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CNN Exclusive: Former Austrian captive has advice for Cleveland trio

By Matthew Chance, CNN
updated 7:45 PM EDT, Wed May 15, 2013
  • Natasha Kampusch was held for eight years in an Austrian man's basement
  • She escaped and was reunited with her family in August 2006
  • She says the Cleveland women should return to normal lives slowly
  • Kampusch says she had to "bury hate" for her abductor, who later committed suicide

Vienna, Austria (CNN) -- If anyone can understand what the Cleveland abduction victims must have endured, it's Natasha Kampusch.

Like the three women, the 25-year-old Austrian spent most of a decade imprisoned in her abductor's house after being abducted on a Vienna street in 1998.

Wolfgang Priklopil kept her locked in his cellar for eight tortuous years. He raped her, then committed suicide when she finally escaped seven years ago.

She said Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight should enjoy the feeling of freedom but be careful.

"It was an enormous feeling of joy that cannot be compared to anything else," she told CNN. "You see all of the possibilities laid out in front of you. ...

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"The women in Cleveland should really try to savor this joyous feeling as long as possible, and to avoid letting themselves be pushed back into everyday life too soon."

In 1998, Kampusch, then 10, was dragged into a car while walking to school. She was often locked inside a "hermetically sealed" concrete jail. Her abductor used restraints on her to keep her in bed with him as he slept.

She wrote that she was beaten as many as 200 times a week -- until she heard her own spine "snap."

She escaped in August 2006 and wrote a book entitled "3,096 Days" about the ordeal.

The days immediately after her escape were hard.

"It was a very difficult time to experience for me, the media everywhere, and re-establishing my relationship with my parents again," she said.

In many ways the case in Cleveland is a lot like hers, but she was alone, while the three Ohio women had each other to talk to during their captivity.

She also never heard her abductor explain why he did it, but she said that wasn't as important as knowing he would never be able to harm anyone else.

She said she was glad the women were still alive.

"I am very happy for the three women, and thank God they had survived their ordeal," she said. "They are certainly very strong women."

Kampusch said former captives need to take time to work through the emotional issues themselves.

"Don't let other people take over," she said, standing outside the home where she was held.

She owns it now; it was awarded to her by the Austrian courts as damages. The property is an important symbol, she said, and keeping it is her way of dealing with her past.

"It's so very emotional for me because it never stops," she said. "You live with it."

The ordeal will be with her for her whole life, she said. She tries to see positives in her life and look forward, not back.

She had to "bury the hate you feel for the person who did this to you," she said.

Besides assimilating back into normal lives slowly, former captives also have to deal with the people who don't believe their stories are entirely true.

She would tell the Cleveland women: "Don't worry what people say. They are the ones that experienced it, they are the ones who survived it, and they are the ones who have to come to terms with what they experienced their entire lives."

It's a sobering message for women already scarred by years of terrible conditions. Their captivity has ended, but their ordeal may be far from over.

CNN's Matthew Chance reported from Vienna, and Steve Almasy wrote in Atlanta. CNN's Victoria Eastwood contributed to this report.

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