May 15th, 2013

Escaping from the house of horror

[NOTE: I wrote the following post last night. In it, I speculated on some of the conditions under which the three Cleveland captives had been held, and how that might have made it virtually impossible for them to escape. When I finished writing it, I happened across an article that went into some hitherto-undisclosed details of their captivity that indicated just how greatly they had suffered and how incredibly difficult it would have been for them to free themselves.

Read the article linked above with the caveat that the details are grisly, disturbing, and sadistic, and will probably make you feel both sick and deeply deeply angry. The plight of these women demonstrates once again that human depravity is quite creative, and also that human resilience---the fact that the girls survived at all, and that they have at least a chance of recovering with time, patience, and love---can be powerful and inspiring.

I decided to publish this post anyway, as is, even though (assuming the article is factually correct) we now know more of the horrific details about which I was merely speculating.]

Commenter “Gina” writes:

I don’t understand how these three young women [kidnapped by Castro] allowed themselves to be jailed for ten years without screaming and crying and tearing the house down. Why were none of them seen outside? Why didn’t they smuggle one out to alert the police? Why didn’t they set the house on fire? I just don’t get it.

It’s an interesting fact that many people (not just Gina; I’ve noticed it on a lot of discussion boards, and not just about this case but about other kidnappings as well) tend to blame kidnapping victims, at least in part, for not having done more to escape. I think that reflects a failure of imagination, as well as an understandable self-protective desire to believe that, in a similar situation, we wouldn’t have been so vulnerable, we would have somehow found a way out and not been at the mercy of a sadist. But usually that’s just wishful thinking.

For the three kidnapped women in Cleveland, one needs to consider their youth when kidnapped, and more importantly the fact that they were raped, humiliated, and tortured, and under the complete control of their kidnapper 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Only a few days of being plunged into that sort of situation would make most people crack, much less ten years of it. We don’t know all the details of how Castro exerted his control, but part of it was apparently by chaining them, starving them, boarding up windows and locking doors securely, as well as tricking the women by pretending to leave the house and then “punishing” them (i.e. torturing them) when they tried to take advantage of his supposed absence to escape.

This situation does not seem to fit the description of Stockholm syndrome, which can also occur in kidnappings and hostage takings, in which the victims develop positive feelings for their captors and sometimes fail to leave them even if the opportunity presents itself. We don’t know whether the three women in Cleveland developed a form of Stockholm syndrome towards Castro, but I would guess they did not because the syndrome is less common than usually thought, and tends to occur in victims who have been treated relatively well.

I am virtually certain that the women Castro held capitve had no access to communications such as phones, or weapons such as knives or other implements by which to smash something or dig something or start a fire (by all accounts there was no cooking; he mostly brought them fast food). When he was out of the house they were apparently chained much of the time, especially in the early years. This not only would break their spirits and bodies, it would make escape virtually impossible unless they were escape artists. Remember, also, that they had no exercise, and were kept in a state of semi-starvation as well as dehydration, which not only weakens the body but causes mental confusion.

Remember also that a person can scream, but in order to be rescued that person must be heard as well. Some of Castro’s relatives have reported (I can’t find the link at the moment, but I read it some days ago) that the basement (where the girls were chained for the first years) was “like a dungeon,” and that no one could have been heard down there no matter how long and hard they screamed. So perhaps during the beginning years the girls had worn themselves out with screaming, but it is likely that they had learned over time that screaming was futile. Many windows upstairs, where they were sometimes kept later on, were boarded up and that must have reduced the possibility of being heard there, as well.

We still don’t know what was different enough on their liberation day that it allowed Amanda Berry to finally get herself and her child to that door, scream, and finally be heard by rescuers. Did Castro slip up on that one day, and fail to chain or lock them as securely as usual? Or did something cue Amanda on that day that Castro was really and truly gone for a while, finally giving her the chance to make her break for freedom after ten long years of suffering? We don’t know, but some day we will probably hear the story.

[NOTE: Here's a post I wrote about the Patty Hearst case.]

