Imagine living next door to a prison and having no idea it was there? That is exactly what happened to an entire community in 2013. Ariel Castro was a local school bus driver and band guitar player. Ariel Castro was a divorced father whose wife left him because of his abusive behavior but he still managed to maintain a nice guy-next-door appearance. Ariel managed to fool all of his neighbors for over ten years by volunteering, and doing good deeds in the community. Ariel’s good-neighbor appearance caused a cognitive bias in the community commonly known as the “Halo Effect.” In essence Ariel was able to hide his kidnapping, brutal abuse, and imprisonment of three young women in his home.
Ariel Castro kidnapped Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Georgina DeJesus from their own neighborhood by simply offering them a ride home. The girls all knew Ariel because they were friends with his daughter. In all three cases, none of the girls suspected anything until they were suddenly being held captive in Ariel’s home. Ariel regularly beat the women, raped them, caused miscarriages, and used psychological conditioning to make the girls fear escape. Castro forced learned helplessness into all three of the women, creating a condition where all three girls remained for ten years.
Ariel Castro helped in the neighborhood search for the three girls, aided in putting up missing posters, and acted like a good neighbor at the beginning of all three kidnappings. In several cases, Ariel had people over to his home for a visit, all of them unaware of the prison in his attic. One of the visitors heard what he thought was a dog in the attic and had no idea that the noise came from a human.
Kidnapping is not as uncommon as you would think in the United States. While traditional kidnap-for-ransoms are rare here, the kidnappings in the United States are far more sinister and often end in death. We do not want people to live in fear, but we do want people to live with their eyes wide open. We at Captive Audience have identified several different types of kidnappings here in our backyards:
- Kidnapping in a custody dispute – This is the most known and reported case in the US. Simply stated, one parent without legal custody takes the child from the parent who has legal custody.
- Kidnappings supporting human trafficking – These kidnappings are usually conducted by criminal organizations to meet their clientele’s desires. These kidnappings are rarely resolved or even reported. The average life expectancy of a victim is seven years.
- Kidnappings for sex – Like the Ariel Castro case, these usually end in death.
- Express Kidnap for Ransom – These are usually short in duration (less than 24 hours) and are used to empty your bank accounts, and cash advances on your credit cards before midnight and after midnight.
- Express Rape/Prostitution – These kidnappings are usually done by luring a young person on a multi-day outing where no one is going to come looking for them. In many cases it is less than 24 hours. The victim is usually drugged and raped multiple times and often photographed in the process. This form of kidnapping is often used as the gateway to traffic children right from their own homes.
It is not uncommon for these kidnappings to take place in plain sight. These crimes are often done committed right under our noses and can go on for decades before being reported. Amanda, Georgina, and Michelle endured a living hell in plain sight. How many more people in our communities are waiting for help? Do you know your neighbors and could you recognize a situation where humans are imprisoned against their will? We believe that every young person and every parent should have a basic level of training in anti-kidnapping and hostage survival. The only way for us to defeat these crimes is to make them harder to commit them. Apathy is our greatest enemy.