Cleveland Kidnappings, Rapes and Torture

The horrific stories of the abuse inflicted by Ariel Castro upon his victims Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina de Jesus for a decade of imprisonment have been this week’s big news story, and I know some of you will want to discuss it. Because of the potential for triggering, I’m giving it a thread of its own so those readers who want to avoid potential PTSD triggers can do so.

Over to you.

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38 comments for “Cleveland Kidnappings, Rapes and Torture

  1. May 9, 2013 at 11:19 pm

    I am so so glad that these women, and Amanda Berry’s little girl are free now. I can’t even begin to comprehend the trauma and the horror they must have experienced. I wish them all well and special wishes for Michelle Knight too, since from what I hear she had health issues and a psychiatric disability before she was even kidnapped and was having some health issues during the rescue as well.

    I know that it has come out in the media about Mr. Ramsey being arrested for domestic violence in 2003…the only thing I can say is that it took someone with a lot of courage and at least some empathy to hear Amanda Berry’s cries for help and help her break out. Bystanders are big thing to me, and a sore spot. In 1999 I was sexually assaulted by a few men…in public. I was screaming and people knew, including several in a donut shop, but no one did anything to help me. Evidently no one was even bothered enough to call the police. I mention myself because when bystanders do nothing, it makes me angry and I remember my own hurt when I needed help. I am so so glad that Charles Ramsey decided to do something instead of pretending nothing was happening. I believe these three women are alive because of him.

    • May 16, 2013 at 8:14 am

      That’s just unforgivable. I’m so, so sorry that happened to you.

      This house is just a few minute’s drive from mine, and I canvassed that neighborhood – that particular street – in 2011 during the Senate Bill 5 battle. Every since I found out that I once actually knocked on THAT door, I cannot stop thinking about it. Did they hear me knock, and get excited? Hoping it was the cops? Was this one of the times I heard people walking around inside the house, ignoring me? Did I just shrug and leave lit in the door? I cannot even imagine what those women have been through. It’s just devastating.

  2. kloe
    May 9, 2013 at 11:58 pm

    I am so glad they are free.

    And I am shocked and outraged at the not insignificant number of people I have heard saying “Come on, ten years and they couldn’t get free? They could have escaped if they wanted to.”

    That this truly horrific scenario is being so seamlessly blended into the endless stream of victim blaming that permeates our culture is so upsetting and disappointing to me. I wasn’t anticipating it when I first heard the story, though I guess now I should lower my expectations even more…

    • EG
      May 10, 2013 at 5:55 pm

      I just don’t understand what it is people are imagining was going on when they say things like that. Like, they think it’s more likely that these three young women/girls just up and decided to stay with an abuser because women are weird or something than that an abusive man tortured them and kept them locked up? I hear “ten years” and I try not to imagine what must have been going on that kept them from escaping.

      I wonder what the maximum allowable time to be kept prisoner after being abducted is, in these people’s minds. Five years? One year? Six months?

    • dianne
      May 16, 2013 at 5:50 pm

      They could have escaped if they wanted to.

      Um…they did escape. Maybe not as soon as they wanted to or soon enough for them to gain the sympathy of the idiots saying that they “could have escaped”, but Berry’s efforts to get to the door were what alerted Ramsey that something was wrong. If she hadn’t made a heroic break for it, they’d still be there.

  3. Xexyz
    May 10, 2013 at 9:52 am

    I’ve been avoiding reading too much about this because I’m already angry about how it’s being covered. As usual, an inordinate amount of the coverage of the victims is focused on Amanda and Michelle, while Gina barely gets any mention. I don’t think I’ve seen a more blatant case of MWWS.

    • Kierra
      May 10, 2013 at 10:33 am

      The initial reports only had photos of Amanda and Michelle. Probably because the two of them had already been linked together and no one ever doubted that those two were kidnapped. They only switched to focusing on Knight after the miscarriage information came out.

