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Unit 45 – Stockholm Syndrome

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 4 minutes 30 seconds

The passage below has been adapted from Culture and Religion – Sharia Law, from the iMinds series.

At first glance two of the 1970’s most notorious bank robberies would seem to have nothing in common. They occurred eight months apart, for different motives, on opposite sides of the globe. But these two incidents would prove seminal to the development and understanding of a curious and once controversial psychological condition; Stockholm Syndrome.

On the 15th of April 1974, the Sunset District branch of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco was robbed. Security footage showed a young, attractive urban guerrilla brandishing a machine gun and ordering people in the bank to lie face down on the ground.

Bizarrely, the armed robber was wealthy heiress Patty Hearst, who had been kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army just two months before. The image of the then nineteen year old Patty was known across the globe as the victim of a brutal kidnapping. On the night of February 4 three members of the Symbionese Liberation Army had burst into her home and dragged her away, dressed only in her nightgown.

For over fifty days Patty was kept captive in a padded closet where she was constantly verbally and sexually abused by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. Despite police efforts to find her, the first clue to her whereabouts was the security footage of her aiding her kidnappers to rob the Hibernia bank. Living as an outlaw with her kidnapers, Patty was ultimately arrested on 18 September 1975, exactly two years to the day from her kidnapping. She was subsequently tried for her involvement in the bank robbery.

During her trial, Hearst’s defence team argued that Patty had not acted criminally from her own free will, but rather that she had been suffering from a newly identified psychological condition called the Stockholm Syndrome. The intense media coverage of this sensational trial seared Stockholm Syndrome into the public consciousness, Patty Hearst had become its most contentious and undoubtedly most famous victim.

The term Stockholm Syndrome had been coined less than a year earlier by psychiatrist Nils Bejerot after the robbery of the Norrmalmstorg Kreditbanken in Stockholm. The bungled robbery resulted in a hostage situation during which four bank employees were held captive for more than five days from August 23rd to August 28th in 1973.

During the siege the four hostages were trapped with their captors in the vault housing the safety deposit boxes. This oppressive chamber measured just 47 feet long by 11 feet wide and 7.5 feet hip, Over the course of the siege, the victims became emotionally attached to the hostage takers. One hostage was reported to have had sexual relations with a robber within the bank vault and astonishingly, when released, the three female hostages kissed their captors and the male hostage shook their hands.
The victims’ reaction appeared counter intuitive; contrary to how people could be expected to react. where hate and loathing would have been the expected result, the hostage response was closer to love and affection.

1. The word ‘seminal’ (line 3) is furthest in meaning from:

  • A      axial
  • B      pivotal
  • C      central
  • D      catalytic

2. The inclusion of the fact that Patty Hearst was ‘dragged away wearing only her nightgown’ is important in the context of the passage because:

  • A      It catches the attention of the readers
  • B      It enables the reader infer that the kidnappers later gave her new clothes
  • C      It highlights the cruelty of the kidnappers
  • D      It suggests that she wasn’t expecting it

3. Based on the information provided in the passage, Stockholm Syndrome could be described as:

  • A The tendency of victims to comply with and/or aid their kidnappers
  • B The tendency of victims to develop an emotional attachment with their kidnappers
  • C The tendency of kidnap victims to assist in robbing banks
  • D An excuse robbers can use to alleviate themselves of criminal liability

Highlight the text below to reveal the answers:

The word seminal derives from the Latin word ‘semen’, meaning seed.
The two incidents described in the passage are crucial to the development of the theory of stockholm syndrome. To say that they were pivotal would be to suggest that they were at the central point around which the theory developed – not too far from seminal. Catalytic means that they acted as a catalyst in the development of the theory.
Something that is axial is something that is of, around or relating to an axis. The theory of stockholm syndrome is arguably axial to the stories in the passage, but definitely not the other way around.

Q2: C
This passage is about the strange and ‘curious’ origins of the condition known as stockholm syndrome. The cruelty of the kidnappers is integral to understanding the story. If the kidnappers were lovely, caring gentle people we could understand their victims’ cooperation. Dragging her away in her nightgown suggests that she had not planned to go out that night, and that, during her two years with the robbers, she acquired some new clothes, but the most important thing it suggests, is that the kidnappers were uncompromising and unfriendly. The fact is included because it helps explain the meaning of stockholm syndrome – which is the main purpose of the passage.

Q3: B
Stockholm Syndrome was coined after the attempted bank robbery in Stockholm during which time the bank staff who were held hostage inside the bank vault developed emotional attachments to their kidnappers.
Stockholm Syndrome was claimed as a defence during Patty Hearst’s trial, and viewed as a possible explanation for her compliance with her robbers, but was not part of the initial case study of the psychiatrist, Nils Bejerot.