14 Responses to “Escaping from the house of horror”

  1. MollyNH Says:

    Can you imagine Neo ? monday May 6th must have dawned like every other dreary, dire, day for these women but little did they know there was Magic in store for them as the perpetual monotony & horror of their lives droned on !
    I (to borrow a phrase for Chris matthews) get tingles up my leg when I hear sweet, sweet Amanda Berry to the 911 operator, I m Amanda Berry, I ve been kidnapped, I ‘m here now, I m free !!!! I replay this on my VCR, it is just so stunning to hear. Her emotion, her pride in her success. How she must have been skying especially for that darling child, who is HER child.
    They said that while in the hospital the little girl
    would always smile when she saw her mother.

  2. carl in atlanta Says:

    It hurts to even think about what these girls went through. This is a good example of a crime that cries out for retributive justice. He probably won’t get the death penalty from the state, but he deserves something worse than death and maybe he’ll get it.

    I wonder how he’ll get along with his fellow inmates ?

  3. T Says:

    I suggest that comments such as Gina’s fail to recognize an important aspect of kidnapping: The absolute paralyzing fear which a kidnapper can instill in the victim.

    I’m not a psychologist, but I recognize that fear can be used as a paralyzing force. Even in the animal world, displacement activity exists because an animal is afraid to fight or flee.

    I further suggest that this is why male on female violence is so particularly repulsive; it’s a betrayal of a primal human trust which dictates that the physically stronger members of “the tribe” (the men) protect the weaker (the women and children) to insure the perpetuation of the group and the species.

    IMO this is what makes people like Castro such vile and villifiable creatures.

  4. artfldgr Says:

    Anyone other than me realize that if he rented the women out rather than keeping them to himself he would only be up on prostitution charges? if he was a pimp, not a whatever you call it, he would not be in as much trouble

    sad

  5. DNW Says:

    Add to that …

    The victim probably often has internalized inhibitions which his or her tormenter does not; inhibitions based on a projection of fellow humanity to the persecutor: a moral framework that implies that killing, even of abusers, is somehow wrong.

    Imagine yourself seated at a table beside your captor. He has been harsh but not brutal that day. He provides you with some food. Says, softening slightly, “Here have something to eat”, and then distractedly, but while within arm’s reach is mentally absorbed and focused elsewhere.

    You have a steak knife in your possession. His neck is two feet away and he’s not looking.

    Can you do what it actually takes to free yourself? Merely menacing someone stronger is futile, and will constitute the end of any such future opportunities.

    Think this through. How many of us who are men have even had to gut another man’s kill in the field because he found he couldn’t initially bring himself to actually do it.

    No wonder some raised in this civilization seem to have been socialized to be victims. In some ways they have been.

  6. artfldgr Says:

    I think that reflects a failure of imagination, as well as an understandable self-protective desire to believe that, in a similar situation, we wouldn’t have been so vulnerable, we would have somehow found a way out and not been at the mercy of a sadist. But usually that’s just wishful thinking.

    it ALSO reflects that modern women think they are equal to men, and have learned so by movies with 100lb women beating up 200lb fighters (and not just men). movies also teach you have a second chance, there is always a way out, and more…

    sadly, we are also trained to think that movies dont do this! they do, and the differences depend on what you were raised with and other issues. if good information came first, then entertainment is just that, but if bad information or no information comes first, then entertainment is how you learn the principals of how the world works

    and so, you can easily list the “rules”
    and you can also note that women follow rules, men deviate for success… and so, you have a heard of independently minded copies of each other who wont admit to how much and what level others dictated their lives and thinking… (and without any regard to what it would be without that, as that regard is evidence of oppressive forced conditions)

    we have the rule in our society that you have to give permission to others for bad things to happen to you. (bet you dont know that one being older!)
    its this rule that negates the rule that women are never responsible (as does time).

    sadly, i see few of the commentaries trying to learn before commenting, and doing the old gossip making up what i feel kind of thing… to which i wonder how does a normal person imagine how an abnormal monster or their victims think without any such input? and so thats another influence to the point your making.

    your answers though are the canned proper answers of the scripts of the mental health area of professional work. which cares more that the solutions or ideas are PC and dont interfere with other points, than they are with getting it right.

    Angelina Jolie is a walking speaking mimic me life bomb…
    fund and promote her, and watch regular women run off a cliff

    its funny, but regular women would get upset that men find her lips and such so attractive, and look down on them… which may be true… but we dont ruin our lives and pretend she didn’t influence us and claim its not her lips that got us to copy her…

    subtle differences make a big difference over time…
    [edited for length by n-n]

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    DNW: you make an interesting point in the psychological sense, but I take issue with your example. I would bet a large amount of money that these women were not given anything remotely resembling steak knives or any other potential weapon.

