Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When Women Abuse: Nancy Garrido, Female Perpetrator in the Jaycee Dugard Case

We have all been rightfully outraged by Phillip Garrido, the registered sex offender who abducted and sexually abused the 11 year Jaycee Dugard, holding her for 18 long years. However, little has been said about his wife, Nancy Garrido, who was married to him at the time of the abduction, and who lived with him during the 18 years that he held Jaycee, sexually abused her, and fathered her two children.

Who is she, and what kind of woman would participate in such a thing?

Nancy Garrido apparently met her husband while she was visiting a relative in prison. At the time, Phillip Garrido was serving a 50-years-to-life sentence for the brutal kidnapping and rape of a 25-year-old Reno casino worker. Their relationship resulted in marriage even before Phillip Garrido was released on parole. Nancy Garrido knew all about her husband's crimes before she married him and she was allegedly with her husband on the day that Jaycee was abducted. Carl Probyn, Jaycee Dugard's stepfather who witnessed the abduction, apparently described a woman who closely resembled Nancy Garrido.

Women who seek out inmates, or knowingly build relationships with disturbed men like Phillip Garrido, often suffer from a variety of psychological problems. Many of these women are often depressed and have extremely poor self-esteem. They are often described as highly dependent and are often subservient or deferential in their relationships. Yet, the question arises as to how they could know about the horrific aspects of these men, and yet maintain a relationship with them. The answer is that these women may excessively rely on the psychological defense mechanism known as splitting.

Splitting is a term central to the object relations theory introduced by psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein. It emerged from the observations that infants can only keep one of its strong contradictory feelings or thoughts in its immature awareness at a time. To maintain its fragile personality structure, the infant uses splitting to keep apart the conflicting inner feelings that the good (loving, gratifying) and bad (frustrating, depriving) aspects of the mother arouses. It is not until later development, if all goes well and there is not excessive trauma, that the infant achieves integration and comes to understand that the 'good' mother and the 'bad' mother are one and the same. The infant realizes that the mother that it loves and the mother that it hates, are the same person.

However, if a person fails to accomplish this developmental task of integration, borderline pathology can develop. The borderline personality is not able to integrate the good and bad images of both self and others and therefore relies excessively on splitting. Black and white thinking becomes the central way of organizing information. Trauma in early life often results in an overreliance on splitting, in order to manage incompatible or intolerable feelings. These conflicting feelings can be split off and projected, locating them outside of the self. The person survives by either freeing herself of all bad feelings and just being left with good, or she can preserve the outside world as good while holding all the bad feelings.

An example of this is the case in which the criminal partner is idealized while the jailhouse wife devalues herself. The result may be a woman with a self-identity rooted in powerlessness and devaluation, having 'split off' and projected into her partner all feelings of power and idealization. She may believe that by joining with him and supporting him, she can be protected by his power and be close to his good and idealized parts. This can explain how women like Nancy Garrido can know about their husbands' abusive ways, yet appear to idealize them or desperately want to be with them. The truth is, for her and others like her, the pedophile and the idealized husband are psychologically separate and distinct beings to her. She is, therefore, invested in protecting her idealized husband, even at the same time as she may be the victim of his abuse.

Some researchers, e.g. Faller (1987), have confirmed that many female sex offenders have had significant difficulties in psychological and social functioning. About half have mental problems, both retardation and psychotic illness. More than half have chemical dependency problems, and close to three-fourths have maltreated their victims in other ways in addition to the sexual abuse. Only 7.5% of the women have been classified as psychotic at the time of the sexual abuse.

Other researchers, e.g. Mathews, Matthews, and Speltz (1987) and Patton (1987), have found that just about all female sex offenders were themselves victims of childhood sexual abuse and many were also victims of physical abuse. They tended to have strong and consistent patterns of childhood social isolation, alienation, and a lack of development of interpersonal skills and competence. The researchers have identified three categories of female sex offenders: Teacher/Lover, Predisposed (intergenerational), and Male-Coerced.

