The Psychology of Trauma

Domestic Violence

Who is Patty Hearst and why is she still remembered today?

On February 4, 1974, 19-year-old Patty Hearst, granddaughter of the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped off the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. A group calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army took responsibility for the crime. For months, Patty was locked in a closet, beaten, and raped. In April 1974, she was photographed taking part in a bank robbery. In September 1975, she was arrested for armed robbery. Prosecutors argued that she had willingly engaged in criminal behavior because she had failed to escape her abductors, even though she had ample opportunities to do so. Patty Hearst was found guilty and sentenced to 35 years in jail, which was later shortened to seven years. After only 21 months in prison, her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter. Years later she would write of her ordeal and describe how the psychological effects of torture and captivity led her to identify with and then cooperate with her kidnappers’ demands, even when she was technically free to escape.

The dramatic case of Patty Hearst has become a textbook example of a kidnapping victim who comes to sympathize with her abductors. Hearst went so far as to commit armed robbery in 1974 at the behest of her kidnappers (Shutterstock).


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