  8. artfldgr Says:

    I wonder how he’ll get along with his fellow inmates ?

    not well.

    contrary to feminist beliefs, we don’t live in a rape culture or a child molestation culture… such people are even abhorrent to criminals and disliked… though unlike people outside, criminals also have bad impulse control (and many lack real compassion), so he will not do well…

  9. DNW Says:

    neo-neocon Says:
    May 15th, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    DNW: you make an interesting point in the psychological sense, but I take issue with your example. I would bet a large amount of money that these women were not given anything remotely resembling steak knives or any other potential weapon.”

    As far as the availability of particular implements to those women, you may very well be right.

    I was, as you acknowledge, just presenting a thought problem requiring a little sympathetic imagination in order to illuminate the general outlines of the question.

    For all I know, these women were kept perpetually caged, and fed porridge on paper plates which they then scooped up with their hands. They may never have had access to metal forks much less butter or steak knives, and they may never ever have had a missed opportunity to kill or maim and incapacitate their captors.

    However, we do know that many people have in the past been reluctant to “shove the knife in” their captors, so to speak, when presented with the opportunity.

    People are, experts appear to claim, generally cowed into submission before complete dominance is achieved. Sometimes it’s their concern for loved ones that allows it happen.

    The occasional incident wherein a police officer is physically dominated by a suspect who turns the tables on him or her, and then uses the officer’s weapon to fatally dispatch him, shows what can happen when opportunities are seized by someone who has no compunctions about or fear of doing so.

    I don’t think you necessarily have to be a 6’2″ 195 lb man who has been lifting for 30 years in order to do so.

  10. artfldgr Says:

    by the way
    victims are not helpless…

    they are like any other cornered animal that plays or feigns things… they act i terms of survival, which is why the captor loses them when they let their guard down, which the victim actually never does, any more than your pet snake does…

    ergo, if you pay attention, the explanations are trying to cogitate a unconscious set of acts and behaviors.

    i suspect that if our response was to play dead like possums we would invent reasons why it was a smart thing to do and so on… and NOT want to believe that such things have happened so much the behaviors are renforced by genetics and so fall into patterns which, believe it or not, maximize preservation (if one could do the math on the whole as if omniscient)

    we have all kinds of wacko stuff now as the wacko stuff was used to normalize something so that it would appear as something else for the point, the collateral damage is a necessity… it got hearst off, who cares about the others?

    if their stuff had an iota of anby reality in it, they would accept that they are wrong, and that their ideas cant explain a ten year gap and then sudden seizure of opportunity. 10 years is enough to acclimate to almost anything, and if your Dostoevsky, anything.

    however, that doesnt really happen. its like watching cop shows and seeing them describe something that just isnt happening on the screen as if that description is what you should believe, not what you actually see!

    watching normal people try to fathom the logic of people with thought disorders, is kind of like watching feminists fathom and proselytize what men think to the exclusion of the actual men

    theory of normal mind does not give anyone insight into the others. if so, people with autism would not have problems with normal nice people!!!!!!!!!!!!

    so, you can toss most of that stuff out the window, its only good in gossip circles and it completely ignores and deconstructs real things and examples you can read…

    even here, if they were right, the attempt to escape after 10 years would be impossible.. Hearst was captured less and they got her to rob banks with machine gun and not run away… or did she want to do that, and did not want to serve time for it?

    the powerful can make up new diseases and things as a way to avoid the approbation of their fellows

    do a search and you will find hundreds of these events, and the average time is a few years…

    we usually never know the long term ones as those end up dead… and contrary to the movies, the US is huge and dead is not hard to get away with… (sadly)

    Natascha Kampusch escaped after 8 years

    anoter from st louis escaped after two years

    A neighbor, Lakeitha Smith, told several local TV stations that she saw the girl from time to time outside the house and never witnessed anything that would raise concern.

    “I used to see her come out of the house, back and forth,” Smith said. “I didn’t think she was being held hostage in the house.”