      • Kierra
        May 10, 2013 at 10:34 am

        Edit needed: initial photos were of Amanda and Gina

  4. Angie unduplicated
    May 10, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Most reports here were of Amanda and Gina. This may be partially due to Amanda’s dad being Appalachian and our huge Latino population in the floorcovering industry. A secondary factor is that Michelle Knight was hospitalized and not interacting with media. What gets me now is that Knight had five miscarriages from Castro’s targeted violence to her uterine area, but reporters skip this and focus on the fact that she delivered Amanda’s surviving child by herself. Nor is MSM helping by ignoring Ramsey’s domestic violence convictions. I hope that counseling, and this experience, have cured him of any propensity to DV.

    • Anon21
      May 10, 2013 at 11:09 am

      Nor is MSM helping by ignoring Ramsey’s domestic violence convictions. I hope that counseling, and this experience, have cured him of any propensity to DV.

      Well… I’m actually not so sure about that. I’m just skeptical that going into Ramsey’s background is a good use of any reporter’s time. Ramsey isn’t the perpetrator, such that past domestic-violence convictions might have led to contact with the criminal-justice system that should have uncovered his horrific crimes earlier. He’s not a public official, where the question is whether we should entrust someone with official power who uses physical violence against people who aren’t able to defend themselves. Ramsey is a private citizen who happened to engage in a heroic action, and his prior domestic-violence convictions no more detract from his heroism in this case than the heroism wipes out his past crimes. He’s discharged his sentences, and I have a pretty hard time seeing why rehashing it now, in the context of a news event that really isn’t about him, is something we should want.

      • Treebeard
        May 10, 2013 at 11:42 am

        I am actually curious if Ramsey has anything to say about that. I would like to think that his past as a domestic abuser 10 years ago is something he’s thought about and regretted and that his regret at those actions played some part in him deciding to intervene in that kind of situation when he had the chance. But on the other hand maybe it was just pure coincidence that he and some other neighbors were there at that moment.

      • Treebeard
        May 10, 2013 at 11:48 am
      • Irrelevant feminist from the East
        May 10, 2013 at 12:20 pm

        I actually think the news of Ramsey’s domestic violence record is useful, in the sense that it brings us back to Earth. He’s not Superman, or a hero, or whatever: he’s a regular Joe who happened to be around and do the right, decent, logical thing in a terrible situation (along with the other regular Joe who is less visible in the media). Yes, many people wouldn’t have done it, so kudos to them, they deserve gratitude, a reward, whatever- but this is truly where the handing out of cookies for basic human decency should end. This is not Ramsey’s story, and making him into a saintly (if funny and wisecracking) heroic figure, as he was made by the entire media, is completely inappropriate. If anything, the hero in this is Amanda Berry.

        It seems that society has this giant hero complex. Everything needs to be turned into a Hollywood action film where the fearless and brave male lead jumps in and saves the damsel in distress through fire, explosions, villains and danger, reality be damned. Which reminds me of another terrible event, the Aurora shootings, when MRAs everywhere hung on to the story of men who allegedly died protecting their girlfriends as irrefutable proof that misogyny doesn’t exist and feminism is wrong (while, of course, completely ignoring accounts of a woman who similarly risked her life to protect a female friend, or of a guy who abandoned his family and fled).

        We can’t just admit that people, regardless of gender, are complex, unpredictable and capable of good and bad things. No, we are thirsty for awesome male heroes to save the day, perhaps as a counterbalance to the fact that in pretty much all of these tragedies the perpetrators are also men. Maybe we need to reassure ourselves that traditional masculinity has an upside as well? Whatever this is, it needs to stop. “Heroes”, the way we imagine them, don’t really exist.

      • SophiaBlue
        May 10, 2013 at 4:51 pm

        I actually hate that someone went digging for his criminal background. As you say, it has nothing to do with his actions freeing Amanda Berry, and between this and the stupid memes that came out about him I feel like some people really don’t want to allow him to be seen as heroic.

