I don’t plan on going through my day recounting the Mayweather and Pacquiao fight or discussing if it was as exciting as expected with the lack of direct hits, punches or knock outs.
Not when the nation has just heard the news of three teens who were kidnapped, raped, starved, chained and held captive for over a decade.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight are their names. Robin Roberts interviewed Berry, age 29, and De Jesus, now 25, on a 20/20 special which aired last week.
Even though we’ve witnessed the ubiquitous power of the media this week regarding “the fight”, the situation of these girls is still not being discussed, dissected and relieved in the public sphere? Nope.
Their story didn’t get nearly as much coverage as the pretend violence people pay to pay attention to when it’s male on male, staged and lucrative.
I’m unsettled, angry and wondering:
- How can so many girls remain unsafe in their own skin, homes, neighborhoods, schools and American society?
- Will it ever be possible to be safe to be walking while female?
- When will the safety and lives of girls matter more to more people?
- Will the fight for the safety of girls and women ever get as much attention as the fight between two men in a ring?
Gina DeJesus was 14 when she was kidnapped. Amanda Berry was 17. Both knew the person, Ariel Castro, who kidnapped them. Castro was a musician, who had been a bus driver and the father of a friend. Castro offered Berry a ride home and to visit his daughter. Castro asked DeJesus to help him find his own daughter who he said he was looking for. They got into the car of a man they knew because he was familiar.
This is not the way we think of kidnapping or kidnappers or of the way in which some humans go from being innocent children to victim of criminals committing crime.
The image of perpetrators of violence as deranged strangers trapping children or jumping out from bushes or blinding random people on the street is common. But most perpetrators operate the way Ariel Castro did—by preying on trust, innocence, youth, vulnerability and familiarity.
He used grooming behavior typical to predators of childhood sexual abuse. It’s hard to believe that the people who hurt children are most often known to them. It’s true.
Prevalence of Childhood Sexual Abuse
The Mama Bear Effect, a non-profit with the purpose of protecting children from childhood sexual abuse reports that 25-33 percent of all girls and 14-17 percent of all boys are victims of childhood sexual abuse.
The National Center for Victims of Crime says the figures are lower. They cite research which says it’s 20 percent for girls and five percent for boys. And they also report that it’s an underreported crime.
But even going with the more conservative statistics, this means that one in five girls and one in 20 boys are sexually abused as children.
The parents of Gina DeJesus had taught her about stranger danger, but Castro wasn’t a stranger. He manipulated DeJesus by asking her for help.
How do we keep children safe—safe from the people they know—the people they are supposed to be able to trust? How do we prevent them from being hurt and help them more quickly when we’ve failed?
Real Violence that Isn’t Televised
What if all the men who watched the fight this past weekend got as interested and as informed about real-life violence to children and women as in the staged kind considered both celebrity and sport?
The collective unwillingness of men and women to get real about real violence is what keeps people unsafe.
Clearly, perpetrators of violence don’t hold themselves accountable for their violence—and when society doesn’t hold them accountable for real-life violence, it continues.
As it did with both Ariel Castro or Floyd Mayweather (who has served time for domestic assault). This is not uncommon. Repeat offending is not unusual. Which means the abuse and abusers we ignore or excuse are permitted to continue to abuse.
We ask the Wrong Questions
In the interview, Roberts asks if DeJesus and Berry forgive Castro? This, to me, is not even close to being the most salient question. Yet, this is a question commonly asked of survivors of sexual abuse.
To me, this shifts the focus off the crime and the criminal and puts an odd burden on victims. Shouldn’t other questions be addressed before forgiveness?
- Why does abuse happen so often?
- How can we keep our children safe?
- What can be done to prevent childhood sexual abuse? Domestic abuse?
- How can predators be caught, treated and prevented from repeat offending?
- Why do we celebrate male athletes convicted of assault as though the way they brutalize other humans is none of our business, as if it is too private (like someone’s religion)?
Could we get intense and passionate about fighting violence?
I don’t understand why we need to know if, when and how even one survivor finds forgiveness asking being sexually assaulted.
I want to know what makes abusers capable of manipulating the trust of people that know and/or love them over and over and over again.
Why do we ask victims how and why, as children, they didn’t predict, prevent or escape their own abuse?
I want to know why we live in a world so tolerant to abusers and so shaming of survivors.
For over a decade three girls became women in a captivity sharing a 1400 square foot home with their captor against their will. They had little food, no family, medical care or basic decency, cleanliness and safety. How did this happen to them? Because they had a friend with Ariel Castro as a father and because they lived in a culture where the safety of children is not prioritized.
Why wasn’t Ariel Castro in treatment? How come he wasn’t caught by police? What failed to happen when he had prior involvement with law enforcement or when he was reportedly violent or threatening with his ex-wife, neighbors, his ex-wife’s boyfriend and the parent of a child on one of his bus routes when he was employed?
How come the sexual abuse of one in three, four or five of all girls is not an urgent emergency, an educational, parental and public safety priority? Clearly all efforts to protect children and prevent continued childhood sexual abuse have been inadequate and insufficient.
I want to know why we are culturally o.k. with celebrating and paying big bucks to athletes who have served time for domestic violence? These are the questions that haunt me. More needs to be done—and now.
Barry and DeJesus were plucked from their lives, stolen from school family and a decade of living with safety, normalcy, friends, family or a home. They were tormented, assaulted, raped, deprived, abused and held in captivity.
When Barry and DeJesus were first caught and chained in the basement of Castro’s home, they screamed and cried for help, rescue and release. Castro played radios loud in the basement and upstairs to cover and conceal their voices. No one came for them, found them or heard them. They suffered behind closed and locked windows while in a home in a neighborhood on a street. Who knows if, when and how long it would have been before these girls were found if the child of Berry and Castro did not notice Castro was gone and the bedroom door was unlocked?
How many children are locked into lives where they are unsafe and abused? Why don’t we care that so many girls are in danger, injured, hurt and abused in the past and in the present?
1 in 3 or 4 or 5. That’s a lot of girls. 1 in 6, 7 or 20 boys. That’s a lot of boys.
Ariel Castro had a history of violence. He was, until caught, able to roam freely on the streets and in the neighborhood while he held three people captive. Those three people who he captured as teenagers were robbed of the same privilege, freedom and right.
Castro pleaded guilty in July of 2013 to 937 of the 977 counts of rape, kidnapping and aggravated murder. A little over one month after sentencing he ended his life. DeJesus said he took the easy way out. She endured about 120 months imprisoned by Castro.
We can’t give these women back their freedom or safety or those years. Let’s not pretend we don’t know how big the problems of sexual violence and domestic abuse are.
I refuse to look away even if it makes me just another pissed off feminist who knows many men are so tired of hearing about the reality of violence. Women and children are in danger now. Can’t you hear them screaming? Or are debates raging on sports radio about fake fight airing instead? That’s not only entertainment—it’s the sound of not responding to real violence.
National Center for Victims of Crime.
Author: Cissy White
Editor: Alli Sarazen
Photo: Loren Kerns/Flickr
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