LETTER: Jaycee Dugard story has profound lessons for all of us

Monday, July 18, 2011 | 1:20 p.m. CDT

The tragic story of kidnapping and 18 years of abuse suffered by Jaycee Dugard provides many important lessons for all of us.

Jaycee Dugard is an amazing survivor of trauma-filled captivity, suffering what no child or adult should ever have to experience. This young survivor now has a goal to inspire people to speak out when they see something amiss around them. She also wants to help other children who might be facing difficult situations of their own.

A 43-page report written after the review conducted last year by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts has now been released, spotlighting many mistakes and missed opportunities by federal parole agents as well as the California Department of Corrections and local law enforcement.

The report concludes that supervision of Jaycee Dugard’s captor (who was classified as a “high-risk offender” after release from prison) was “clearly substandard” and allowed 18 years of horror to occur.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that 797,500 children are reported missing in a one-year time span in our country, and five children die every single day in the U.S. due to child abuse.

These statistics, coupled with the Jaycee Dugard story, provide strong reasons for our community and our country to give these needless tragedies the attention they deserve.

The Jaycee Dugard story is horrifying, but there are so many lessons to be learned from what occurred in California. There is no doubt that both state and federal systems failed. Those in the community who came into contact with Jaycee, her daughters and her captor failed to recognize the signs of something amiss.

If it were not for two alert campus security officers at the University of California-Berkeley, this tragic story of abuse and captivity may never have come to an end. Ally Jacobs and Lisa Campbell were attentive to the signs of unusual circumstances and strange behavior involving Jaycee Dugard’s daughters.

These two women took action when the man’s behavior seemed erratic and the young girls appeared sullen and submissive. A key strategy of preventing child abuse is to be attentive to children and families in our own world.

Paying attention to situations that just do not seem right and then reporting concerns to the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline (1-800-392-3738) are important first steps in possibly saving a child from abuse, neglect or death.

Debby Howland lives in Jefferson City and is coordinator of Kansas City Child Abuse Roundtable Coalition.

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