Ariel Castro kidnapped, enslaved, physically abused, and brutally raped three women for 11 years. The narrow room he used to hold them captive had an eerie display of Disney posters and a bed lined with stuffed animals. All of the windows were covered with thick planks of wood to make sure the women couldn't have any contact with the outside world. The doors were locked from the outside.
The house contained more than 92 pounds of rusted iron chains that Castro used to bind the women in the room. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were starved, fed only once a day and were often forced to urinate in plastic bags that were seldom collected. It wasn't a room; it was a dungeon. It wasn't a life; it was hell.
After the 53-year-old rapist, pedophile, child abductor and, horrifying human-being was given life in prison plus 1,000 years and charged with more than 900 criminal counts, he gave a testimony that shocked the whole nation. What was more disturbing than his narcissism or lack of empathy for the horrific crimes he committed were the excuses he used to justify his obsession with raping and hurting women.
Although the case was abnormal, his justifications weren't. His testimony, despite being overwhelmingly characterized by the media as perverted and disturbed, is actually pretty commonplace. It shows a man who isn't all that different from the thousands of other men who rape in less sensational ways everyday. In fact, his testimony inadvertently exposes the twisted ways we talk about rape, both its perpetrators and its victims.
For starters, he blamed the good ol' male hormones: "I just acted on sexual instincts," he told the judge.
He claims he has a "sex addiction." Despite the court finding he has no mental illness, he explained that he watched porn, in his words, "to the point that it makes me impulsive." So first: blame porn, not me.
Then comes an old favorite: The "she wanted it" defense. Castro claims that the three women tied up in chains, were actually consenting to all the sex going on in his horror house.
"Most of the sex that went on in the house – all of it – was consensual." I'm sorry, which times (or, was it all times – you may want to get your story straight at least with yourself before you get into court) were consensual? When you had to tie them in ropes? Chains? Or when you had to put guns to their heads?
After evading any moral responsibility for his monstrous acts, he then proceeded to blame the women who fell victim to them. Again, loyal to the rape culture playbook, he discredits his victims with their own sexual pasts: "The girls were not virgins … They had multiple partners before me. All three of them."
Then, explaining that they actually liked the rape fortress he created, he turned to the three women, "You guys know all the harmony that went on in that home."
He also tried to discredit Amanda Berry because she attended a Nelly concert during the weekend of the trial, "proving" that she wasn't really affected by a decade of heinous rape and torture. "If that was true, do you think she would be partying or having fun? I don't think so."
To complete the full rape culture circle, he also blamed the token "ex-wife" for imputing sociopathic behaviors to him. Insulting the three women he raped for over a decade wasn't enough; he also needed to use the "crazy ex" stereotype to shift blame. "I never had a record until I met my children’s mother … What she’s saying that I was a wife beater, that is wrong because this happened because I couldn’t get her to quiet down."
Finally, Castro wants you to calm down and stop making a big deal about the fact that he's a sociopath. "I'm not a violent person. I simply kept them there without them being able to leave." And just in case it wasn't clear, Castro also wants you to know: "I’m not trying to make excuses here." Oh! In that case, forget it! Aquitted!
To fully round it out, Castro also claimed he had been abused as a child and that this led him to do the same to the three women. Although it's unclear whether this is true, that kind of justification is often used to legitimize rape. Research disproves the myth that most abusers end up perpetuating violence. In reality, a large majority of survivors of abuse do not perpetuate the cycle of violence. Regardless of the abuse he may or may not have witnessed/experienced as child, it doesn't justify his own violence toward anyone, let alone the monstrosities he committed for over a decade.
The situation is abnormal, but Castro's narrative is not. His comments are hyperbolic of a deep-seated rhetoric about rape that floods our cultural discourse. For someone like Castro to entertain the idea that there are excuses for his actions isn't symptomatic of his own delusions, but rather of a culture that perpetuates the delusional. It's preposterous, but is it any different from a rapist saying that his victim wanted it, or someone telling a drunk college girl that she consented when she was semi-unconscious, or any other rapist who so readily brings up the sexual history of his victim. People rely on these defenses because, in a way, we still buy into them. The Castros of the world will never go away, but what can be gleaned from the ramblings of a sociopath who relies on the justifications of rape culture, is that those justifications are themselves sociopathic.
His words are bone-chilling, but they are not the words we should dwell on. This story is not about him, it's about Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. They are the ones that shall be remembered. They are the resilient, courageous heroes that deserve our attention.
Although Michelle Knight suffered a mental disability and suffered the worst physical abuse from Castro, leaving her with a fractured face and deafness in one ear, she didn't let that stop her from giving a moving testimony to the judge. She didn't have to speak in front of the court room, but she did.
"Days never got shorter. Days turned into nights, nights turned into days. The years turned into eternity," Knight said wiping her tears. "The death penalty will be so much easier. You don't deserve that, you deserve life in prison," she continued addressing herself to her abductor.
"I spent 11 years in hell, and now your hell is just beginning. I will overcome all of this that happened. From this moment on, I will not let you define me or affect who I am," she continued. "I'm looking forward to my brand new life," she concluded before proudly walking away.
Her words are those that matter. If we do remember Castro's, let them teach us about who we aren't and who we don't want to be. "I will overcome all of this that happened. From this moment on, I will not let you define me or affect who I am."