    Jaycee Lee Dugard was held for 18 years but i dont thing she escaped.

    even more common is to be held to clean house, be a maid, and so on…

  11. artfldgr Says:

    I would bet a large amount of money that these women were not given anything remotely resembling steak knives or any other potential weapon

    now, that shows you have not read about this stuff.
    whether they do or not, depends on the host

    what many dont get is that there is a SandM kind of game going on, and so they dont bother looking into the scripts of those games. i also pointed out that they love it when you have hope, and try and fail.

    so what your NOT taking into account is the head game going around between the victim and the perpetrator. your all imagining things from you, or movies, not from real life

    in a scene, the players take rolls… we do this all the time. in the fake scene of the people that play, the person who gets punished purposefully does something, like spill milk, not clean, etc.

    this creates the excuse for the script to play out.

    but, if your a predator, your prey does not cooperate easily… we forget that there are many ways that women can get revenge from the bottom. see Dangerous liasons or valmont (cant remember which played out better for the scene).

    one comes to collect the bet of winning sex from the other… eventually the woman concedes, he won. then she decides to sit there and read a book, while he uses her to masturbate… decidely not the term of the bet, was it?

    so if you read, they have to create the scene as the victim is going to get really punished and unlike the fakery, they are not going to normally do anything to get that punishment

    so, right off the bat, weapons, and other things left just within reach, are too much like bait for an invitation to play out a scene of naughty naughty you must be punished.

    we are very complicated creatures, and such things like this are more complicated than what you and i do every day to get through it.. NOT LESS COMPLICATED.

    so its not so easy to say… here is a knife. is it real? is it broken and will fall apart if grabbed? is it a trick knife you can buy at the magic shop that will give you a shock like a stun gun?

    you guys, even when thinking about this, keep thinking in clean, neat, and ways that lack the deviousness that is in play, and so, you are not realizing the victims have to get as devious too, while acting and so on.

    i can tell you right now that the biggest “mistake” by the perpetrator is usually talking to the victim. this is why military men are not allowed to converse with prisoners at all, period, no exceptions.

    if the devil could get adam and eve in trouble and cause all he does with his mouth, listening to the other is dangerous on many levels.

    you will probably hear that over the years that her reciprocating and passive behavior lowers the guard of the other, which then eventually facilitates mistakes which can be used to escape. easy bait is ignored, so knives on the table are ignored…

    if you read, she was able to read it was a real situation, the other let their guard down, and if it was a trap, it would be with the person waiting outside

    so she took the risk and she HAD to fight
    and she used an ice pick (or similar)
    and she almost didnt make it

    remember the same people who tell you what is going on in the heads are the same people who believe there are no criminals and welfare will cure it all

  12. Oldflyer Says:

    I have a slightly different interpretation of the questions posed by Gina, and others, including myself.

    There is a simple human need to try to understand without being judgmental. The circumstances are so awful, and so bizarre, that it is hard to grasp the dynamics.

    I do not blame the victims, nor do I completely understand how it was possible. Maybe the answer is simple. Maybe Castro was just that careful. Maybe there is a deeper and darker psychological explanation.

    I am sure there will be pyscho-analysis. Theories will be set forth. Psychobabble will be babbled. After all is said and done, we may be no closer to understanding the answers in this case, nor in other similar situations. It might be helpful to understand.

  13. kcom Says:

    Keep in mind that in that situation you probably feel you have to be absolutely certain you can escape. Because the consequences of failure are too horrible to risk. Imagine your captor left and you worked to untie your hands. But you only got partway done and he returned and found out what you were up to. He could do anything he wanted to you. He could kick you half to death while you were lying tied up on the floor. He could decide not to feed you for a couple of weeks. He could rape you as many times and as many ways as he wanted. He could burn you, tie you up in painful positions, choke you to unconsciousness or whatever. You’d have to be pretty certain you were going to get away before you’d risk that. And that kind of certainty was probably an exceedingly rare commodity in that house.

  14. DNW Says:

    Neo says,

    “This situation does not seem to fit the description of Stockholm syndrome, which can also occur in kidnappings and hostage takings, in which the victims develop positive feelings for their captors “

    You are certainly right. Whatever my problem was in accessing the link yesterday, when I read the article today, it made any doubts about why they did not escape earlier almost irrelevant.

    Malnourished to the point of prisoner-of-war camp style long-term physical damage, chained to basement walls, locks on every door …

    Their captors deserve the death penalty.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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