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I'll be really brief because I don't want to divulge too much details for safety.

My teenage daughter along with a woman in her late 20s were kidnapped by an armed man in his late 30s. After driving to a hideout, this woman helped my daughter to escape and she called the police. By the time the police got there, which unfortunately was a couple hours from the moment of escape, the woman was already sexually abused. The man is in jail and will be sentenced.

This all happened 2 days ago and I have not yet met the woman as she is being medically taken care of. My daughter physically is fine.

When the time comes, I would really like to thank this guardian angel for what she did to my daughter, but unfortunately the woman went through a terrible traumatic episode, so I have absolutely no idea how to approach this future conversation (if it will happen at all). Also, I am a man, so I guess that complicates things as well. I will only approach this conversation if the woman herself along with her family wants so.

If this conversation is to happen, how can I express my gratitude without sounding indelicate about what she went through?

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    Just one word: your daughter also went through a traumatic experience. She may be physically untouched, but the experience of being kidnapped, and of knowing what could have happened, is very traumatic on its own. You should seek professional help for her, preferably someone who has experience dealing with kidnapping and rape trauma. And let your daughter know she can talk to you about it, or if she might feel uncomfortable talking to you (talking about it to her dad may weird her out) find a close friend or family member "big sister" figure she will feel comfortable talking to. Aug 15 at 14:31
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    This seems like an excellent question to ask the therapist you will be seeing to help you cope with what happened. One thing to point out: she saved your daughter; your daughter also saved her by succeeding at the escape and coming back with police. While there was an assault before the police arrived, how many might there have been if both had been captive and the police didn't come? Aug 16 at 12:22
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    How do I double upvote this question? I am in no position to offer an answer, however I think that the fact that you want to do something speaks volumes about you. More guys like you need to stand up to end Violence Against Women. Personally, I would now want/offer to be there for the late 20s woman as you would your own daughter. The choice must be hers though. Aug 27 at 11:27
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What that woman went through is probably one of the most horrible, painful and traumatic experiences one can survive. And, from what you say, she helped your daughter escape the same. She literally saved your child. Can you match this for her? No. Can you pay her back? No. Can you 'just' acknowledge? Yes.

As someone who has saved lives (once decades ago, then a few years back), I can tell you that the greatest reward you can get is just the memory of doing it. No matter what people told me, the praise I received (or not...), it didn't matter. My biggest reward was the relief I felt and pride I remember (and still feel sometimes) and that I never expressed (or needed to). I sincerely hope that the memories of her actions will periodically resurface, and make her proud and heal.

How can I express my gratitude without sounding indelicate about what she went through?

You can read about what you can do, and what you should not do, for instance: supporting a survivor or help after rape and sexual assault. A quick search will offer lots of helpful reading, such as this one about PTSD trauma: recovering from rape and sexual trauma.

  • Listen to the person, but don't ask anything about what happened.
  • Offer practical support if possible/needed.
  • Respect their decisions, and their yes/no.
  • Bear in mind they might not want to be touched or even approached. Stay a few feet away.
  • Don't forget that it will take time for them to deal with their feelings and emotions.

What I usually do, when facing someone who's mourning for any reason, or has been through very hard times, is just offering support: "if you need... feel free to call/ask...". Never say you know/understand what they feel. You don't. No one, but she, knows.

In your case, I would just tell her how great she's been, and still is. How 'enormous' her impact has been on your life and your daughter's. Point out her actions, avoiding carefully what she suffered while doing it or because of it. Don't bring back awful memories, but express the positive of her actions, of her courage, of her strength. I've once been thanked in a very simple way, and that was more than enough. The people just said: "Oh thank you! Thank you so much". Their tone said it all. The way they were cuddling the kid and reassuring him was enough to show love and relief. Love. Relief. Happiness. 3 words for a great action and a great reward. Were I to thank someone like her, I would just try to express the same. Very few words, but very powerful words. Or show her. Still shocked and recovering, she may not be able to fully understand how much she's helped both of you, but she may see it, and remember it in the future: a dad and his daughter together in front of her, holding hands or cuddling thanks to her courage. This may be enough, as, sometimes, an image is worth thousands of words. I wouldn't say too much.

FWIW, a last note: be seen as a dad, not as a man, if you think it can help her. And if it happens that you meet her, make sure your daughter is with you, or some of her family.

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    The last paragraph is what I was thinking -- I think the woman will be much more appreciative if she sees that the daughter is doing well.
    – Barmar
    Aug 14 at 18:17
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    @barmar : IMO it's a double-edge / win-win situation : seeing the daughter safe is the proof of her courage and sacrifice. Plus, she won't be close to a man alone, and that can be reassuring. Because, no matter what, for a long time, she may be seeing men as evil.
    – OldPadawan
    Aug 14 at 18:25
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    "if you need... feel free to call/ask..." This may be another of the things not to say. Ask people "do you need any help" and pride can make them say no even if they do need it or don't need it but would like it. Ask "would you like any help" and more people can say yes without having their capability called into question. Aug 16 at 15:00
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    @Smartybartfast : as a non-native speaker, I (now) see the difference when written and read. I read some pages about this (now and in the past) and they often say "Offer practical support", so I translated it just like you pointed it out. If it's not a good way of asking (unwieldy? clumsy?), I'll be glad to modify, if it's 'better english' and anyone can edit, please feel free to improve :)
    – OldPadawan
    Aug 16 at 15:08

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