The Teacher/Lover offender is generally involved with prepubescent and adolescent males with whom she relates as a peer. Her motive is, ostensibly, to teach her young victims about sexuality and often sees herself, on some level, as an adolescent girl.

The Predisposed offender is usually a victim of severe sexual abuse that was initiated at a very young age and persisted over a long period of time. She has typically initiated the sexual abuse herself and the victims are usually her own children. Her motives are nonthreatening emotional intimacy.

The Male-Coerced offender usually acts initially in conjunction with a male who has previously abused children. She exhibits a pattern of extreme dependency and nonassertive behavior, and she may eventually initiate sexual abuse herself. Her victims are children both within and outside of the family.

Reports of Nancy Garrido suggest that she had a highly dependent and deferential relationship with Phillip Garrido. She has been described as "strange" and "robotic." There is no evidence to date that suggests that she has engaged in previous sexual abuse of children. Given this, she can most likely be categorized as a male-coerced offender. However, there appears to have been a period of about four months during Jaycee's detention where Phillip Garrido was incarcerated on a parole violation. Nancy Garrido continued to hold Jaycee during this time, and it was shortly after this release from jail that Phillip Garrido impregnated then 14 year old Jaycee for the first time. It may be that Nancy Garrido was so excessively psychologically dependent on her husband that, even in his absence, she continued to behave in ways to meet his needs and maintain his world in order to maintain her connection to the idealized aspects of him. A thorough evaluation of Nancy Garrido's history and previous behavior could determine whether she was truly a male-coerced offender and/or if she may also have been a predisposed offender.

Certainly, most women are especially protective of children. In fact, if it were not for the keen attention of two women police officers, sensitively attuned to non-verbal communication signals of children, this case would have never been solved. Yet we need to understand the factors that contribute to the destruction of such a protective instinct that could lead to a woman like Nancy Garrido and a case like Jaycee Dugard's.

The truth is that Nancy Garrido's behavior likely reflects the sequelae of horrific childhood sexual abuse, undiscovered and untreated.


  1. Julie Armstrong Psy.D.September 2, 2009 at 7:44 AM

    Great discussion of the issues relevant to Nancy Garrido's behavior. That she would be attracted to a prisoner while visiting a family member is an important clue to her own psychological issues. She comes from a family incarcerated, we can only guess what she learned (and didn;t learn) from her own family.

    Thanks for the insight!

  2. You know most of these so called “police/ parole officers” always have a chip on their shoulders, and even when they fail at their jobs they appear arrogant like saying “what are you going to do”, let’s face it, she saved herself, she was not saved by the authorities. Does anyone believe that the authorities were still investigating her disappearance? The car used in her kidnapping was in the backyard, the lazy ass cops didn’t even bother to go through the backyard when the information indicated that kids were living back there, they didn’t check local schools to see if the kids were going to school or even asked to see the kids, no report to child protective services, boy how lazy can you be and still pick up your public service check, not to mention the parole officers who failed to visit and find out where this freak was living and what he was doing. I guess she was taken in 1991, and in 1993 (only two years later) after violating probation he spent for 4 months in federal prison (California have yet to release any details of that violation or explain why he was again released into the community). Nevada officials said they were never notified of Garrido's parole violation, which would have allowed the state to revoke his parole. Had California parole inspected his home in 1993, we would not be here now asking questions, we would be saying our system works, now I am not sure of anything. Because now I wonder how many more of these freaks are in our country doing the same thing under the noses of our so called authorities.

    Yes, I agree he should have served all the time for his first offense, but don’t let our authorities off the hook. I can only say if you have a neighbor that fits this profile, call and call again to try to ensure that this does not happen again. Simply amazing.

  3. As I read your explanation of "splitting" I couldn't help but wonder if this is what was going on in the mind of George Bush, given how he famously saw the world as either good or evil, black or white, no real shades of gray.