Kidnapped and held prisoner for a decade

Three missing women have been found in a suburban house in the US. How can victims of such crimes remain hidden for so long?

Help me. I'm Amanda Berry," the frantic voice cried during the emergency telephone call. "I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm here, I'm free now."

But the story was bigger than the police dispatcher in Cleveland, Ohio, could have imagined.

Not only had Amanda Berry, 27, escaped along with her six-year-old child, but two other missing women - Gina DeJesus, 23, and Michelle Knight, 32 - were also rescued. All had been kidnapped about a decade earlier, between 2002 and 2004.

The fact that the women were imprisoned - at times chained - in an ordinary-looking house in suburban America is now well known. They were discovered on Monday 6 May after a bid for freedom by Berry (pictured, left, with her sister), who was assisted by neighbours when she screamed for help through the property's front door.

Now information is emerging about the man charged with the kidnappings, 52-year-old Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver. Neighbours who socialised with him are stunned at the double life he appears to have led.

But the story of the man has been overshadowed by what allegedly went on inside the four-bedroom house, owned by Castro. The freed women were suffering from malnourishment and severe dehydration when they were rescued, and at least one of the women is reported to have suffered multiple miscarriages.

The victims all disappeared from the same area of Cleveland and an investigation has been renewed into the disappearance of a fourth girl, Ashley Summers, who went missing from the same area in July 2007, at the age of 14.

Questions will also be asked about how the women could have been kept imprisoned in the heart of suburbia for so long. Neighbours claim that Castro kept his windows covered, and his garden was reportedly obscured by a high fence. Castro's son has said that, inside the house, doors to the attic and basement were kept locked.

A domestic violence case was brought against Castro in August 2005. He was accused of seriously harming his then wife and repeatedly threatening to kill her and their daughters.

The freed women will now be psychologically assessed, having been reunited with their families. They may have suffered from Stockholm syndrome, the psychological condition in which hostages grow to empathise with their captors. Austrian Natascha Kampusch, who was held in a cellar for eight years and escaped in 2006, reportedly wept when she was told that her captor had killed himself.

Class questions

- What mental tactics could hostages use to cope with their captivity? The freed women were all suffering from severe dehydration. l What are the dangers of giving birth with no medical assistance (such as a midwife), as Amanda Berry appears to have done?

- What challenges will the women face as they try to adjust to everyday life?

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