The case called, “The girl in the box” provides excellent grounds for the attachment behavior often found in victims of trauma and sexual abuse. I wrote about this topic in yesterday’s article, Disturbing Dynamics of the Victim/Perpetrator Relationship.
The case of Colleen Stan is not well-known; possibly because it is so horrific that people just don’t want to know about it.
In 1977 Cameron Hooker, along with his young spouse, picked Colleen up when they spotted her hitchhiking. Colleen had not taken rides from other people because previous drivers appeared suspicious. Colleen felt that Cameron Hooker and his wife “looked safe.” *
Colleen immediately went through incredible suffering in the car when she was placed in a contraption, built by her kidnapper, that enclosed her head in a wood box. Colleen was taken to her kidnapper’s home and hung naked by her wrists from the basement ceiling. She was blindfolded, and left for days at a time in that position. She was frequently whipped, and Hooker and his wife sometimes had sex in the room at Colleen’s feet.
(Colleen Stan on her 20th birthday. She was kidnapped soon after this photo was taken)
Colleen was forced to relieve herself while hanging from the ceiling, and during the off chance that Cameron Hooker allowed her to come down, she had to use a bedpan right in front of him.
Eventually, Colleen was placed in a box that resembled a coffin and was kept inside the box underneath the bed that Cameron Hooker shared with his wife.
Locked inside with wrist and neck chains, Colleen was also blindfolded. She was not able to bathe, wash her hair, or brush her teeth for three months at a time, and she finally stopped having periods. Colleen’s torment with these people lasted seven horrific years, and she was kept inside the box during most of her captivity. 1
Hooker established total domination over his victim through fear and mind control, even to the point of allowing Colleen to eventually work outside the home. She also ended up taking care of Hooker’s children and Hooker eventually allowed Colleen to go on a trip to visit her family.
While home with her family, seemingly free to run, Colleen introduced her captor as her boyfriend, and photos taken during her visit depict a happy woman. **
Hooker kept Colleen under his control by telling her that a slave organization called “The Company” was watching her every move. Whenever she was out of the box for a period of time, Colleen had been given the impression that her life was continuously in danger, so she never told her family, or anyone else, about her imprisonment.
Shockingly to some, Hooker left Colleen overnight with her family, and picked her up the next day. She had twenty-four hours with her family, and although Colleen had the physical ability to call the police, her mind would not allow her to make that call.
(Colleen and Cameron. This photo was taken during her visit home)
It is unclear whether Colleen experienced fear of being killed when she visited her home or, if by that time, she was suffering from a psychological condition used as a survival technique in prisoners of war, victims of incest and in members of religious cults.
There are various ways to break the will of a victim. A sudden kidnapping is one. Other methods include threats of death, keeping the person confined in a dark area, or abusing the victim in dark areas, and limiting their communication with the outside world. Children who are being sexually abused, especially incest victims, often experience all of these components and this can cause the victim to form an “attachment conditioning.” This creates an atmosphere of coercion and instills mind control.
These attachment conditions generally necessitate a sudden shock or trauma, isolation, threats, and then the promise of a reward. There is also mental conditioning, such as the captor getting the victim to believe that he is the only one who can protect his victim. As horrific as the perpetrator may be, he can become the only living person who offers affection and human closeness.
We may never know exactly why Colleen Stan did not alert the police when she was left alone with her family, or why she wrote Cameron Hooker (what some have called), “love letters.”
Without deep therapy, even Colleen, may never know why she wrote them, because the subconscious mind is what drives human beings to behave in complex ways. There is a possibility that she formed an emotional attachment with Hooker. Colleen says the letters were a way to be treated better. 2
Attachment conditioning fits with my own childhood situation. Even though my father threatened to kill me and had raped me, I responded (at a very early age) to the sexual and emotional companionship, subsequently forming a dysfunctional bond with him. My mother was unable, and unwilling, to provide any kind of emotional relationship or tenderness towards me, so my father supplied what she could not.
Experts feel attachment conditioning may be an unconscious and unavoidable natural reflex to on-going trauma. This defense mechanism can affect both victim and perpetrator. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is associated with violence, and attachment conditioning is linked to deprivation and shameful experiences. 3
Jody Messler Davies points out, that even though the victim fears the abuser’s presence, she can simultaneously yearn for it. 4 During my years of healing, I finally realized this is what happened with me, and that I was, in a sense, having an ‘affair’ with my father. This consequently caused jealousy between my mother and me. The psychological dynamics of trauma, mixed with kidnapping or sexual acts spanning over several years with the sole provider, can bring painfully conflicting feelings for the victim.