      • matlun
        May 10, 2013 at 5:50 pm

        I feel like some people really don’t want to allow him to be seen as heroic

        Perhaps. On the other hand he did not see himself as a hero either. If I read him right he just saw this as something any decent human would do. And I think he has a point.

      • Henry
        May 10, 2013 at 9:03 pm

        Well he’s black, so the media has to go dig for flaws. And doing so will have negative consequences in future cases, would the next bystander help if they see the level of scrutiny being applied here? I don’t even want to start on the memes, black studies profs could write reems of papers on this episode.

  5. JIll Brenneman
    May 10, 2013 at 11:17 am

    The people who ask how it is possible these girls were held for ten years and couldn’t escape make me sick.

    Their question isn’t a question. It’s an accusation. It’s an arrogant sense that they would have done things differently if it were them. Like they know what it’s like. And that they feel it is as simple as yelling for help or just escaping.

    As someone who went through something similar to this. I’d love to address the people who have questions as to why they didn’t try to escape sooner.

    When one is kidnapped they immediately realize someone has absolute power of them. He has already demonstrated it by kidnapping them. Kidnappers aren’t stupid. They know that if the victim gets out they go to prison. It starts off with horrific violence and rape. He shows you he can hurt you until you lose consciousness. At which point you feel like, and he often makes a statement of some sort about it, that you life is fading away at his hand. He rapes you. Violates all of you inside and out. And then the tests of loyalty. Inevitably you get a chance to escape. And it’s a setup to see if you take it. I’m guessing it was very similar for the women in Cleveland as it was for me. You never forget the consequences of that mistake. And don’t even consider trying again.

    People say they would die trying to escape or before they would let someone do to them what has happened to these girls. They fail to realize that it doesn’t work that way. Kidnappers like Ariel Castro are sadists. They get off on the pain and fear they create. They want to make it last. To savor every moment. They hurt the victim so much and so long that death would be a gift. Anything to stop the pain. When this happens you hurt more than you believe you can ever withstand. You are exhausted physically and emotionally. You correctly believe the kidnapper is omnipotent because he is. He can hurt you until you lose consciousness. He can wake you up and start again. He can take your life in a second. And anything else that he wants to.

    Amanda Berry doing what she did to to escape is absolutely amazing. The amount of courage it took to take that risk is something that one truly astonishing. While Charles Ramsey is a hero and deserves acclaim for his actions. There is no bigger hero in this than Amanda Berry. Escaping is astonishing courage.

    Equally heroic are the other women. They are heroes because they lived. I’m certain that others who have been through this kind of ordeal would tell them what I will say. They did absolutely nothing to deserve this. They did nothing wrong. They nothing to be ashamed of. Anything that they did was the right thing because they are still alive.

    I hope the world helps these women. Their battle didn’t end when they escaped. Trying to rebuild a life from this this kind of event is epic in it’s difficulty.

    If people have questions about why these women were captive ten years and didn’t escape until now. Perhaps before they form their pretentious attitudes they take the time to listen to people who have been through something like this. Because questioning a victim’s motives for doing whatever they had to in order to remain alive……… Makes me sick.

    • RoryBorealis
      May 10, 2013 at 11:44 pm

      This is really well said. I’m sorry beyond words that you, or anyone, went through something similar to the torture and trauma that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight experience(d). Thank you for sharing your perspective as someone who lived though it.

      I’d add that even if they hadn’t survived, they still would have done nothing wrong because none of the horror to which they were subjected was ever up to them to begin with.

      • JIll Brenneman
        May 11, 2013 at 8:15 am


        I absolutely agree with you that even if they hadn’t survived that they still would have nothing wrong. You are absolutely correct. I should have phrased what I was thinking better.

