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August 31st, 2009
09:52 AM ET

Life after being kidnapped

We're learning more today about what life was like for Jaycee Dugard during the 18 years that she spent with her alleged kidnappers. This past weekend she was reunited with her family, but there are still many unanswered questions about the case.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children."]

Ernie Allen is president and CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He spoke to Kiran Chetry on CNN’s “American Morning” Monday about what life is like after a kidnapping and what needs to be done to prevent these crimes.

Kiran Chetry: There's so much to talk about in this case. Certainly there’s cause for celebration on the part of the family that after thinking their daughter was probably dead they find out that she is alive and are reunited with her.

But at the same time there’s so much tragedy involved. She had two children while being held prisoner for 18 years. What are the most important things that need to be kept in mind now as she’s starting to reintegrate with her real family?

Ernie Allen: Well, I think the most important test here is the need for patience. So often parents had these children frozen in their minds as a 10- or 11-year-old and everybody wants to go back to where they were. This is going to be a journey, a long process. This is going to be a process of life-long recovery for Jaycee. But she’s alive. There's hope for the future. She's young. We're very encouraged about the steps that are happening already.

Chetry: What about her children? An 11-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old daughter, fathered from what she’s saying and what this man Garrido is saying – are his children, as well.

Allen: Well, that's another challenge. And it represents really a two-sided picture. One is to these children he's their father. You can't suddenly go from dad to Satan to this evil person. So that's going to be very sensitive. The other thing is, apparently the children have been very sheltered. They’ve never gone to school. They had never seen a doctor before. But our hope here is that Jaycee will be a mom and that it will help her in her care for them as she goes forward.

Chetry: You spend countless hours trying to work to help children that are missing, to help children that this has happened to. There have been multiple laws passed. There are mandatory sex offender registrations. There's the Amber Alert that goes out. Yet in this situation, we see how none of that seemed to have worked. Meaning, this is a guy who was convicted in the '70s of kidnapping and rape and sentenced to 50 years in a federal penitentiary of which he served ten. Parole officers visited his home repeatedly and never found this tent city I guess or backyard where they were living. And on top of that, deputies visited him. Neighbors tried to call over the years and said things are strange. So what went wrong here?

Allen: Well, I think what we've seen is that there are nearly 700,000 registered sex offenders in the United States. More than 100,000 in California alone. The systems for monitoring, for follow-up, for supervision of those offenders are really overwhelmed. Obviously, it's disturbing that this wasn't identified. One of the things I think is very interesting is like so many of these other cases, this case was resolved because one person paying attention saw something that disturbed her and acted. In every one of the cases, invariably there's an average citizen doing average things who sees something and alerts authorities about it. Hopefully more of that will happen. There are more of these long-term missing children who are recoverable and what we hope is that communities across America take a fresh look at those cases, provide some more hope for the searching families.

Chetry: You said it is the every day person who notices things that are wrong, which is wonderful that in this case eventually the outcome worked out. But what can be changed in terms of what law enforcement does, in terms of what we do as a society to try to prevent more of this from happening?

Allen: Well, I think enormous progress has been made. More missing children come home safely today than ever before. Law enforcement is better prepared in responding more effectively than ever before. We have the Amber Alert, which we didn't have in 1991. So a lot of progress has been made. But, for example, just with the issue of managing sex offenders – Congress passed the Adam Walsh Act in 2006 that's not yet been implemented. More needs to be done. We need to recognize that a significant number of these offenders represent a real threat to America's children. And the systems that are in place today are just not yet adequate.

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