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For Cleveland Victims, Trust and Comfort May Be First Steps in Healing

May 9, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ray Suarez talks to Matthew Dolan of The Wall Street Journal for more details on the case, and then gets analysis from Dr. Frank Ochberg, clinical professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University, about the healing process for the Cleveland kidnapping victims and what can be learned from past cases of abuse and trauma.
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: The county prosecutor also said this afternoon he may seek the death penalty against Castro for his alleged role in the multiple miscarriages.

Matthew Dolan is covering this story for The Wall Street Journal, and he joins us from Cleveland.

Matthew, welcome.

Does Ohio law specify in all cases that if you are actively ending a pregnancy in this way, you might be open to charges of murder, or is that a matter of prosecutorial interpretation?

MATTHEW DOLAN, The Wall Street Journal: I think it’s unclear at this point.

The prosecutor read us a detailed statement today, but he declined to take any questions from reporters. This is certainly a sensitive issue. The entire issue of the miscarriages really had not been released by police before. We obtained a confidential police report that you cited earlier last night and published some of those details that had talked about the miscarriages that allegedly came at the hands of Mr. Castro.

RAY SUAREZ: Also in this afternoon’s news conference, the prosecutor indicated that they were sort of going to back off the family for a while. Does that indicate to you that they have got what they need for the time being and simply don’t want to bring the pressure to bear of that kind of deposing that it might cause?

MATTHEW DOLAN: It’s a very difficult and delicate situation, both for authorities and the families.

They were initially debriefed after they escaped from the home. And it looks as though prosecutors and police were able to establish some initial information about the conditions of their captivity and even about how they were first ensnared, allegedly, by Mr. Castro.

But they are convinced that, because of the length of the captivity, that they really need time to heal on their own. And so both public officials and law enforcement authorities have asked the media really not to make repeated attempts to interview these women while they spend some time with their families.

Some of them have been away from their families for a decade. So just getting to know family members again and feeling safe is critically important.

RAY SUAREZ: Details have come to light over the past day that are said to come from the contents of a letter written by Ariel Castro.

In your reporting, have you been able to substantiate the existence of this letter or its contents?

MATTHEW DOLAN: No, we have not been able to substantiate those reports.

So far, we know that some 200 items were taken from the home during a search by both the FBI and local authorities. But so far, police have not detailed what was taken from the home. And so we really don’t know much about this alleged letter, other than what some news reports have said. We will certainly see more as the search warrants and the inventory of what investigators found are returned to the courts.

RAY SUAREZ: Police have made up — say they have made up much of the timeline and the story in their charging documents from statements from the women. And alongside them are stories from the neighborhood. Have we been able to substantiate whether and when those three women were able to move about, were able to leave the building at all?

MATTHEW DOLAN: Well, we do know this.

At least according to the women’s accounts to authorities, they were only allowed out of the home twice, and that was only to go to the garage in the rear of the property. Only two of them were allowed to go at a time. It’s unclear who exactly went to the garage. And when they did go to the garage, they had to wear disguises that included wigs.

So there are other reports out there from neighborhood residents and other witnesses that say that they may have seen very suspicious activity, including women in the yard at various points over recent years. But police insist that they only had two calls to the house over the last decade and neither of those calls were related to calls supposedly from witnesses describing women in distress.

RAY SUAREZ: And, Matthew, finally, before we let you go, do we know when Ariel Castro will be back in court?

MATTHEW DOLAN: Well, what we do know is that it’s typical that within about 30 days or so, Mr. Castro typically would be returned to court for an official arraignment. At that period, he may offer to enter a plea, which he did not do today.

But what happens also is that the city prosecutor’s office that handled the case initially will eventually turn that over to the county prosecutor who spoke today. And he will take the case to the grand jury. So we expect that, within some period of time, either before the actual arraignment or shortly after, that the grand jury will act in some way and decide whether or not to act on these more severe charges that the prosecutor said that he’s exploring today.

RAY SUAREZ: Matthew Dolan of The Wall Street Journal, thanks for joining us.