        I was trying to address the guilt that I as a survivor and that they may have in the terrible things that one is forced to do to in order stay live in that kind of situation. Self blame for what I did, didn’t do, feel I should have done or should not have done, in my three years of captivity, have haunted me. To the point that it has often been a challenge, for me, to find how my survival was ethically correct. Yet, it is very clear to me, there is no wrong answer in captivity because, in reality, a captive doesn’t get to make choices. Your life in captivity is often reduced to a minute to minute event hoping that the next minute won’t bring more suffering for you or someone else.

        Certainly, these women, were heroes from the first moment. Surviving any length of time in that kind of situation is courage that is hard to equal in measure.

        I truly hope they have and receive every bit of support they need. The journey is far from over in terms of recovery for them.

      • RoryBorealis
        May 11, 2013 at 12:14 pm

        Your phrasing was fine. My comment was meant as an addition to your wonderfully eloquent post, not a rebuttal of any part of it. I’m sorry I didn’t say that more clearly–I adamantly agree with you.

        There’s this troubling trend in media commentary and in comments from the public alike to blame victims of kidnapping, trafficking, etc. No matter what they did or did not do, there is someone ready to tell them that they were wrong: She died? Oh, she should have fought harder. She survived? Oh, she must have been okay with what was happening to her. It’s toxic victim-blaming, and I really hope that Amanda, Gina, and Michelle are insulated from the worst of it.

      • JIll Brenneman
        May 11, 2013 at 1:27 pm

        OMG. No worries. I didn’t take it that you were rebutting me. I was glad you made the point you did.

        As to victim blaming. I totally agree. Victim blaming is horrible thing. To be honest victim blaming disgusts me. It is almost always done by people with the least understanding of the psychology of suffering violence.

        I’ve done my fair share of speeches on this topic. Always from first person. I use a first person narrative to make a macro level statement So many times some one will stand up in Q/A and advise me on what they would have done differently. Almost always a man that does it. My answer to them is usually the same. If you get kidnapped and held captive and choose to do what you are stating here that you will. God be with you. You will only make that mistake once.

        People who blame the victim. Need to look inside themselves. Emotionally kicking a rape victim, a torture victim, a trafficking victim, a kidnapping victim, any or all of the above. That speaks volumes the person blaming the victim’s humanity. Or lack thereof.

    • May 20, 2013 at 2:56 pm


      Spot on.

  6. Kierra
    May 10, 2013 at 11:20 am

    What gets me now is that Knight had five miscarriages from Castro’s targeted violence to her uterine area, but reporters skip this and focus on the fact that she delivered Amanda’s surviving child by herself.

    Give them time. The prosecutor is apparently going to the death penalty based on those miscarriages, so I imagine the coverage of them is going to ramp up shortly.

    Because apparently imprisoning 3 young women for almost a decade, repeatedly raping them, forcing one of them to labor and give birth without medical care, imprisoning a child, repeatedly starving one woman, and then punching that woman repeatedly until one of her internal organs malfunctioned isn’t enough to warrant the death penalty, while killing potential humans is.

    • Anon21
      May 10, 2013 at 11:43 am

      Because apparently imprisoning 3 young women for almost a decade, repeatedly raping them, forcing one of them to labor and give birth without medical care, imprisoning a child, repeatedly starving one woman, and then punching that woman repeatedly until one of her internal organs malfunctioned isn’t enough to warrant the death penalty, while killing potential humans is.

      I get the outrage. Ariel Castro is a monster, and he stole these women’s lives. He deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison, and he will. But Americans have experimented with the death penalty for crimes less serious than murder, and the whole thing turned out to be even more of a racist clusterfuck (ctrl+f “455”) than you might imagine. I don’t accept the premise that imposing an unjust punishment like the death penalty is the only way for society to recognize the heinousness of crimes like these.

      • Anon21
        May 10, 2013 at 12:06 pm

        Rereading, I’m realizing that you (Kierra) may simply be making a similar point to the one Treebeard raises just below: that it reflects something profoundly fucked up about our society that we consider violently causing a miscarriage qualitatively more serious than kidnapping, rape, torture, and years of false imprisonment. If that’s what you meant, and if you didn’t mean to imply that he should get death for the non-homicide crimes, please excuse and ignore my derailing.

