other people like her. By making this video, which seems to be entirely in their control, these three women are already starting on that project. Here they are, alive and unbowed. I wonder, though: Does it mean anything that they don’t appear on screen together?

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

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