BY BROOKE ADAMS
© 2003, THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
The sightings now seem to be coming from everywhere – Elizabeth Smart, disguised in wigs and veils, glasses and shapeless overclothes, at parties, at stores, walking a public street in broad daylight.
So why didn’t she run?
The details of Elizabeth Smart’s nine months in captivity — police say she was kidnapped and held against her will — are still unfolding. Family members say the teenager never had a chance to escape.
“She said there was no way — she had two people with her at all times,” family spokesman Chris Thomas said — a reference to Brian David Mitchell, who had changed his name to David Emmanuel Isiah for religious reasons and held himself as a messenger of God, and Wanda Ilene Barzee, who are being questioned by police.
Based on similar cases, one expert said it is likely fear or psychological pressure kept the 15-year-old from making an escape — that she experienced Stockholm syndrome or another psychological reaction that made her believe escape was impossible because of mystical or overt forces.
“We have no idea what psychological or pressure manipulations he used with her,” said Janja Lalich, a sociology professor at California State University, Chico, and author of Captive Hearts, Captive Minds and co-author with Margaret Singer of Cults in Our Midst.
Still, she said, past experiences show that “when you are removed from your normal environment and kept confined in some way, which we know [Elizabeth] must have been at the beginning, you can enter a very distorted reality,” said Lalich. “If they are good at what they do, they use a punishment/reward system. It doesn’t take much for your reality to shift.”
That reality, Lalich said, is governed by fear and works to keep a captive in check, even in public settings. “You can’t figure out how to [leave] rather than you don’t want to,” Lalich said, adding that Elizabeth’s youth could also have been a factor.
Stockholm syndrome, coined in 1973 after a bank holdup in Sweden, has been identified in hostages, cult members, battered women and abused children. Researchers say, in what may be an instinctive survival strategy, it causes victims to sympathize with, care for and be compliant with their captors, according to the Australian-based Center Against Sexual Assault’s Web site.
A similar scenario, experts said, involves a psychologically controlling relationship orchestrated by a charismatic person who professes a belief system or mystical power that is used to control and influence a small number of people.
Lalich says recovering from such an experience depends largely on having a strong support network, and “Elizabeth Smart clearly has a fabulous support network.”