SALT LAKE CITY — A young Cleveland woman who was raped and held captive for nearly a decade returned to Ariel Castro's house of horrors to witness its demolition Wednesday.

Michelle Knight, one of three women abducted and imprisoned by Castro, handed out yellow, helium-filled balloons to other people who had come to witness the destruction of the house.

"I want the people out there to know — including the mothers — that they can have strength, they can have hope, and their child will come back," Knight told reporters.

Utah crime victim advocates say the destruction of Castro's house was an unusual step. But the crimes that occurred there were so horrific, it would likely benefit the victims to eliminate it.

"It can be really helpful depending on the situation and where the victim is at in helping them regain a sense of safety and not having a constant reminder of the assault that occurred or the crime that occurred," said Nate Williams, a licensed clinical social worker who works in the victim counseling office of the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.

Williams said he has handled cases in which judges have ordered the payment of a victim's moving expenses or to replace a bed or bedding where a sexual assault occurred.

"I've never seen the tearing down of a house before," he said Wednesday. "It's more like paying for moving costs from an apartment where an assault occurred to help them (the victim) regain a sense of safety, especially if the perpetrator knows where they live."

Gary Scheller, director of the Utah Office for Victims of Crime, said tearing down the house would likely be a positive step in the young women's healing.

"There's got to be a great sense of closure that that aspect of their life is finished and they can now move forward," he said.

Scheller was unaware of a case in Utah in which a court had ordered the destruction of a residence or building in connection with a violent crime.

Utah law would not permit crime victim reparation funds to be used for that purpose, he said. The statute permits payment for very specific items or services such as funeral expenses for victims of violent crimes or helping to pay moving expenses so a crime victim doesn't have to remain in a home where they were victimized.

"It couldn't (pay to demolish a home). I'd try like heck to raise the money. I might even rent a bulldozer and do it myself," Scheller said.

Victim advocates help crime victims in other ways, such as utilizing civil laws that enable victims of domestic violence to break leases so they move elsewhere, according to Williams.

While many victims of crime benefit from counseling and taking part in the court process, sometimes their healing requires the passing of time and making a fresh start.

"It's hard for them to move on if they're stuck in a place or looking at an item that constantly reminds them of the crime that occurred," Williams said.

There is no single timetable or roadmap for victims to get on with their lives. Some people can readily forgive their batterers or even a person who has killed a loved one.

"A lot has to do with their religious views and their take on spirituality, how that's going to help them on their path," Williams said.

Others struggle for years dealing with what happened to them.

"For others, it really eats at them. It consumes their every thought, everything they do and everything they see," he said.

Every crime, every victim and every family is different, Williams said.

"I'm often surprised how people react. Sometimes they're dealing with the most horrific situation or circumstances and you get people and family members of homicide victims displaying a very calm demeanor," he said.

Scheller said the criminal justice system can surround victims with resources to assist them. But sometimes accused abusers, batterer or killers are not convicted of their crimes. "It's a huge insult, and they feel re-victimized," he said.

Then, taking steps that give victims any small measure of control becomes even more important.

"I think a lot of these acts can go a long way to give them a sense of justice," Scheller said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com