Jessica Dweck writes a story that will be told about Ariana-Leilani in the future:
Despite her harrowing ordeal—which included being tethered to a tree for a month, raped daily, and cut off from all contact with the outside world—Smart, now 23, maintained her composure while testifying against Mitchell in federal court. She called Mitchell a “crude and vulgar, self-serving” man who used religion to justify his sexual assaults and drug use.
She also testified about her failure to run away or reveal her true identity to passersby. Is it unusual for victims of extended abduction or sexual abuse to be so poised and articulate on the witness stand—and to pass up chances to escape?
It’s possible that in cases where the abuser’s guilt is in dispute, such level-headed detachment can undermine a victim’s credibility. According to University of California-Irvine psychologist Jodi Quas, jurors expect heart-wrenching, tear-soaked testimony and may be less inclined to believe a victim who remains calm while narrating such a hellish experience. Composure in court is fairly common. Typically, by the time a victim testifies, she has told the story many times, to police, friends, family members, lawyers, therapists,
and the media. Smart sat for an interview on Dateline NBC several months after her rescue and spoke with legal correspondent Nancy Grace in 2006, though she declined to discuss the details of her captivity with Grace. While younger children and incest survivors have a tendency to become visibly distressed on the stand, that’s less likely with victims like Smart, who have the support of their families and communities and have had years to process the trauma. With repetition, time, and therapy, victims can come to terms with their ordeal, develop a set way of understanding what happened to them, and discuss traumatic events without reliving the accompanying emotions. This has been the case for other high-profile rape/kidnapping victims, including Sabine Dardenne, who was abducted by a serial killer while riding her bike to school, and Katie Beers, who testified against her abuser with steely-eyed clarity at the age of 11.
Withholding emotion in court also enables victims to deny their tormentors the satisfaction of causing them any more pain. (Mitchell crazied his way out of the courtroom long before Smart took the stand and watched the trial from another room.)
- Elizabeth Smart’s behavior fit pattern, experts say ()
- The Stockholm Syndrome (psychologytoday.com)
- Prosecutor: What Elizabeth Smart would say (cnn.com)
- Elizabeth Smart ends testimony on emotional note (reuters.com)
- Is torture justified to prevent a specific terrorist attack? (xwidep.com)
- Elizabeth Smart ends testimony on angry note (reuters.com)
- Elizabeth Smart Takes Stand to Relive ‘Indescribable Fear’ (abcnews.go.com)
- Problems with Child Protective Services
- The answer isn’t Stockholm syndrome. (slate.com)
- SNL: Obama’s Stockholm Syndrome, Embrace of Reaganomics and Turn to Full Birther (crooksandliars.com)
- High Conflict Relationships Can Lead to Stress Disorder (psychologytoday.com)