NIIGATA – Four months after being rescued, a 19-year-old girl who was held captive for nearly a decade is starting to show signs of recovery.
The girl was nine when she was abducted on her way home from school by Nobuyuki Sato. For the next nine years and two months she was confined to an upstairs room in her captor’s house, fed poorly and threatened with violence.
Investigators said the girl was left with serious physical injuries, including atrophied leg muscles and reduced bone weight.
Doctors say, however, that her psychological scars may well take much more time and effort to heal.
She is able to walk about freely inside the hospital in Niigata Prefecture where she is receiving treatment, and she appears to be gradually returning to a normal frame of mind, asking hospital staff when she will be allowed to go outside and be permanently reunited with her family.
Yet the girl still harbors a distinct fear of men. The police officers and physicians assigned to deal with her directly are women.
Her doctors also fear she may be prone to flashbacks of her captivity. As a result, they restrict her exposure to newspapers, magazines or other sources that may contain information about her confinement.
Rehabilitation will probably be a prolonged process. Shortly after she was rescued, the girl was diagnosed as suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and stunted growth.
For the time being, the Niigata Prefectural Government will be responsible for her care and treatment.
In early April, the government put together a team of four experts to treat the girl, including a female psychologist with extensive counseling experience.
Currently, the experts are discussing with the girl’s parents how she should be cared for in the future, and how much longer she should be treated at hospitals.
The girl hopes to return to her home in Sanjo in about six months, around the time she turns 20, making her a legal adult.
Yet there are no assurances the girl’s psychological condition will have fully healed by then.
“They will have to consider other options, such as a change of residence, if she is to fully return to society,” a source said.