On the show

Expert: Cleveland kidnap victims' video made story 'less disturbing'

July 9, 2013 at 10:08 AM ET

The restrained thank-you video released by the three Cleveland kidnapping victims provided a smart, controlled way for the women to address the public, a mental health expert said Tuesday.

The YouTube video released by the three women who escaped from a decade-long captivity in May was “intelligent,” if only because it gave the media enough information to temporarily keep them at bay, said psychiatrist Gail Saltz.

“They weren’t crying, they weren’t looking traumatized, they weren’t talking about their captor — all of that was very smart, because frankly, it makes us less interested,” Saltz told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie.

“That’s sad to say about America, but we tend to gravitate towards the disturbing story,” she said. “They made it less disturbing, and I do think it’s affirming. We want them to have inner strength and real strength.”

That’s not to say the survivors won’t have years of recovery ahead of them.

Ariel Castro, 52, is accused of holding the three women captive in the basement of his Cleveland home for more than a decade until one of the women escaped and got help for the other victims. Castro has pleaded not guilty to a 329-count indictment that includes multiple kidnapping and rape charges. He currently is being held on an $8 million bond.

Saltz questioned whether the women will have intimacy issues and other concerns down the road.

“If they are more sensitive, if they have issues that they came into this with even, that may make this trauma more difficult for them, and less survivable,” she said.

Each survivor — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — made a statement in the YouTube video posted for them by a Cleveland PR firm.

A calm and cheerful Berry thanked her supporters — and those who respected the women’s request for privacy.

Amanda Berry, Gina de Jesus and Michelle Knight
TODAY
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, in photos before their kidnapping.

"First and foremost, I want everyone to know how happy I am to be home with my family, my friends,” she said. “It's been unbelievable. I want to thank everyone who has helped me and my family through this entire ordeal. Everyone who has been there to support us — it’s been a blessing to have such an outpouring of love and kindness."

DeJesus appears with her parents, who do most of the talking, and expresses gratitude for contributions to the Cleveland Courage Fund to help her recovery process. Knight refers to the faith that helped her through the ordeal and now in her transition to independence.

"I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and with my head held high," she said, adding that while she has been hurt, "we need to rely on God as being the judge."

Other high-profile kidnapping survivors waited longer to make their first public statements.

Elizabeth Smart was snatched as a 14-year-old from her Salt Lake City home and kept for more than nine months. She appeared less than two months after her rescue at a White House event supporting the Amber Alert system, but did not grant her first interview until seven months after her liberation when she and her parents spoke with former TODAY anchor Katie Couric on Dateline NBC.

Jaycee Dugard was 11 when she was kidnapped and gave birth to two children during her 18 years of captivity. She was found in 2009 and provided her first interview two years later to ABC’s Diane Sawyer.

Saltz said the Cleveland survivors “look really bolstered,” considering only two months has passed since their dramatic rescue. The family, faith and funds they referred to in their video will prove crucial in their recovery.

“There’s a certain ‘fake it ’til you make it’ and believing what they’re saying, that they can do this,” she said. “That’s really useful to them right now.”

TOP