MATTHEW DOLAN: Sure. My pleasure.

RAY SUAREZ: Now more about the victims and what we may be able to learn from past cases and abuses.

Dr. Frank Ochberg is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University. He’s a former associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health and an expert who has written extensively on the effects of trauma, including post-traumatic stress.

And, Doctor, as we have heard, these women were not only kept confined, but physically abused, sexually abused over the years. What do they need right now? In the short term, how do you treat a patient like this?

DR. FRANK OCHBERG, Michigan State University: One thing also is they have been denied a mother all that time.

And I don’t know who their therapists are going to be, but the therapist would not dig right into the worst that we have heard about, would establish some comfort, a chance to take these young women as they are. And I think it’s very important for them to have a maternal presence.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, as horrific as Elizabeth Smart’s story was, she was only gone nine months. We’re talking about up to 10 years in these cases, and, in the case of two of the women, missing major life transitions, finishing high school, moving from teenagerhood to adulthood.

When a captivity has been this long, are there particular differences that arise when treating a case like that? It’s almost half their lives.

FRANK OCHBERG: That’s right, Ray. And it’s through important formative periods. It’s times when you develop a chance to know who you are as a student, to create friends, to be in a normal give-and-take family.

So it’s important to restore that kind of a milieu and trust. So far, some of the things that we have seen are encouraging: laughter, joy at being reunited, a sense of what freedom means. But we’re also hearing that we don’t want to over-interview them. We don’t want them to define their lives as those women who were captured for that period of time.

They have their own personalities, their own positive attributes. They have to interact. And I think we, the public, have to have a sense of leaving them alone, but also rooting for them, and hoping for the best for them. Remember, there are a lot of kids who have been raised in war-torn countries, who’ve gone through tremendous changes. They have seen parents killed.

Me and my colleagues live in a world of extreme trauma. You do also, Ray, as a journalist who covers from these kind of events.

RAY SUAREZ: I’m glad you mentioned children, Doctor, because, in this case, we also have a child who was born into this captivity and almost imprisoned in the house in which she came into the world. Does that offer special challenges?

FRANK OCHBERG: It certainly does.

And I wonder what kind of mothering that child received from her teenage mother. Now, she could have gotten the milk of human kindness, literally and figuratively. There could have been a bond. And that bond might be a positive thing for all of them. We don’t know.

We have to hope for the best. Ray, I want to make a point also — and if I can make it now — it’s that we pay so much attention to a case like this because it’s unusual. It involves children being taken out of their homes. But, Ray, and the people who are listening, there are millions of children who are living in their homes, and they are subjected to repeated rape in their home.

We have an incest story that is staggering. And we don’t like to look at it. But, when I saw this case, I thought, oh, my goodness, a lot of my patients are going to be watching, and they’re going to be saying, that’s me. That’s what happened to me. And it happened in my own house.

RAY SUAREZ: And, very briefly, Doctor, do their family members also need some advice, a toolkit to proceed from now on? They are their primary caregivers, but they’re also not professionals. Are there things that they have to know?

FRANK OCHBERG: Well, there are, Ray.

And in the world of going back and helping to undo trauma, it’s good for a family member to meet with a trauma expert. I mean, for example, one of the saddest things that you see in seriously traumatized people is they lose the volume of their feeling of joy and love. They’re numb. And they may give the impression that they don’t really care about other people who are in their family or their friends.

They do. They do. But those feelings are masked and diminished. So, if everybody knows that, they can help coach and elicit these feelings. I have been impressed by how soldiers who have faced all kinds of difficulty on the battlefield and are religious can lose their sensation of the love of God.

And therapists can help get the sensation restored. And that means a lot to people to have the feeling of their faith, the feeling of the love for their families. And thank goodness now we have a science and we have clinicians who can help.

RAY SUAREZ: Dr. Frank Ochberg, thanks for joining us.

DR. FRANK OCHBERG: You’re welcome, Ray.

JEFFREY BROWN: Online, Ohio Public Media’s Ideastream is following the story. You can see their reports on our home page.