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Freed Ohio women will need privacy after ordeal, survivors say

Sandra Ruiz speaks to the media in front of the family home of her niece Georgina DeJesus, in Cleveland, Ohio, May 7, 2013. REUTERS/John Gre
Sandra Ruiz speaks to the media in front of the family home of her niece Georgina DeJesus, in Cleveland, Ohio, May 7, 2013. REUTERS/John Gre

By Sharon Bernstein and James Nelson

(Reuters) - The three young women imprisoned for around a decade at house in Ohio are going to need support and, most of all, privacy as they re-integrate into society, survivors of other long-term kidnapping ordeals said on Tuesday.

Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, who disappeared in separate incidents between 2002 and 2004, were found alive on Monday at a two-storey home in the same blue-collar Cleveland neighborhood where they had gone missing.

Three brothers have been arrested as suspects.

But even as neighbors celebrated and media from around the world converged on the Seymour Avenue block where Berry led the escape, survivors of other kidnapping ordeals, Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, urged people to leave the three women alone.

"Just coming home, trying to reach some kind of normalcy and just fitting in with their families" will be a challenge, Smart told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday. "They've been gone so long. A lot has changed. A lot has happened."

Now married and an activist for missing and exploited children, Smart was abducted at knifepoint from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002 at age 14. She was rescued nine months later.

Smart offered to meet with the Ohio survivors but said she would only do so if that did not infringe on the private space they need to heal.

Her message of the need for space was echoed by Jaycee Dugard, who was taken from a California bus stop at age 11 and held for 18 years before she was freed in 2009.

"These individuals need the opportunity to heal and connect back into the world," Dugard said in a statement, and urged the women not to let their ordeals define them.

"This isn't who they are," Dugard said. "It is only what happened to them."

Their rescue, she added, "reaffirms we should never give up hope."

Dugard wrote a book about her captivity, "A Stolen Life," and in 2011 filed a lawsuit accusing the federal government of failing to properly monitor and track her captor, Phillip Garrido, a convicted sex offender.

Still, she guards her privacy. As an honoree at a dinner on Tuesday night by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Washington, Dugard planned to deliver a simple, "Thank you," instead of a detailed speech, a spokesman said.

CONJECTURE DAMAGING

Rebecca Bailey, author of "Safe Kids, Smart Parents" and a therapist who has worked with Dugard, urged the public and the press not to speculate about what may have happened to the three Ohio women during their imprisonment.

"Please avoid labels and conjecture in order to prevent further stress and pressure," she said in a statement. "For you this is news, for them this is real life."

Marsha Gilmer-Tullis, a social worker with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said the women will undoubtedly also need help from a trained therapist.

"There are incredible complexities that are very unique to this type of trauma," Gilmer-Tullis said. "It really requires an understanding of a treatment professional who can understand and help that child or young adult move forward."

Family members of victims have sometimes found purpose in creating foundations to help look for missing children or provide support to survivors, she said.

The family of Shawn Hornbeck, who was abducted as an 11-year-old in Missouri and held for four years before he was rescued with another boy in 2007, started a foundation to help other missing and exploited children. Elizabeth Smart's family also started a foundation.

Gary Toelke, sheriff of Franklin County, Missouri, was at the center of the investigation that led to discovery of Hornbeck and Ben Ownby, who was abducted when he was 13. Toelke said he and a deputy sheriff recently attended an Eagle Scout ceremony for Ownby, and said that he was attending college.

Another famous child kidnap victim, Katie Beers, has written a book called "Buried Memories" that she hopes will help childhood victims of abuse and neglect. Now 30, she is married with two children, aged one and three, and works in a family insurance business.

Beers, abducted in 1992 two days before her tenth birthday and held in a concrete bunker in New York for two weeks before police rescued her, credits her foster parents with helping her survive.

"I went from a very neglectful and abuse-ridden childhood to the abduction right into this foster home," she said, citing a cocoon of warmth and privacy they built around her after her ordeal. "They didn't allow me to see the media storm that was all around me."

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Los Angeles, Tim Bross in St. Louis and James Nelson in Salt Lake City; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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