Dr Ian Stephen: The traumatising effect of isolation

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In terms of psychological harm, the 42-year-old female victim will have lost any developmental opportunities from childhood through to adulthood. She will find it almost impossible to develop normal relationships with people, and will be almost unaware of the reality of life outside the house where she was imprisoned for so long. She's been utterly isolated from her peer group, and, because she has been totally dominated by her father, she'll also be restricted when it comes to her own independence.

She might also have developed Stockholm syndrome, eventually becoming totally passive and fully compliant to all of her father's demands, in order to survive her fear of him. How she's going to express herself and relate to other people in society is a big issue: she'll have to re-socialise, and become aware of emotions and feelings that have become flattened and numbed. You can see the damage done to hostages who are held for short periods of time and this is, in effect, a hostage situation involving somebody's own father and continued over decades. I don't think there's any precedent for this.

After several months of numbness, normality will start to sink in, and she'll probably suffer a very complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The whole thing must have been extremely traumatising initially when she was a young girl, and will have continued to traumatise her throughout her days.

Being imprisoned from a young age will mean that her learning abilities could be severely underdeveloped or handicapped. Her children, some of whom have never seen the light of day, will also be severely damaged after suffering total stimulus deprivation.

In terms of rehabilitation, it completely depends on the woman and how she's coping with what has happened to her. But as the abuse was violent all the way through, it's difficult to see how people are going to help her through this. She hasn't even got the security of her family to look to, and she's not a child any more: she's a mature woman in age, but not in development.

She has only been allowed to see and hear what her father allowed, which would tend to be himself, and she will find it very hard to come out into the world. She'll need a lot of support from people in terms of learning to communicate again, and the learning abilities she gained in the early part of her life will have to be brought back.

The dynamics of the whole family are a psychologist's nightmare to work out. How have the children in the basement developed and matured? How have they been mothered? Incest often occurs with the onset of puberty, when a child develops into adulthood. The father's feelings have shifted from the paternal love of his child and have made him see her as a sexual object rather than a daughter. Once that change has happened, it will have become all about his needs and wants being met."

The author is a consultant forensic psychologist who has helped police with numerous investigations, including the Suffolk prostitute murders

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