One of the more recent solved kidnapping cases brought up a serious issue of how the media can take a tragedy and exploit it. Two kidnapped Missouri boys were brought home on Jan. 12. Ben Ownby, 13, kidnapped three days prior to being found, and Shawn Hornbeck, 15, missing since October 2002.
For four years, Hornbeck had been held captive by Michael Devlin, 41. Only 11 years old when he went missing, this child has spent some of the most crucial years of his life with a man who took the boy away from everything and possibly sexually abused him.
Even though people are overcome with joy about his return, the major question that everyone seems to want to know is why he didn’t try to escape. Many neighbors stated they’d seen Hornbeck around town hanging out with friends.
Even more puzzling is the fact that the boy spoke with the police a few times without his abductor present and never mentioned any foul play. Why on earth would the boy not speak up?
Experts have a clear understanding of why. Terri Weaver, a St. Louis University associate professor of psychology said, “When a young child is taken from his family and isolated and perhaps threatened, and those threats are backed up by violence – all that plays a tremendous role in silencing the child.”
No matter how many times experts make statements similar to this, it will still be hard for the general public, myself included, to believe that the boy couldn’t have escaped.
It’s even harder to imagine being in that situation, however. One cannot honestly say that if they were in that situation how he or she would react because it’s an unfathomable nightmare.
Because these long-term kidnapping cases are so rare, the media seems to push everything too far. Even though psychologists have already given a scientific answer to the why question, the media is pushing for another one that’s more exciting.
Because this question is thrown to the public, many tend to start putting the blame on the child rather than realizing the kidnapper has a profound hold over his or her victim.
This is just exploiting the child all over again. Haven’t these children gone through enough? The last thing they need is to think it’s their fault that this happened to them.
These victims are not celebrities. They definitely do not need a camera shoved in their faces, having to dodge questions that could put just as much psychological damage on their brain as the incident itself. The well-being of the victims should not be sacrificed for ratings.
Similar to Hornbeck’s case was the case of then 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart who went missing for nine months. She also did not speak up when she had many opportunities. Reports even go as far as to state that at the beginning, she was held captive only a few miles away in the woods and could hear searchers calling her name. So terror stricken by her captors statements of killing her and her family if she tried to escape, she remained silent. No one will ever know the real pain that these children have gone through.
For this reason, the general public and the media need to exercise some restraint. Instead, ask why did this evil person kidnap this innocent child? Or better yet, rejoice with the family about their child’s safe return. Questions will be answered when the time is right and this is the wrong time.