One of the few people who can begin to understand the tragedy that Rosalynn McGinnis endured is Jaycee Dugard.
After regaining her freedom, Dugard launched the JAYC Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit that helps survivors recovering from long-term abuse to transition into “normal” life. She and her organization have been helping McGinnis since the latter escaped captivity in June 2016 — 19 years after, McGinnis says, she was allegedly kidnapped from school by Henri Piette, her former stepfather.
“She’s amazing, she’s so resilient,” Dugard tells PEOPLE about her first impressions of McGinnis. “She has such a great sense of humor.”
McGinnis finally has something to smile about after she escaped the horrific abuse of her captivity. For nearly two decades, she says, she was beaten, raped and tortured.
In June 2016, McGinnis managed to flee — with eight of her nine children — from a remote village in Mexico where she had been held for most of her life. (Her eldest child, a son, had run away before her escape; they have since been reunited.)
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As the FBI conducts an “ongoing investigation” into what happened, Piette, 62, remains at-large and has not been charged with any crime.
Now recovering in the Midwest, McGinnis, 33, turned to Dugard, 37, as a source of comfort, friendship and strength.
Like McGinnis, Dugard had children with her captor. “In my situation, I was taken when I was 11, walking to my school bus stop,” Dugard says. “He put me in this room, tied me up and that was it. He sexually assaulted me and that was my whole life, right there, for so long.”
Becoming a mother changes the entire dynamic. Dugard’s therapist, Dr. Rebecca Bailey, explains that at that point, survival instincts kick in.
“You do anything you can to keep your kids alive,” she says. “People do what they have to do to adapt and survive.”
“When you have kids, it’s not just you anymore — your kids come first, and you’re a kid yourself. It’s a really hard thing to understand,” she says. “You can’t live in somebody else’s life until you’ve actually lived their life.”
With the help of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children as well as other agencies, McGinnis and her children secured emergency passports to return to the U.S. from Mexico last year. Though the family’s transition has its challenges, Dugard’s foundation has assisted with therapy for them.
It’s a long process, but Dugard says she is looking forward to watching McGinnis and her kids, ages 2 to 17, achieve their goals. (A GoFundMe page has also been created to help financially support them.)
Says Dugard: “Rosalynn is going to accomplish everything she sets her mind to.”