I think I’d best start this post with a series of forceful disclaimers. I’m going to comment on the story that has riveted many people the last few days, that of Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped and held more or less captive for 18 years by Phillip Garrido.
So here are my disclaimers. Given the little I know about what happened, I think it was truly horrific. I have no sympathy for Garrido. I do not think his actions become defensible because of the passage for time. Additionally, from what I’ve read, I think Dugard coped with an impossible situation incredibly well. She was 11 when she was kidnapped. She was forcibly raped and bore two children in this fashion. She lived in a primitive jail for most of the time.
Now all that said, I’m struck by one paragraph in the NYT story I linked to:
“Jaycee expressed some regret, like guilt when she saw her mother, that she hadn’t escaped,” Mr. Probyn said. “She is feeling guilt for having bonded with this guy the way she did. He had her for 18 years. We had her for 11.”
(Mr. Probyn is Dugard’s step-father.)
On some level it is remarkable that Dugard could bond with Garrido when he treated her so terribly. But it also seems completely understandable to me and indeed, it is telling. Children–and Dugard was a child when she was kidnapped–bond with those who care for them, even if they are cruel and sadistic.
Without condoning Garrido in any way (and you can tell that I’m worried about being misunderstood here, can’t you?) I think we can learn something from this story. If Dugard could bond with Garrido, what of the bond between a child and someone who faithfully and loving raises that child for years, perhaps not knowing that it is not their child?
I’m thinking here of cases like the switched at birth cases. In those cases, a child may be raised by a person who reasonably believes they truly are the parent of the child. The parent is both loving and blameless. The child bonds with the parent, undoubtedly far more strongly than was the case here. It seems to me, if we care about the child in such a case, we have to acknowledge that bond and perhaps have to say that the reality is the people raising the child are the parents of the child, even if it should not have been this way.
Similarly I think of step-parents and co-parents who function as de facto parents to a child for years. Here, too, bonds are created. Some courts are willing to recognize the reality and grant de facto parent status in these cases, but many are not. The unwillingness to recognize the bonds that have formed does needless violence to countless children.
None of this is directly applicable in Jaycee Dugard’s case. There’s no possible way to claim that Garrido played a parental role. But it is striking to me that, even under these appalling circumstances, some sort of bonds were forged. That’s something that should, I think, make us think.