Last May, three high-profile Cleveland kidnapping cases fiercely resurfaced. Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry, announced missing between 2002 and 2004, were found as prisoners in the home of Ariel Castro. Their rescue story—a combination of relentless courage from Amanda Berry and an organic display of heroism on behalf of a neighbor—still leaves chills down my spine as I remember the days their kidnappings crippled the innocence of this whole city. The Castro story has occupied international and national attention as well as the attention of the local communities. On Aug. 1, Castro was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years, Aug. 7 his house was destroyed and now every new day brings another opportunity of healing for the survivors and the city.
There is truly no easy way to write or speak about this horrific case but there is so much we can learn and already have. Next month, the Cleveland City Council Public Safety Committee will meet to discuss some of the changes the police need to make to improve how they handle sexual violence cases. A topic that has been among talks since the Anthony Sowell case of 2009 is the elimination of policing mini-stations in Cleveland and the creation of a centralized unit. Many insist that the consolidation of the city’s police is responsible for the disappearance of the healthy relationships between communities and police. Some argue that trust, honesty and communication between neighborhoods and their regular police are vital to assuring better safety, especially when dealing with sexual violence cases. The chair of the committee, Councilman Kevin Conwell, is reported hypothesizing that a better connection between the police and Castro’s neighborhood could have helped lead to the three women’s discovery earlier. We can only hope that these talks among the city council members and Cleveland residents continue, and that they lead to positive changes. But perhaps the most we can learn resides in testimony of Ariel Castro.
The man is a monster. Period. His testimony, which was supposed to be an apology, demonstrated a very scary understanding of sexual violence. The scariest part is that the flawed logic he used to try and justify his egregious actions is similar to the flawed logic we hear everyday from people of respected positions. According to Ariel Castro, all his problems stemmed from his sex addiction. He stated that his sex addiction also developed into a porn addiction. He stated that none of his three victims were virgins when he initially kidnapped them. He stated he was driven by sex.
Kidnapping, raping and torturing three women are not sexual acts, but rather crimes of violent power. There is a difference. Sex involves consent, and consent is mutual. Rape is not concerned with consent and uses sex as means to reach a goal based on dominance and violence. Employing the incorrect understanding that a rapist committed a crime against his victim out of sexual arousal and not out of the desire to overpower implies that he was somehow sexually attracted to the victim. This inaccurate assumption shifts blame from the offender to the victim: what about the victim provoked the offender? As soon as we start asking that type of question, we start sharing things in common with Ariel Castro.
I urge you take a closer look at Castro’s case and at yourself. Does his understanding of sexual violence reflect your own? Do you believe sexual violence is really about sex? Do you believe the status of a woman’s virginity should determine whether or not she should be kidnapped, raped and tortured? Do you believe placing the blame on victims is relevant, or helpful, or not psychotic?
There is, of course, a very large difference between having a fundamental misunderstanding of sexual violence motives and its effects and actually committing the repulsive actions Ariel Castro did to those three women. The opinions in this column do not accuse anyone of being the next Ariel Castro. The opinions in this column merely bring attention to some of the unnoticed and damaging similarities Castro’s logic has with many mainstream positions that our society accepts everyday. Those of you that may need to reevaluate your perception of violence are not monsters, at least not in my eyes. But I beg of you—dig deeper. Fight against those Castro qualities that we seem to tolerate when they are not masked behind the actions of evil.