The term was coined after a 1973 bank robbery in Sweden spurred bank employees to bond with and eventually defend their captors. In America, Stockholm Syndrome was made famous by Patty Hearst, an heiress who joined the violent left-wing group that kidnapped her.
Some experts speculated that Smart had Stockholm, too, even though the disorder has rarely been studied and isn’t listed in the DSM V, the bible of psychiatric disorders. One of the few academic studies on Stockholm Syndrome concludes that there’s hardly any academic research on the subject.
“There is very little evidence to sort of validate that Stockholm Syndrome exists,” Emory University clinical psychologist Nadine Kaslow told Business Insider. She added, “It is mostly talked about in the media.”
Smart’s kidnapping in 2002 when she was 14 baffled the public because her captors often put her in a veil and strolled around her hometown of Salt Lake City. When Smart was rescued after nine months, experts speculated to The New York Times that she didn’t try to flee earlier because she suffered from Stockholm Syndrome and identified with her captors.
”The captor also becomes the nurturer,” child psychologist Dr. Arthur Brand told the Times. “They’re an abuser, but also the only person who can take care of you and keep you alive.”
The FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin reported in 2007 that it wasn’t unheard of for captives to bond with their kidnappers but that it was a rare occurrence. For her part, Smart rejects the theory that she identified with her kidnappers. She says she remained with them because she was terrified.
“Smart argues that you don’t need to have affection for a captor in order to be compliant — fear is enough,” Talbot writes in her profile of Smart. Throughout her captivity, Talbot notes, her kidnapper Brian David Mitchell threatened to kill her or her family if she tried to run away.
That fear might make it look like kidnap victims are complying with their captors when they’re really just paralysed, Kaslow told BI. “The reality is that people are often traumatized and terrorized,” Kaslow said, “and so they may not call out because they’re too afraid.”
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