We need to reassess our view of violence by men in the home

Column: Domestic violence exists below the radar and causes no outcry

“Ariel Castro was living as the most anonymous, regular kind of guy . . . he had constructed a cunning disguise which no person or institution could have hoped to penetrate.” Photograph: Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s office via Getty Images

“Ariel Castro was living as the most anonymous, regular kind of guy . . . he had constructed a cunning disguise which no person or institution could have hoped to penetrate.” Photograph: Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s office via Getty Images

 

When Charles Ramsey arrived at the door of Ariel Castro’s house on Seymour Avenue, Cleveland, and saw a dishevelled young woman standing there screaming, he drew a reasonable conclusion. “I figured that it’s a domestic violence dispute,” he later told reporters.

Ramsey, possibly the most telegenic crime witness ever, seemed to be saying that this first conclusion of his was a mistake in some way. That he was wrong to think what had gone on in Ariel Castro’s house could be called domestic violence. But he was not wrong.

Domestic violence exists below the radar. It causes no outcry. Our politicians do not have to wrestle with their consciences about women and children being routinely assaulted. Domestic abusers have never been threatened with excommunication from the Catholic Church.

There seems to be some sort of firewall in our heads that runs between domestic violence and other crimes, as if the twain should never meet. But in fact they meet all the time.

Domestic violence is not a crime apart. As far back as 1998 the US Bureau of Justice Statistics factbook on what it calls “v iolence by i ntimates” stated that of the people in American jails for domestic violence at that time 78 per cent had “a prior conviction history, though not necessarily for intimate violence”, (Lawrence A Greenfeld et al).

(In light of this case it is interesting and perhaps surprising that the same study maintained that, according to its data, the group experiencing the highest rate of domestic violence was girls and women between 16 and 24.)

So far, the story of Ariel Castro, who kidnapped and jailed at least three young women in their home town of Cleveland, Ohio, goes like this. Ariel Castro was living as the most anonymous, regular kind of guy. The fact that he played in local bands, had driven school buses for 22 years, and had an uncle, Julio Castro, who runs a well-known grocery store, demonstrates that he had constructed a cunning disguise which no person or institution could have hoped to penetrate.

Ariel Castro had his own Facebook page. “Luv you guys!”, as he warmly put it when welcoming and boasting about the arrival of his fifth grandchild. Then, all of a sudden, and just last week, he is revealed to be a kidnapper of teenagers and their torturer. Where did this monster come from? ask the neighbours who have not seen or heard anything sinister. How on Earth could the police have known? ask, we are sorry to say, the police.

Of course Ariel Castro put a lot of work into being a regular guy. But there was one blue siren light that hovered over him, which was a matter of police record and well known, at least to his in-laws.

Ariel Castro’s wife, Grimilda Figueroa, had left that same house, 2207 Seymour Avenue, in 1996, taking her children with her. Ariel Castro had been arrested and charged with domestic abuse in 1993 but the charges were later dropped. Records at the Cuyahoga County Court from 2005 show Ariel Castro repeatedly threatened to kill her after their divorce. He had physically attacked her in 2005.

Over the years of their marriage, he had dislocated both of her shoulders, broken her ribs, her nose (twice) and her teeth. She had sustained a blood clot on the brain. He had thrown her down the stairs. He had assaulted their children.

Last week Ariel and Grimilda’s son, Anthony Castro, who is 31 and works as a banker, told the Daily Mail: “I was beaten as well. We were never really close because of that and it was also something we never really talked about.”

Ariel Castro’s father-in-law, Ismail Figuero, last week told reporters that in the early years of the marriage Ariel locked Grimilda in their home, then an apartment, and would not let her leave it unless she was with him. Grimilda’s brother-in-law remembers how no visitors were allowed to the house in Seymour Avenue, which Ariel Castro bought in 1992. Grimilda’s sister, Elida Caraballo, says she once witnessed him forcing her sister into a cardboard box.

According to Grimilda Figueroa’s lawyer, in 2005, after the divorce, Ariel Castro several times abducted his own daughters, not returning them to their mother as agreed. He had been refused custody of the children. We now know his youngest abductee, Gina DeJesus, was a close friend of one his daughters, Arlene – and 14 at the time she was kidnapped.

We have to change the way we look at men who are violent with their families. At the very least their behaviour may carry clues to other crimes. To say this is not to take a cheap shot at the police, who have to deal with the unlovely side of human nature all the time. It is to encourage them to put more resources into fighting domestic violence, intervening early with men who are committing it and, above all, to take it seriously as a link to other grave crimes.The compulsion to control is enough of a clue.

Grimilda Figueroa’s second husband, Fernando Colon, was jailed for the sexual assault of her daughters with Ariel Castro. He has always claimed Ariel Castro framed him. Grimilda Figueroa died last year. She was 48.

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