Emotional and physical abuse brought into the light in Cleveland

Ariel Castro appears in Cleveland Municipal Court.
Ariel Castro appears in Cleveland Municipal Court.

The decade-long brutality endured by three Cleveland women behind boarded-up doors and windows is a secret no more.

The abducted captives, hidden in plain sight in a rundown house on the city’s west side, broke the silence of their suffering with a risky escape.

Today, the whole world knows about the clandestine captivity and physical abuse of the missing Clevelanders many assumed were dead.

Ariel Castro terrorized his wife. He has a history of domestic violence and restraining orders.

What he’s accused of doing to three other women is not classified as domestic violence, said Linda Dooley, who is the CEO of the Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center in Cleveland, but his alleged tactics of power and control are classic traits of a domestic violence offender.

“He clearly isolated the victims, manipulated them — that’s how he wound up getting them to his house — and abused them both physically and emotionally.”

Domestic violence offenders are masters at manipulation, Ms. Dooley added.

“I think the emotional mind-set is really a big part of this [Cleveland case], especially when you hear that he [Castro] intentionally left the door open and if they [victims] came out, he would beat them,” she said.

Emotional abuse takes a toll.

“When you’re in this day after day, year after year, and no one’s rescuing you, no one’s hearing you, many times victims give up.”

But contrary to common belief, Ms. Dolley added, victims of ritual abuse are anything but passive.

“Every day, they’re actively looking at how to survive," Ms. Dooley said. “Escaping is secondary. They do a lot of things to stay alive like trying not to get their abuser angry or do something he doesn’t like so maybe he won’t beat them.

“For most of the victims we work with, emotional abuse far outweighs the physical abuse,” she said. “The physical abuse is awful, but they will say, my bones will heal or the bruises will go away. The emotional abuse, what it has done to their thoughts, attitudes, will take a very long time to manage.”

It could take even longer for these women, who spent years in a shuttered hell practically touching nearby houses on Seymour Avenue.

“They were so young when they were abducted that they really didn’t have a chance to even finish their childhood, never mind develop coping skills,” Ms. Dooley said.

“If we didn’t blame the victim — or respond to assault by a stranger differently than assault by someone known to the victim — we’d take a different approach to the issue,” she said.

“We don’t put the resources toward it, we don’t train our professionals across the board in it, we don’t hold offenders accountable enough.

“People say, why didn’t she leave, or if it was me, one hit and I’d be outta there. Do you know how many victims said the same thing before they became victims?”

.Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com