      • Kierra
        May 10, 2013 at 12:37 pm

        No problem. For the most part, I agree with you about the death penalty thing. And Treebeard did phrase it better than I did. I really only feel comfortable invoking the death penalty in cases where the offense was horrifically bad and it’s absolutely, abundantly clear that the right person was arrested, but another part of me realizes that the death penalty isn’t good policy regardless of the crime.

    • Bloix
      May 10, 2013 at 6:30 pm

      The US Supreme Court held in Kennedy v. Louisiana (2007) that the death penalty is unconstitutional in cases that don’t result in the death of the victim. The prosecutor is trying to shoehorn this case into the “death of the victim” rule. IMHO this is not a death penalty case, but given how horrible it is, you can’t tell what a judge might do.

  7. Treebeard
    May 10, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Discussion question here, because I really want to think this through and see if my visceral reaction was right. I read the other day that they couldn’t seek the death penalty for kidnapping and torture in Ohio, only for murder. But then I read today that they may seek the death penalty because he forcibly caused miscarriages. So that’s the one thing that tips this over into a death penalty case – he killed fetuses? (I don’t know if they know how far along the pregnancies were, do they? But I’m not sure how much it matters.)

    I know they are probably using the miscarriages because they want to execute this guy and this is their legal excuse. But it made me angry that imprisoning and torturing women for a decade doesn’t rate the death penalty, but causing a miscarriage does. Is this a legitimate thing to be angry about? I mean, it IS an added level of horror that he impregnated them, and everything that follows from that, but I see that more as part of the rape and torture than as a separate crime that is so much worse than the rest of it.

    I have also heard arguments that you don’t want the death penalty for kidnapping because it encourages kidnappers to kill their victims, if its the same penalty no matter what. Is that a legitimate reason for the law to be the way it is?

    I would like to see some discussion on this, and I’d be curious to know what Jill thinks.

    • Asia
      May 10, 2013 at 1:59 pm

      Yea I find it really uncomfortable that the miscarriages are being equated to murder. Whereas the repeated harm he inflicted on the three woman and girl aren’t seen as his most violent crimes. I also think that the personhood movement might get traction from this situation.

      • Willard
        May 10, 2013 at 2:55 pm

        The only people I’ve seen bringing this up as an issue here are in the pro-choice camp. The pearl clutching is a bit ridiculous. The law in Ohio doesn’t extend person-hood to the fetus, but it does recognize that doing harm to a woman to the extent that she miscarries is heinous, and a murder. It makes distinctions between acts done with malice and those carried out by licensed professionals with consent, which makes sense. If the logical and moral framework we’re using to support abortion rights can’t readily distinguish between the two it needs some serious work.

        There’s a certain amount of intersection here, namely abortion v forced miscarriage, what crimes merit the death penalty, should we have a death penalty. Ethically I can support the death penalty, realistically I think the deterrent effect is overstated and the costs are far out of line with what it is intended to accomplish. I have seen studies to the effect that capital punishment and draconian mandatory sentencing for certain secondary charges have an impact on the commission of crimes that might otherwise include them (kidnapping+murder here and gun crimes in the UK stand out). However counter arguments point out that those make up a small number of the total murder rate and the motivations for most murders don’t factor in things like “the consequences.” In a perfect world maybe, here it just seems to be a very very expensive way of making a small number of people feel better.

    • Lolagirl
      May 10, 2013 at 3:17 pm

      I suspect part of the problem facing the Prosecutor’s Office has to do with the shortcomings of the statutes as they are written so that they can be charged against Castro. Battery in particular must be alleged in the court pleadings (and later proven) with a great deal of specificity, which is probably greatly lacking in this particular case, so even if they attempted to charge him with dozens of charges of physical assault most of them wouldn’t stick legally. Sexual assault is arguable easier to charge and convict, but the sentencing is relatively light for that class of offenses. At least if they charge him and attempt to get him convicted of murder he is eligible for the death penalty, which is clearly the intended goal.

