Alicia Kozakiewicz was abducted at age 13 and taken to Virginia
Someone who saw a live video stream alerted authorities and she was rescued
The three Cleveland women will likely face PTSD in their recovery, she says
Kozakiewicz salutes all three women as heroes
Editor’s Note: In the “Human Factor,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta profiles survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week we introduce you to Alicia Kozakiewicz. Eleven years ago at age 13, Kozakiewicz was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a 38-year-old man who kept her as his sex slave in his homemade dungeon. Soon after surviving this nightmare, the young woman began to talk about her ordeal and to be a voice for other children being held captive.
The amazing escape of three Cleveland women – Amanda Berry, Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, and Michelle Knight – exploded into the media amid sordid back stories of their captivity and gave life yet again to my own dark memories of captivity and despair.
At age 13, I, too, became the helpless victim of a sexually depraved monster, a vicious Internet predator who actively groomed me. Luring me from my home, he abducted me to Virginia where I was held captive in his basement dungeon.
For days, I was raped, beaten and tortured, and like an animal, chained to the floor by a locking dog collar. My abductor shared my degradation via streaming video, boasting online about the young girl he had taken to be his sex slave.
It was this very brazenness that would lead to my rescue, as one recipient of the live broadcast, afraid of his own involvement in the crime, scoured the newspaper and found my National Center for Missing and Exploited Children missing person flier. Seeing that my family and the FBI were searching for me, he used a pay phone to contact authorities.
This led the FBI to where I was being imprisoned. The chain was cut from my neck; I was set free and gifted with a second chance at life. Had that call not been made, or had the investigation taken only a bit longer, the monster would have most likely murdered me. Sadly, 74% of stranger-abducted children will be killed within the first three hours.
Though my rescue was miraculous, recovery and re-assimilation has been difficult. Despite this, at 14, after an all-too-brief period of healing, I began to speak out and share my story with students, parents, teachers, law enforcement – anybody who would listen.
I came to realize that other children need not suffer my traumatic experience, and so the “Alicia Project” was born. Continuing my mission, I’ve joined Discovery ID to raise awareness of, and effect change for, issues such as Internet safety, missing persons, human trafficking and child safety awareness education.
I was attending an Amber Alert roundtable in Florida when news broke of the Cleveland rescue. Few have had positive outcomes; their loved ones have been recovered deceased or not at all. Those whose children have yet to be recovered are searching tirelessly, proclaiming that they will never give up. I watched their faces light up as they heard the news. You could almost hear each of them say, “That could be my child!”
These women are unbelievably lucky to have been pulled from the hell they were suffering and given another chance. They are excited to be back with their families and/or loved ones and everything is moving so quickly that their pain and trauma may be eclipsed by their joy.
Unfortunately, this is likely to be short-lived. The vast majority of those who have survived a traumatic experience suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Nightmares, flashbacks, an inability to be in large crowds, hypervigilance, etc., may become a part of their daily lives. It’s important for those around them to be sensitive and to allow them to express their pain.
Additionally, people must also temper their questioning of the events that unfolded while the girls were missing. It is their story and their choice whether to share it. They do not owe that to the world. Privacy is essential.
Survivors, aware of the agonies their families have endured, may feel the need to appear to be “fine” because they do not want to add to their loved ones’ grief. This is one of the many reasons counseling is vital for healthy mental well-being, as it provides a forum in which to speak freely without concern for the reaction of others.
Healing, for each of us, is an ongoing process. I still have days where I suffer from PTSD, but they are becoming less frequent. Traumas don’t simply vanish, but we can definitely choose to fill our lives with positive experiences as time goes on.
What people should take from this story is a message of hope. We must never give up hope that any child, whatever the circumstances, will be rescued and returned safely home.
Amanda, Michelle and Georgina, you have so many wonderful things in store for you. Only those of us who have experienced the terror of threatened captivity may truly appreciate the hero you became as you seized that chance of escape, Amanda. Together, you survived.
Welcome home, heroes.