[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.]