Jaycee Lee Dugard, a 29-year-old woman who was kidnapped in front of her stepfather 18 years ago has been discovered by California authorities and reunited with her mother this week. Bay Area police discovered Jaycee after a man named Phillip Garrido came to their attention after he was spotted handing out religious material at the UC Berkeley campus with two young girls, ages 15 and 11, whom UC officers thought he was acting strange towards. The two girls are thought to be two daughters that he fathered with Jaycee whom he allegedly kidnapped in 1991 and kept in isolation in a “ramshackle warren of sheds, tents and tarps” in his backyard near Oakland. Jaycee’s story of survival, while it has shades of similar long-term rape/kidnapping cases which were brought to light recently in Europe (the most famous of these being Josef Fritzl, an Austrian man convicted of imprisoning and repeatedly raping his daughter whom he kept in his basement for 24 years) is rare and upsetting, particularly because her kidnapper was on life parole for a previous conviction for rape and kidnapping in 1971.
In 1991, Jaycee was snatched by a man and a woman in a van (now believed to be Garrido and his wife) as her stepfather watched her walk to a school bus stop in Lake Tahoe. A search ensued but no one could find any strong leads and Jaycee’s mother and stepfather eventually separated. During the time she was missing, it is believed that she was kept under complete isolation in the Garrido’s household and she was rarely or never allowed to leave the property. She had two known children with Garrido (meaning she would have given birth to the oldest child when she was 14 years old) and they were kept under similar isolation, although neighbors reported that they sometimes saw the two girls playing in the yard. Garrido was an apparent religious fanatic who started a church called God’s Desire and also kept a blog where he wrote posts about being able to control people’s minds and to hear and speak with angels. He also ran a print shop where he would print items for local businesses. It seems almost strange that in the supposed era of fanatic Googling that no one, not an inquisitive Cal student who had been handed religious material, his parole officer or one of Garrido’s print shop clients, thought to do even a basic search on the man and discover that he is a sex offender and batshit insane. Not that those things would have necessarily led to Jaycee getting found any sooner, but don’t you think that at least his parole officers would have been a tad interested that this man was babbling on about religious things and claiming he knew mind control? That wouldn’t have lead to them to maybe check out his house just once in the past 18 years?
And let’s not forget Nancy Garrido, Phillip Garrido’s wife, who allegedly was part of the kidnapping of Jaycee. While it is easy to focus solely on the man involved in this kidnapping, his wife also had a pretty heavy hand in the deal. In fact, women are often involved in cases like this. According to The Blue Heart Campaign, of the 30% of countries where the gender of a sex trafficker is known, more women than men are convicted of trafficking than men. While Jaycee’s case isn’t a clear cut example of sex trafficking, it is hard to draw clear distinctions in some cases between kidnapping-rape and trafficking, particularly when the victim has been imprisoned, as it were, for a long period of time. Unfortunately, women–particularly young girls–are often the victims of “stranger kidnappings” or kidnappings done by complete strangers. According to the Department of Justice, women are often targeted by stranger kidnappings more than men, it usually involves teenagers or school-aged children and it is often associated with sexual assault when the victim is female. In the world of kidnapping statistics, Jaycee isn’t that odd of a case, however her survival and eventual reunion with her family is rare. But the question still remains, why are young women more often targeted than young men in kidnappings? Obviously, the idea that women are physically weaker than men and sexually submissive plays into it, but when you are an adult targeting a child I don’t think that the strength of the victim is that much of a concern. (However, there are sometimes happy stories when a child victim beats off a kidnapper, like when 11-year-old Xochil Garcia escaped her attacker in 2007.)
Hopefully, Jaycee will be able to lead a healthy life after this. There is no doubt that it will probably be difficult, but it is at least heartwarming to know that she was eventually reunited with her family and taken away from her captors. Garrido, meanwhile, claims that his tale of kidnapping and repeated rape of the child Jaycee is heartwarming and that he expects people to be “impressed” by his story and his claim that he “turned his life around.” Yeah, dude, it sure is “impressive” how you kidnapped and rape a child and forced her to live in isolation is a series of tents in your disgusting backyard. But, again, I am interested in knowing where his parole officers were during this–where were his neighbors and the people who interacted with him who could tell he was insane? Did they think that having a tent city in your backyard was completely normal? Did they think that it was normal to claim you could hear voices and communicate with angels? If someone had suspected something, and considering that he is a repeated rapist and kidnapper you just know there must have been other signs he was giving people, could they have found Jaycee earlier? It is hard to wonder about these things in a hypothetical sense since we can never know the real answer, but we hope that now parole officers around the country are keeping a closer eye on their offenders.