Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sex Slaves: The Psychology of Mastery

Victim Types

It's interesting to note that not everyone reacts in the same manner to being abducted and held for a long period of time. We can divide their reported experiences into four types of responses:

  1. Overt Challengers: Some victims struggle against their captivity, as most people believe they would, seeking ways to escape and counting the days until they can be free again. They never give up and some eventually do escape. They regard their ordeal as a negative experience and often need counseling to get through the trauma of having been abused and having lost so much of their lives.
  2. Covert Challengers: They appear to go along with what their captor requires, but secretly look for a way to escape; they might even pretend to be his girlfriend, boyfriend, son, housekeeper, or whatever role is required, as a way to placate him until they can get him to relax his guard. Then they make their move.
  3. Submissives: Some victims become passive and eventually adapt to their conditions, even befriending their captors. Mental health experts view this as classic Stockholm syndrome, which occurs under unusual conditions of severe stress in captivity, especially where there's torture and uncertainty about the outcome. The captive appears to become involved to some degree with his or her captor, even to the point in some cases of consenting to the abuse and captivity. That person may express feelings of sympathy and affection in a way that surprises outsiders and makes them wonder just how abused the person really was, but the captive's confusing response derives from the intensity of the situation and the malleability of the human psyche — in  some people, more easily shifted than others. It appears that the person "freezes" in defense and then yields so as to lessen the abuse and even curry favor. If the captor then looks to the captive's basic needs, the captive may feel grateful and become more susceptible to suggestion.
  4. Internalizers: Another type of victim develops the belief that there was something positive about what happened to him or her, as if the captor had done him or her a favor. This usually comes from the captor instilling in the victim the idea that he's the only one the captive can count on. He may have said the parents were dead or didn't want the child, or he may have resorted to other lies, but the captive's personality is such that he or she may come to view their captor as their only family. Thus, even when they're out together and there's a chance of drawing attention from others, they don't utilize the opportunity. It's not that they've given up, as with those in the third category. It's that they've reframed reality in such a way that they can absorb and accept the situation.
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