      I don’t necessarily agree with charging a forced miscarriage as murder, although to some extent that depends on how far along the pregnancy was at the time it occurred. On the other hand, it is an egregious violation of a person’s bodily autonomy to, in effect, force an abortion upon them. Doing so repeatedly as apparently occurred in this scenario? Yeah, I don’t have any compassion when it comes throwing the book at the guy if those allegations turn out to be true.

      • Treebeard
        May 11, 2013 at 4:39 pm

        On the other hand, it is an egregious violation of a person’s bodily autonomy to, in effect, force an abortion upon them.

        Absolutely. But is it worse than forcing the pregnancy on them in the first place? Worse than forcing them to give birth with no medical care? Worse than keeping a child locked up for her whole life under those circumstances? I have no way of knowing whether the woman here wanted to continue those pregnancies; obviously she didn’t want to be in that situation at all in the first place.

        I think that the law should recognize that forcibly ending a wanted pregnancy is a serious serious harm towards the woman even if the fetus doesn’t count as a person under the law. But I just have complicated feelings about the idea that that is the worst thing he did out of all the things he did in this case. Even if its obviously just legal technicality-ing.

        I definitely have no problem with them trying to give him the maximum penalty in this case. It seems totally clear they have the right person in custody and he did these incredibly heinous crimes. But I wonder if anyone is considering rewriting the statute so that this type of crime is taken more seriously in the future even without a miscarriage.

  8. May 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    MRAs are already blaming feminism for this tragedy. What a surprise.

    • matlun
      May 10, 2013 at 6:15 pm

      I assume you are referring to the Spearhead “patriarchy causing abuse of women is a myth” article? (I am not linking – google at your own risk)

      In that case it’s not quite that bad. It was used as the lead-in to yet another article on an already common MRA theme. While insensitive it was not an argument for the kidnappings being the fault of feminism.

      • May 10, 2013 at 7:12 pm

        Yeah, and I read about it on Man Boobz, although upon reading it again I realize that it was a commentator who blamed the tragedy on feminism, not the Spearhead author.

  9. Bloix
    May 10, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    The Guardian has a good article summarizing the state of the law.

    Basically, Ohio is one of 38 states that have passed laws against “fetal homicide,” and some of them including Ohio provide for the death penalty in some cases – but it’s not clear whether such laws are constitutional. As noted above, in Kennedy v. Louisiana (2007) the US Supreme Court held that the death penalty is constitutional only in cases involving the “death of the victim.” It’s not clear that a “fetal homicide” qualifies under this standard, but we may be about to find out.

    • Henry
      May 10, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      We may indeed, unless that asshole pleads out to life w/o parole, which may be the prosecutor’s end goal. I just hate for the law to be tested here where 4 victims will be put through trial and appeal, etc.

      The problem lies with the Kennedy case itself, if you are going to have a death penalty there are certainly cases of extreme prolonged torture like this one where it should apply even though none of the captives died.

  10. Lynn Beisner
    May 16, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Here is what bothers me about the case, and I have been hoping that we would have a discussion about it: Why did prosecutors only charge Castro with three charges of rape when obviously he raped more than three times? It seems that they are saying that all of the rapes against one woman over ten years amount to only one rape in the eyes of the law. Or are they saying that if you pay the penalty for one rape of a person that all subsequent rapes of that person are free of charges?

    I am not a lawyer, but the charges make no sense to me. If you shoot someone this year and again next year, you are charged with two counts of attempted murder. Of course you don’t get charged for every bullet, but each time you picked up the gun, aimed and fired is a separate crime. So are they saying that all ten years is one long sexual assault? The crimes are huge, but the relative smallness of those charges are unthinkable to me.

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