Most of us cannot begin to fathom the impact that a life of abuse will have on the 13 malnourished children who were discovered in Perris, California, two weeks ago.

The plight of the siblings allegedly tortured and held captive by their parents, David and Louise Turpin, has shocked the world.

Natascha Kampusch is one of the few people who can truly empathise.

Natascha Kampusch during her first interview on Austrian television in 2006. Photo / Close up/ORF 7
Natascha Kampusch during her first interview on Austrian television in 2006. Photo / Close up/ORF 7

Having lived for close to a decade in the inconceivable horror of captivity, she knows the trauma wreaked by both confinement and unexpected freedom; though it seems counter-intuitive, her advice to the authorities - that the Turpin children be allowed access to their parents - comes from a knowing source.

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In August 2006, when she was 18, Natascha, from Vienna, escaped from eight years of imprisonment in a secret cellar by her abductor, Wolfgang Priklopil - a 44-year-old loner who snatched her from the street when she was 10.

Her freedom was celebrated, but Natascha is still coming to terms with what happened to her, and has at times endured unbearable levels of scrutiny and speculation.

She hopes the authorities in California will plan the Turpin children's future carefully to try to mitigate the heavy psychological toll she has endured.

"It is horrible. How can any parent do this?" says Natascha, now 29, who taught herself English, while held in captivity, by listening to the radio.

"I can imagine what the children have been through, but I can't imagine why people do things like this. It is important to be very careful with them now and to create a plan of care, security and education that will bring them back to civilisation slowly.

"It is also important that they have contact with their parents and the ability to visit them in prison. They will need to find a way to either forgive them or leave them behind. It will help them begin a process where they can cope with the whole situation and get more stable."

Natascha never had the chance to confront her kidnapper - Priklopil threw himself under a train the day she escaped.

But she understands some of the labyrinthine feelings the Turpins will have towards their tormentors.

Priklopil had been the only adult in her life during her captivity and her relationship with him was more complex than most could comprehend.

She has always been honest about the ambiguity of her feelings towards him and says that while he subjected her to unimaginable terror, including sexual abuse and beatings, he also showed her moments of tenderness.

The contradictions were unpalatable for many, fuelling speculation that Natascha was somehow complicit in her own abduction.

These wild conspiracies have dogged her through the years.

"The children will need closure in order to move forward, so yes, they need the opportunity to see their parents, even if it is just to say 'I hate you, you are a monster'," she explains.

When Natascha escaped, her case was so unusual that the Austrian authorities struggled to give her adequate counselling.

She recalls: "When I freed myself I had support, but not what I expected. The police had their own psychologists for crisis management - for murder cases and victims of accidents and violent crimes - but they were not prepared and did not have the experience for people in my situation, so it did not work for me.

"Instead, I searched by myself for a child psychiatrist who could help me. I had two years of therapy, after which I thought I did not need it any more, because everything was OK.

"But there were so many other problems, because of the media attention and the conspiracy theories, so I decided to have more therapy and that is ongoing.

"For these children, it is important to keep them out of the public eye, to get them the right help from the start and to keep them together, or near to each other, so they can support each other."

The risks of not getting immediate care right are all too evident.

"Sometimes I had the feeling that maybe I would go over the edge and die," Natascha admits. "I think these children will have the same feelings."

The Turpins were rescued after a 17-year-old girl fled the property - now dubbed the "House of Horrors" - through a window, stole a mobile phone and alerted police to the appalling conditions in which they were living.

She was so emaciated that police thought she was only 10.

Officers raided the house and discovered the rest of her siblings, aged between 2 and 29; they were malnourished and kept in dark, squalid conditions. Some were chained to items of furniture.

Witnesses say they were pale and resembled zombies.

Some of the children had been seen out on occasion, and had been taken on family holidays to Disneyland, but while neighbours admitted the family was odd, they had no idea of the level of abuse that was allegedly going on behind closed doors.

David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, have subsequently been charged with nine counts of torture and 10 of child endangerment.

Like the Turpin children, Natascha was also largely kept indoors, hidden in plain sight in a quiet suburb of Vienna.

Priklopil used starvation as a way to control her. She too was pale and malnourished when she escaped and explains that the once-captive family will now face a range of problems.

"They will need to build up their strength gradually and stay out of sunlight," she says, adding that "the world will be a confusing and difficult place for them. There will be intense focus on them and initially they should be left to heal.

Neighbour Avery Sanchez, 6, peeks behinds his mother, Liza Tozier after dropping off his teddy for the Turpin children. Photo / AP
Neighbour Avery Sanchez, 6, peeks behinds his mother, Liza Tozier after dropping off his teddy for the Turpin children. Photo / AP

"For me it was hard. Austria is a small country and I stayed because my family was here. America is huge and everyone speaks the same language, so it should be easier for them to move somewhere new and start a new life.

"They have each other and can go through this burden together. They have more possibilities to protect themselves. I had to face things on my own."

Since her release, Natascha has written two books: 3,096 Days, which tells the story of her kidnap and imprisonment, and Ten Years of Freedom, which details her struggle to find a place in the world since her captivity ended.

Last August, she also launched a jewellery range, Fiore.

"Being creative and having projects has helped me," she explains.

"I have always tried to be positive and not be defined by what happened to me. There was so much interest and so many false rumours that I felt I had to tell my story. Maybe talking about their experiences will help the children too but it is something they should not consider at the moment."

Perhaps the biggest challenge Natascha has faced has been having to come to terms with a stolen childhood.

Like the Turpins, she was only allowed to experience the thrill of youth in snatches.

When she was allowed outside, or taken somewhere by Priklopil, she was always within his reach.

"When you are a child, the things that help you grow and develop are the freedoms to go outside, to visit friends, to climb trees and ride bikes," explains Natascha.

"I didn't have that, and so I have had to grow differently."

So, too, will the Turpin children, for whom emancipation has finally become a reality.

• Ten Years of Freedom by Natascha Kampusch is published by Dachbuch Verlang GmbH.

This story originally appeared on the Daily Telegraph and is reproduced with permission.