Daughter Trapped in Stockholm Syndrome Marriage?

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Reader’s Question

My 19-year-old daughter is in a Stockholm Syndrome type marriage. This guy is very evil. He takes her to work and picks her up. He went to all her friends and told them they can no longer be friends. He even called me and told me that I could no longer see her either. They have one cell phone, which he keeps with him all the time. He screens the calls, and he changed the number after Thanksgiving. So we no longer have any contact with her. We don’t know what to do. Our daughter comes from a very loving and close family; how did this evil take her? He has told her this is all because he loves her. We are afraid that this will end very badly. What can we do?

Psychologist’s Reply

The answer may disappoint you: very little.

Assuming that you are in a place where the law resembles that in my own state of California, and also assuming that your daughter is a responsible adult — i.e., she is not conserved and she has the rights afforded to all adults — then there is nothing you can do legally. She is responsible for herself. Although you have suspicions, there is nothing in your question that indicates a crime is in progress. That is, there is nothing that would empower police to take action. Unless she chooses to file a complaint or a criminal charge, she has the right to live her own life and make her own mistakes. Since this portion of your answer regards the law, I encourage you to ask an attorney to verify this and further inform you.

Now, if you feel that more is needed for her welfare, then you may find support at the local center for prevention of domestic violence. The advocates there may suggest a way that you — or they — could try to persuade her to come out. They will certainly make you aware of the safe houses and other services available to her. They may offer counseling for you, which can be very helpful now and in the future when your daughter is ‘liberated’.

Let’s all remember that the advocates against domestic violence are some of the most overworked, well-intentioned people around. If you find that you cannot help your daughter at this particular time, consider volunteering to help at the center. By helping others, you will not only be helping everyone involved in these difficult situations, you’ll also be poised to help your daughter should she come and ask for them.

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