Amanda Berry Gina DeJesus Michelle Knight: Cleveland Kidnapping About More Than Sex

There are still a lot of questions circling about the recent rescue of three women held captive for more than 10 years in Cleveland. But the most salient question is why anyone would ever want to do something like this to another human being. The answer, while complicated, is because they crave power.

An article published yesterday in Psychology Today by Georgetown psychology professor Fathali M. Moghaddam describes people — mostly men — who hold people captive as “little dictators,” Relating the perpetrator of the Cleveland kidnappings, Ariel Castro, to a dictator that shares his last name. 

“Within the boundaries of 2207 Seymour Avenue, there was a 'little dictatorship' for at least ten years, and the three young women were the victims of the dictatorship. On a larger scale, the Castro brothers in Cuba have manipulated and had absolute control of Cuba for generations, and the Cuban population have been their victims.”

It’s tempting to look at the horrifying rapes committed in his house as completely sexually driven, but that is rarely the reason men rape. The reason is often because they crave power, and want to completely dominate another human being. It is why rapists crawl into windows and rape unsuspecting women in their homes, and it is why gangs of men have used rape as a weapon of war for decades.

In a chilling letter police uncovered in Castro’s home, Castro wrote, "I don't know why I kept looking for another, I already had 2 in my possession."

Far be it for me to assign a cause the exact nature of his motives, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer was that his desire to completely control wasn’t totally satisfied. 

In the letter, published in part by Gawker, Castro chillingly admits, “I am a sexual predator. I need help.”

But sex alone does not explain why Castro literally chained the women in his basement so they could not escape, or why he never let them leave the home. We know all to well from cases like Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard that it is not necessary to physically chain women down for 10 years to keep them under your control. Both Smart and Dugard were only held in tight captivity for the initial parts of their horrifying experiences, it was the psychological hold that kept them close to their abductors for the months and years following. Castro’s methods were much more assertive and crude, but they had the same motivation.

“The kidnapper is not satisfied with sexually attacking the victim; the kidnapper wants to be able to have complete control of the victim. The kidnapper wants to be able to manipulate the victim 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is the sense of absolute control that the kidnapper desires,” Moghaddam writes.

The term “sexual predator” is not an accurate description of Castro — nor was it an accurate description of Brian David Mitchell or Phillip Craig Garrido. The mind of a kidnapper is focused on more than sex — it is focused on control. It will be important to keep this in mind when analyzing the Castro trial going forward, and in making sure this doesn’t happen again. 

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Jessica Huseman

Jessica wrote for Mic.com until Feb. 2014. Now she's an investigative reporter at The Teacher Project, writing articles on K12 education for Slate.com. Her work has appeared in ProPublica, The Atlantic, Slate, The Dallas Morning News and Chalkbeat and more. Find her contact info and her recent work at www.jessicalhuseman.com.

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