Since the first Europeans arrived here, captivity narratives have enthralled America's collective imagination. These real-life accounts of settlers seized by American Indians retaliating against invading peoples expressed both the dark underside and the eternal optimism of the early American experience.

Modern times have seen a resurgence of this centuries-old genre, but with a more sinister, sadistic twist: the updated version of the captivity narrative narrates the harrowing experiences of sex slaves at the hands of their captors.

Such stories have made the headlines this summer, most notably in the release of A Stolen Life, the memoir of Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped at age 11 and kept a sex slave in a hidden suburban compound in California for 18 years.

A less publicized account, even more horrific than Dugard's (as if one could even imagine such a thing) is that of twins Kate and Will Stillman, whose story is featured in the August issue of Glamour. In this case, not only were both brother and sister subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of various members of the family that enslaved them, but they were also cruelly tortured physically and emotionally in ways that make Dugard's captor appear saintly by comparison. And, yes, I realize how insane such a statement sounds.

One cannot even imagine living through, let alone being born into, such circumstances—unless one is as imaginative and able as Emma Donoghue has proven to be in creating just such a character in her fictional account, stolen from the news headlines, of an abducted woman and the child born to her in her captivity. Donoghue's award-winning novel Room is ingeniously narrated by 5-year-old Jack, born to his "Ma," a prisoner in the backyard bunker ("Room"), which Ma has told him is the only real world that exists. The novel has garnered accolades from both readers and critics for telling so sensitively such an otherwise sordid tale.

The resilience and courage of these abuse survivors (both real and imagined) is, of course, the most discussed aspect of these stories. But less considered, though equally poignant, is the redemptive role in the outcome of these three stories played by the children born into these nightmares.

Dugard's case, because of her book and ABC's recently-aired two-hour interview with her, is familiar to many. During her 18-years of captivity and sexual abuse, Dugard gave birth in her hidden prison to two daughters, with no medical assistance, at ages 14 and 17. Strangely, the rapes by her captor decreased after her first child was born and stopped altogether after her second child was conceived. When eventually her captor would take Dugard and her daughters out in public, they were so well-trained and brainwashed that they did and said what he told them to do and say. Nevertheless, something clearly was amiss, and it was Dugard's two children—something in their eyes and their seeming, unnatural worship of their father and Dugard's rapist—who inadvertently attracted the attention of the university police who eventually uncovered the crime, leading to freedom for Dugard and her daughters.

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During her and her brother's captivity, Kate Stillman gave birth to four children by the time she was 20. Despite the number of contacts she and her twin had with teachers, counselors, and child welfare workers, no one saw past the rigid walls of silence their captors had erected around the terrified youngsters. It was not until Kate learned that the abuse had begun with her oldest daughter that she and her brother determined to escape—a concept unimaginable during all the preceding years of torment—for the sake the children. And they did.

Likewise, in Donoghue's fictional account, five-year-old Jack, in the first half of the book, is the means of their escape and, in the second half, the means by which both he and Ma are finally take the necessary step to gaining a sense of closure on those horrific years and start life anew. Donoghue's non-traditional allegiances—she lives with a domestic partner, has written award-winning lesbian fiction, and in Room depicts abortion favorably—make her choice to employ the child-as-savior motif all the more arresting.

A case older than Dugard's has a more tragic outcome for the child that resulted from her captivity as a sex slave. In this instance, the 14-year-old abducted girl was brought to Planned Parenthood by her 41-year old captor where she was given an abortion, apparently with no questions asked. The girl, who had been missing for a year, was later found by police locked in a storage space under the stairs in the home shared by the captor and two women, all of whom were charged in the case. Although her unborn child did not survive the captivity, the baby was nevertheless able to provide the young mother with a crucial gift: police used DNA from the fetal corpse to match that of the rapist and prosecuted him accordingly.

The sacrificial love that Jaycee Dugard and Kate Stillman—and even the fictional Ma—have for their children, conceived in rape, is profoundly moving. After her and her brother's escape and the prosecution of the family that tortured them, Kate made another courageous and loving decision for her children: to give them over for adoption in recognition of her inability to provide for their needs while recovering from such prolonged torture. Kate has a tattoo that says, "Family First," and it is that value that saved her and has sustained her, her brother, and her children. Similarly, Dugard, reflecting on her ordeal, writes in her memoir that despite her stolen life, "The most precious thing in the world came out of it …. my daughters."

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Such children, born into such horror but bearers of such hope, bring new meaning to the idea that a little child will lead them. In the case of Jaycee Dugard, Kate Stillman, and the award-winning Room, the children led their mothers to nothing less than freedom.