When someone claims to be talking to God, and thinks that an 18-year imprisonment can be defended as a ‘heartwarming taleâ€, it is obviously a serious case of delusion. But religious delusions are unlikely to explain why Phillip Garrido kidnapped Jaycee Dugard in the first place.
It was revealed last week that Garrido had abducted Dugard at the age of 11 and held her captive in a dusty corner of Antioch — a commuter town 72km east of San Francisco — where he had two children by her.
Like illnesses, delusions generally occur in the second half of life, and many more people fall prey to them than we often realise.
Sometimes we can predict and prevent, but sometimes it is just in the genes. I would guess Garrido is now trying to re-interpret the original events retrospectively in the light of his ‘religious awakeningâ€.
It’s wrong to assume that sexual urge was the main motivation. Some criminals rape opportunistically, of course, but someone like Austria’s Josef Fritzl ticks differently.
In such cases, rape is above all an attempt at staking power through sexual acts. Garrido has been labelled ‘America’s Fritzlâ€, but I would warn against drawing too many parallels.
Fritzl often claimed that his victims led a ‘normal family lifeâ€ — he bought them an aquarium and a Christmas tree — but deep down he knew that he was doing wrong.
Garrido seems convinced he was doing something glorious that benefited everybody involved. Most people have heard of ‘Stockholm syndromeâ€, where the victim starts to regard the perpetrator as a protector-figure.
Dugard, and possibly Garrido’s wife, Nancy, may have developed something similar. But people can free themselves of these delusions once separated from their captors. Adapting to the real world, however, will be hard.
We’ve had prominent cases in Austria, and lesser-known ones in Italy, England and Belgium, but there have rarely been such long imprisonments.
If you spend such a long period with your sense of identity determined by someone else, it is very hard to regain a sense of your own identity afterwards.
I am hopeful about the recovery of Elisabeth Fritzl’s family: they’ve been given a chance to rebuild existing family ties behind closed doors and in their own time.
It’s going to be difficult for Dugard and her parents, who lost an 11-year-old girl and found a woman. They won’t know her. —