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In December 1871, a young couple left England for India, leaving their two kids behind in the care of a family they'd found in a newspaper ad. The son was about to turn 6; his sister was 3. It would be more than five years before they saw either of their parents again.

For the children, life with their parents had been easygoing and rambunctious, but things were different in "the House of Desolation," as the boy called the foster family home. The lady of the house was a religious fanatic who hated the boy, beat him mercilessly, and talked mostly about hellfire. Her own son proved to be a sadistic bully. School was just another gantlet of beatings and ridicule. When his mother finally returned and leaned over to kiss him, the boy instinctively held up his arm to ward off a punch.

The House of Desolation is well-known because the boy was Rudyard Kipling, who, in his autobiography, answered the questions that are always asked about abused children during the first shock of discovery: Why didn't they tell anyone? Why did they cooperate?

Those questions are being asked now about Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was, police say, held for 18 years by the couple who kidnapped her at age 11. Why didn't she tell anyone? How is it possible that Dugard not only raised the two daughters she had by her alleged kidnapper with him and his wife, but also worked in his printing business?

To Kipling, this sort of question reflected a lack of understanding of children, and childhood: "Children tell little more than animals," he wrote, "for what comes to them they accept as eternally established." Dugard's stepfather has said that she feels guilty for "bonding" with her torturers. But hard as this may seem at first to grasp, it would be strange, given the nature of childhood, if she had not done so.

That may be the creepiest aspect of the case for many, especially parents. The alleged kidnapper Phillip Garrido and his wife fed and clothed their victims, set up rules for the household, defined the boundaries.

Though Garrido appears to be out of his mind, those acts aren't evidence of his madness. Quite the opposite: Giving food and shelter and setting boundaries are what all parents and parent-substitutes are supposed to do. And even when the parenting is a grotesque parody of the real thing, children accept the signs of care as "eternally established" - the way of their world.

It may well be that they have no choice - that acceptance is innate, because of the way children are built, wherever they are raised. If that were true, then certain aspects of family life should be the same in all cultures. And in fact, they are. As Duke University anthropologist Naomi Quinn has pointed out, comparative studies of child-rearing have found universal traits in the ways that parents everywhere "engineer the child's experience" in order to raise him or her.

One of those universals, no surprise, is routine and constancy - the small, unchanging certainties that make even the weirdest domestic life feel eternally established. Child-rearers everywhere struggle to make the kids' world a place where the family rules always hold. And parents everywhere connect their lessons to strong emotions. Americans tend to praise good behavior more than Chinese parents, who are more likely to instill shame over lapses, Quinn writes, but the strategy is the same: Make the child remember what is important by connecting the lesson to an intense feeling, whether induced by fear or the desire to please.

A third universal is connecting the child's actions to moral feelings: Mothers and fathers everywhere don't just say, "Don't do that!" They say, "That's bad! That's wrong!" Quinn writes: "Brought home with evaluations of the learner's goodness and badness, these lessons are even more motivating and unforgettable."

From police accounts, the Garrido household sounds like a place in which these basic parenting strategies were used. Shelter for Dugard and her children consisted of shacks and patched-up tents, but it was shelter. Strong emotions? Dugard was snatched from her home at age 11 and gave birth to her alleged kidnapper's child at 14. No one ever said the strong feelings of child-raising had to be positive.

Then, too, the boundaries of the victims' lives were sad, but they were boundaries.

The control that authorities say Garrido had over his victims was not that of a brainwashing monster - it was that of a parent. "I'm so proud of my girls. They don't know any curse words," Garrido told Ally Jacobs, the Berkeley police officer whose suspicions about the children cracked the case. "We raised them right. They don't know anything bad about the world."

Garrido's approach to child-rearing even included the typical parent's decision to let the children attend neighbors' birthday parties. That methods of raising children are deeply alike even as ideologies vary is, of course, the reason people don't agree where to draw the line between a religious household and a crazy-cult one.

As a number of psychiatrists and therapists have said, part of the work ahead for the three victims, Dugard and her two children, will consist in reconciling their new, free lives with their old one. Removed from the circumstances that made them act as they did, they may have trouble forgiving, or even understanding, their former selves. But a look at memoirs by children raised in cults suggests their prospects aren't all bleak.

As for Kipling, whatever you might think of his work, he obviously didn't suffer a ruined life. And in reflecting back on his years of misery, he said, he found a kind of freedom. The House of Desolation, he wrote, "drained me of any capacity for real personal hatred for the rest of my days. So close must any life-filling passion lie to its opposite."

David Berreby is the author of Us and Them: The Science of Identity.