Last week, on the greasy, grimy shores of Lake Erie, the doors of a shabby house opened to reveal a “house of horrors.” Ariel Castro, a musician and layabout, had abducted three girls, turning them into sex slaves who, thanks to padlocks, chains and beatings, remained under his total control for around 10 years.
The globe reels in revulsion, while the Doctor Drews of the media world swarm us with words like “resilience” and “recovery.”
If past is prologue, there will be lots of that talk and less about the mind of the monster. And that’s too bad, because it appears that Mr. Castro’s lifetime impunity as a wife-beater tells us more about how to protect young women than anything we can learn from tales of female resilience in chains.
While investigators log grisly details and build a death penalty case against Mr. Castro (for DIY abortions accomplished by starving and kicking the pregnant), a team of Reuters reporters led by Mary Wisniewski has turned up details about how the local justice system repeatedly blew off the terrorized wife of the woman-hating monster of Cleveland.
The late Grimilda Figueroa’s life was nasty and short. Married to Mr. Castro and the mother of his four children, she died in April 2012 at the age of 48, from what the coroner deemed an accidental overdose of the painkiller oxycodone. Her youngest daughter, Emily, is in jail herself for trying to kill her own baby by slashing its throat.
Incredibly, the Cleveland cops and courts knew all about it.
At various times over 16 years, Mr. Castro shoved his wife down stairs, broke her ribs and nose, dislocated her shoulder, locked her in their house and forbade her from using the phone, according to relatives who have talked to reporters. She went to the hospital on several occasions. One family member compared Mrs. Figueroa and her children to hostages in their own house.
Her calls to police began in 1989, and the last came in 2005, three years after he had allegedly kidnapped the first of three young women. Even though her case was serious enough to warrant unofficial guard protection at the hospital and a private detective, Mr. Castro was never sent to jail.
In 2005, while the first abductee was already padlocked in Mr. Castro’s house, Ms. Figueroa told police her husband had threatened to kill her and her children and had “abducted” the children. Instead of taking the word of a repeat victim and finally arresting her abuser, the Cleveland cops fobbed her off, telling Ms. Figueroa it was a case for the county cops.
When she asked for a civil order of protection from the courts, she didn’t receive one because her lawyer failed to show up. Incredibly, a woman who had been hospitalized for injuries received at the hands of her husband needed a lawyer to get an order of protection.
Ms. Figueroa had hired the best legal advice her money could buy: an attorney whose law license had been suspended twice before she hired him. In 2011, he was disbarred. Ms. Figueroa gave up trying to get the order when the lawyer advised her that she would be “at a severe disadvantage” if she pursued her case without him, Reuters reported.
Had Ms. Figueroa won an order of protection, when Mr. Castro violated it—as he surely would have, based on his modus operandi —police might have gone to his house and found his caged prey.
While the sex slaves “heal” and eventually tell their awful stories on television and in books, tens of millions of women are still being beaten and killed by men one or two degrees of cunning away from Mr. Castro, driven like him to dominate females by violence.
Domestic violence, or what the CDC now calls “intimate partner violence,” is a national and international plague. One-third of female murder victims are killed by a husband or ex-husband. One in four American women will suffer “intimate partner violence” in her lifetime.
Domestic violence is the No. 1 cause of women’s ER visits. The CDC has estimated that there are 32 million victims annually. According to a CDC study, largely due to the costs and impact of domestic violence, the average cost of health care services for women is over twice the average cost for men.
Most cases are not reported to the police.
Given that he had been beating the hell out of his wife with full legal impunity, despite her repeated visits to cops and hospitals, for 10 years before his first abduction, why on earth would Mr. Castro have doubted he could get away with caging and beating some other judicially invisible poor females?
Ms. Figueroa might not have been turned away if an NYPD practice was common across the land: each precinct has a domestic violence officer detailed solely to handle intimate partner violence. These officers are empowered to make unannounced visits to homes where a family member is under a court order of protection.
Since 2005, Ohio has added victims’ advocates to the system and has become more sensitive to battered women, so that prosecutions can, theoretically, proceed even if women won’t follow through.
That’s good, but more needs to be done, and not just in the Buckeye State.
It is illegal in the U.S. to beat your wife or girlfriend, and courts across America are crawling with domestic abusers. They shuffle in with lame excuses, and some do get sentenced. A U.S. DOJ study of 15 urban counties in 2008 found that domestic violence cases were prosecuted at a rate equal to that of other felony offenses.
What the garden-variety wife-beater or even wife-killer almost never gets is perp-walked by Nancy Grace or any of the other public shamers, who are far more interested in the occasional accused pretty girl.
And that public silence is one reason why cops in Cleveland can send a repeat victim out the door without taking her case.
If domestic violence really is about “ensuring the subordination of women,” we ought to start calling it what it is: a hate crime, not unlike crimes against gays or minorities.
The PBS documentary Makers, about the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s, reminded viewers of the solidarity that’s been lost since those days. Women marched through New York and other major cities all the time, subject to ridicule from all sides, protesting gender discrimination. They made great advances, advances that profited my generation. But today, we can’t even get it together to push ourselves beyond 17 percent of Congress.
If a serial domestic abuser kidnapping and enslaving women while his own wife was fruitlessly begging the cops and courts to help her doesn’t engender outrage and activism, what will? Where is the outrage for Ms. Figueroa and the slaves? Why are women not marching in the streets of Cleveland, demanding to know why the city cops and judiciary never locked up a man who repeatedly smashed his wife’s face and broke her ribs?
“She was afraid.” That’s what Chris Giannini, a former police officer-turned-private investigator who tried to help protect Ms. Figueroa from Mr. Castro, told Reuters.
You bet she was.
In her funeral guest book, her son Anthony wrote, “Dear Mom. You are gone too soon. But your suffering is over.”
Let’s hope it was not in vain.