Undated photos of Amanda Berry, Gina Dejesus, and Michelle Knight, the Cleveland women who were held captive for more than a decade.
COLUMBUS — A lawmaker wants the state to provide years of relief payments and a free ride to college for three Cleveland women abducted and held in captivity for about a decade.
State Rep. John Barnes Jr. planned to introduce his Survivors of Abduction Act today. It would provide Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight with at least $25,000 annually in reparations for the years they were restrained and tuition, fees and living expenses at a public college.
The bill also requires pursuit of a federal waiver for the women — or anyone restrained or held in “involuntary servitude” for at least eight years — so they would receive lifetime government medical assistance.
Barnes, a Cleveland Democrat, said legislators of both parties have expressed support for the bill, which would bear the women’s names and be covered by taxpayers. A spokesman for House Speaker William Batchelder said the Republican leader hadn’t yet seen the bill and so couldn’t comment on its prospects.
Ariel Castro was charged with rape and kidnapping last month after the women’s dramatic escape and rescue from his Cleveland home. The three were in their teens or early 20s when they disappeared. The 52-year-old’s attorney has said Castro will plead not guilty.
In contemplating the case that shocked his city, Barnes said he knew nothing policymakers did could bring back the decade or more of everyday activities Berry, DeJesus and Knight missed through their ordeal: going to the beauty shop, taking a walk, attending prom, throwing a snowball.
He settled on offering them education, health care and an annual stipend from one of the crime victims’ reparations funds overseen by Attorney General Mike DeWine. Under the bill, those payments would continue for at least as many years as the abduction survivor was held in captivity.
“Society is not going to be kind to them regardless of whether or not they were in this situation or not. It’s going to view, ‘Well, what have you done? What do you have to offer?’” Barnes said. “So, I thought: Let’s look at how we could restore what they would have received had they in fact had an opportunity to have their freedom.”
The legal-crisis management team representing the women said they continue to spend quiet time with family and friends and preferred not to comment on the bill.
But their attorney, Jim Wooley, said, “Anything the community does to support these women is greatly appreciated.”
Barnes said Berry, DeJesus and Knight would need to obtain a GED and be admitted to a public college, university or technical school to take advantage of the college benefit in the bill.
He said he doesn’t want the legislation to discourage acts of philanthropy toward the three women, who have received an outpouring of support from around the world since their story was told.
“We want to be mindful that as the news goes away, and as the lime(light) of the moment begins to dim, that a lot of that support is going to go away,” he said. “So that, by far, is not enough to be sustainable to them.”