Kara Robinson Chamberlain: Lifetime movie reignited emotions of kidnapping ordeal

Kara Robinson Chamberlain advised Lifetime on "The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story" which depicted her kidnapping. Photo courtesy of Kara Robinson
1 of 6 | Kara Robinson Chamberlain advised Lifetime on "The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story" which depicted her kidnapping. Photo courtesy of Kara Robinson

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Survivor advocate Kara Robinson Chamberlain said the film, The Girl Who Escaped: The Kara Robinson Story, premiering Saturday at 8 p.m. EST on Lifetime, reminded her of emotions she's buried since escaping from a kidnapping.

Robinson Chamerblain was kidnapped in 2002 by Richard Evonitz when she was 15 years old. Robinson Chamberlain was on the set of the film in Winnipeg while they filmed her mother, Debra (Cara Buono), visiting the police station and reuniting with Kara (Katie Douglas).


"Seeing those scenes filmed really reignited some emotions of what I was feeling," Robinson Chamberlain told UPI in a recent phone interview. "So some of those gaps between my memories filled in a little bit."

Evonitz kept Robinson Chamberlain in a plastic container. After multiple rapes by Evonitz, Robinson Chamberlain was able to escape from his apartment the following morning while he slept.


Robinson Chamberlain said she advised the production on details as specific as the type of container Evonitz kept her in and what she was wearing when he kidnapped her. Robinson said the film helped her remember the feelings between those details.

"My memory functions kind of like snapshots, so a series of photographs," Robinson Chamberlain said. "It's kind of like a flip book where you've lost half the pages. Being there on set, it was like some of those pages were filled in."

Robinson Chamberlain said revisiting those events for the movie were not triggering, because she already felt emotionally dissociated from her ordeal.

"I didn't feel traumatized, so I didn't want everyone to treat me like I was traumatized," Robinson Chamberlain said. "It was almost more problematic and more traumatic for me to go home and for everyone to treat me differently."

The Girl Who Escaped shows how Robinson Chamberlain gathered information about her surroundings and endeared herself to Evonitz by helping with housework. After escaping, Robinson Chamberlain said, she learned that she was exhibiting natural threat responses.

In addition to fight or flight, Robinson Chamberlain said humans also respond to threats by freezing and appeasing. WebMD defines appeasing, or fawning, as being overly helpful, as Robinson Chamberlain did with Evonitz's housework.


"Freeze was this idea of freezing my emotions," Robinson Chamberlain said. "Find a way for him to become complacent. We want him to become complacent, and then you'll be able to escape."

Robinson Chamberlain said those responses were not conscious. Robinson Chamberlain said she hopes the film illustrates natural coping mechanisms.

"It's a function of your autonomic nervous system," Robinson Chamberlain said. "Not something that you do consciously, not something that you can choose to do. ... It's something everyone has."

Evonitz died by suicide when the police caught him. For the 15 years after her escape, Robinson Chamberlain worked as a school resource officer, sex crime and child abuse investigator and survivor's 's advocate, having graduated from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy.

Robinson Chamberlain retired from that work when her second son was born. She continues to do public speaking on survivor's issues, and also discovered she still had some trauma to address.

Physical symptoms Robinson Chamberlain experienced for 20 years after her kidnapping included shortness of breath, chest tightening and trouble breathing.

Robinson Chamberlain saw an eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapist. The EMDR Institute explains the psychotherapy process focuses on the physical stimuli of traumatic memories.


"We did EMDR therapy on the moment that my captor put me back in the box to make a phone call to his wife," Robinson Chamberlain said. "That's the most traumatic part of my captivity, honestly, because I thought I was going to die."

The treatment, Robinson Chamberlain said, allowed her to breath easier after 20 years. Robinson Chamberlain said after her second child was born, she also experienced postpartum depression. Her sons are now 6 and 9.

"My life felt out of control which obviously is very triggering for anyone who's been a victim of any kind," Robinson Chamberlain said. "I consciously was suppressing my emotions."

The film focuses on the period during which Robinson Chamberlain now says she was compartmentalizing her kidnapping -- after her escape. She said she now recognizes that compartmentalizing also was a trauma response.

"It almost feels like talking about something that happened to someone else," Robinson Chamberlain said. "There's not a lot of emotional connection to what happened."

After advising Lifetime on their telling of her story, she launched a podcast with partner Kimberly Corban, another survivor. Their Survivor's Guide to True Crime focuses on the survivors' perspectives of crimes.


Their first guest is kidnap survivor and Girl Who Escaped executive producer Elizabeth Smart. In the weeks ahead, Survivor's Guide aims to include a diverse array of survivor experiences.

"We're also two white women," Robinson Chamberlain said. "We're also aware that that doesn't represent all of the people who have become victims in this world."

Robinson Chamberlain said her purpose with the movie and the podcast was to provide future survivors with resources should they experience similar traumas. She said that when she escaped, she did not see any depictions of her fight, flight, freeze and appease approach.

"They can understand that the things that they're experiencing might be a normal response," Robinson Chamberlain said. "The more diversity we can have in our guests, the more we can reach more people who may feel seen and heard."

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