She's given hope to families of the missing, started a foundation to help others and is a stark lesson for probation officers everywhere in charge of sex predators.
My annual Hero of the Year award usually comes up in December but this year I can't wait. I've already picked the person who I think has most changed the world of crime and justice during 2011.
My hero is Jaycee Dugard. She was held as a sex slave, finally rescued and now instead of being withdrawn or bitter, she has embraced us all with details of her harrowing story and formed a charitable organization to help other families recovering from abduction.
Jaycee's ordeal began when she was 11 years old. Now she's 30 and finally free from a pair of kidnappers -- a convicted sex offender named Phillip Garrido and his accomplice-wife, Nancy. They used a stun gun to pluck little Jaycee off a country road in South Tahoe, California in June 1991 as she waited for a school bus one morning. She remembers clawing at the ground to try to escape, clutching a pine cone as her last touch with freedom.
You've likely heard about the torment Jaycee endured -- including giving birth to two daughters (the first at age 14) fathered by her rapist -- and how his wife helped hold Jaycee captive for 18 years. An almost unbelievable addendum to the story: During all those years Garrido's probation officers never noticed Jaycee -- and then the two little girls -- living in a maze of backyard tents during their regular home visits.
In Jaycee's memoir, A Stolen Life published earlier this year, she recounts in almost childlike terms how caring for stray animals -- and later her two children -- helped her keep her humanity and her sanity. She was sadistically used for sex. She was forced to pretend she was her babies' sister not their mother and to use the name Allisa. Not a day went by, Jaycee wrote, that she didn't remember her mother, baby sister and her beloved aunt. For 18 years all Jaycee wanted was to go home.
Last year the state of California reached a 20 million dollar settlement with Dugard admitting its Corrections Department had, "various lapses [which contributed to] Dugard's continued captivity, ongoing sexual assault and mental and/or physical abuse."
Translated: the state messed up. Big time -- by failing to keep not only Jaycee safe but others who might have caught the eye of the pervert Garrido. Within the last category may have been his daughters with Dugard who were 11 and 15 at the time they were all rescued.
Twenty million dollars is an enormous sum of money with which to start new lives but of course money can never get back all the years lost, the loss of Jaycee's innocence and, as she put it in her book, her ability to deal with, "the complications of life." Thankfully she and the girls were freed from their backyard prison but Jaycee had never learned to make solo decisions, how to drive a car, make a doctor's appointment or live on her own. All that money cannot erase the psychological problems she and her daughters may face in the years ahead.
Earlier this month, Jaycee sued the federal government for failing to monitor Garrido even though they had declared him "A sexual deviant and chronic drug abuser" back in 1976 when he was on trial for the sexual assault of another young girl. The feds also learned that Garrido had struck as a sexual predator as early as 1972 leaving a 14 year old female victim so traumatized she refused to testify against him. In 1977, Garrido was sentenced to a 50 year federal prison term but he was inexplicably out in just 11 years. Two years later he kidnapped Jaycee Dugard.
Everyone who should have known was well aware of Garrido's long and sordid history yet no federal probation officer ever stepped out into the backyard and asked, "Hey, what's back here?"
Jaycee didn't file the lawsuit because she's greedy for herself. She's already dedicated a portion of her book profits and her settlement with the state of California to establish the JAYC Foundation (Just Ask Yourself to Care) to help families heal. Their logo, displayed on small necklaces available for a small donation, is a tiny pinecone. Jaycee says any money she realizes from the suit against will go directly to the foundation.
"The pinecone is my reminder that life can always be restarted," says Jaycee. "My hope is to provide counseling and housing for families and victims... during the crucial early days of reconnection."
Jaycee has done more than survive. She's dedicated what could turn out to be millions of dollars to help others. She's giving families of the missing hope. She's put parole boards on notice, nationwide, that they need to find a way to help overworked officers be alert and aware when dealing with the craftiest of criminals -- the career sex predator.
And, Jaycee Dugard has done one more thing. By finding enough courage to admit who she was to a curious law enforcement officer (who never would have recognized the kidnap victim 18 years after the crime) she paved the way for her daughters to finally learn who their mother is.
Diane Dimond may be reached through her web site: www.dianedimond.com Her latest book, "Cirque Du Salahi" - the inside and untold story of the so-called White House Gate Crashers - is available through Amazon.com