In Colleen Stan’s case, Cameron Hooker’s wife Janice had been jealous of Colleen from the beginning. Yet she went along with the kidnapping, the brutality being carried out in her basement, and tolerated a human being living inside a box under her bed! However, Janice told Cameron that she did not want him to have sex with his victim. Eventually, he did anyway.
Janice Hooker allowed the torture, humiliation, and deprivation of a human being to take place in her home, but would not stand for her husband to have sex with his victim.
Luckily for Colleen Stan, Janice Hooker eventually told Colleen there was no slave organization –that it had all been a lie. Colleen Stan suddenly became free to leave. Some might think Janice Hooker grew a conscience, but I bet she told the truth out of jealousy. Janice probably wanted her husband to stop having sex with another woman.
Soon after Janice spilled her guts, Colleen called Cameron to tell him she was walking away from captivity, and Cameron Hooker cried.
This shows that the attachment theory can work on the perpetrator as well as the victim.
Amazingly, Colleen did not call the police after leaving the Hookers. She instead moved away without disclosing what Cameron and his wife had done to her for seven years. It was Janice Hooker who alerted police about the kidnapping and torture in her home.
Colleen most likely did not call the authorities because she had indeed formed an emotional bond with her captor, or she may have been experiencing so much guilt and humiliation over what she endured that Colleen could not bear to talk about it to anyone.
Given the horror of what she experienced, and that she was allowed to go home for an overnight visit, Colleen may also have feared that no one would believe her. Nevertheless, her reasons are her own and she may not even fully comprehend why she didn’t bring about the arrest of her perpetrators.
Hooker was convicted on ten counts of kidnapping and sexual abuse charges. He is serving consecutive terms of 104 years.
The state provided Janice Hooker with immunity in exchange for her testimony. This was an injustice to the people of The State of California and to all victims of abuse. Janice Hooker is just as guilty as her husband. Remember, she allowed another human being to be confined to a coffin-like box, and live under bed for seven years! 5
When the story first broke, people didn’t believe it, and they asked why Colleen did not “just run away.” 6 The human denial system tries to place such simplistic beliefs on incredibly complicated situations.
Many years ago, when the program American Justice first ran the Colleen Stan story, I became incensed when viewers were asked if they thought Stan had truly been a slave. I screamed at the television and furiously began writing letters to the producers of the show. I also expressed my rage on the American Justice message boards.
I was infuriated that the producers would ask such a question.
Later that day, I had a therapy session to find out the source of my rage. This was the day that I remembered, and came to terms with, the reality that I had natural needs as a child, and enjoyed driving attention away from my cold mother and onto myself. Once I allowed myself to accept these truths, the guilt which had previously been shielded by denial, was worked through in therapy.
When I re-watched the taped documentary on Colleen Stan, and again heard the narrator ask the question that had previously enraged me, I felt no anger.
My first reaction had come from my own shame. I had been angry with myself, not the interviewer or the producers. I had projected my rage onto others because of my unwarranted guilt. Colleen Stan might also have experienced an affectionate bond with her tormentor and it’s okay if she did because, like me, she had been forced into that situation.
A child who is being sexually raped on a continuous basis, by a parent or primary care-giver, experiences terror, and in the period immediately following this emotion, the child often submits to the acts. Afterwards, the victim and the perpetrator can reconcile with one another. Professor of psychiatry, Bessel van der Kolk, explains that when this is constantly reinforced in a vicious cycle, the reaction strengthens the victim/perpetrator bond, and the victim will emotionally dissociate into denial of the event.7
Colleen told CBS News that what shocked her the most after being released from her hell on earth, was how ungrateful people are. Colleen said, “I was shocked. People had nice jobs and houses and had plenty but they seemed so unhappy. They wanted more. I was coming out of a situation where I had nothing, and being exposed to these people who had so much and were unappreciative of it and complaining, I thought ‘My God why don’t they see how blessed they are?'”
* Cameron Hooker had no police record. He and his wife also had an infant child during the time that Colleen Stan was held prisoner in their home. Neighbors described Hooker as “friendly,” “really nice,” and “good tempered.” This shows that we never truly know what is happening behind closed doors. 8
**Note that Stan had taken a picture with the man who had kidnapped her, consistently raped and tortured her, and who kept her in a box under his bed for years, yet she smiled for the photo. This proves that no matter what a child or a person is going through, they can still look happy for a camera.