Ariel Castro’s death might provide a little bit of closure for his three victims, trauma experts said on Wednesday – but there will never be any final resolution for any victim of a crime so prolonged and personal.
Castro, 53, was found dead in his jail cell, an apparent suicide. There was no immediate reaction from the three women he kidnapped, raped, tortured and held captive for a decade. Their lawyers said they would not be issuing a statement.
Experts on trauma say there might be an immediate sense of relief, but note there’s not much precedent for such an unusual and horrific case.
“Just like the reactions to any traumatic event, the suicide of the perpetrator can lead to a myriad of reactions given the meaning it holds for each of the victims,” said Terri Weaver, a professor of psychology at St. Louis University who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder and the mental health effects of family violence and sexual assault.
“I just don’t think there’s any … prescription as far as the suicide of a perpetrator about whether it helps or harms,” Weaver added.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight escaped May 6 after Berry broke through a storm door while Castro was out of the house. They had disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.
Each woman will likely have a different reaction, says Susan Xenarios, director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center. “It’s so individualized,” Xenarios said in a telephone interview. “Each of those victims had a different history before the kidnapping. It depends on where the person started in terms of psychological strength.”
Castro was convicted and sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years. But he spoke out at his sentencing hearing, partly blaming the three victims in what experts on sexual and domestic assault said was a common response of attackers, batterers and rapists.
He won’t be able to do that any more, Weaver notes. “There is a tangible sense of – not at all a closure on the experience – but a sense of finality of the perpetrator no longer being alive, all the way to feelings of anger and betrayal that the justice meted out by the legal system was not endured,” Weaver said.
And Xenarios notes there is no way to predict or speculate on what Castro might have tried to do from his prison cell. “Denial is a most sophisticated defense mechanism and he seemed to have been a master of it,” Xenarios said. “He tried to twist things around, saying it was consent. This is what pathological perpetrators do a lot.”
There are even more complexities when there’s a child involved. Castro fathered Amanda Berry’s 6-year-old daughter and had been seen taking her to playgrounds.
He even asked for visitation rights – something the judge denied during his trial.
But the death may add another layer to the trauma, renewing media attention, speculation, attempts to contact the women, Weaver said. “Whenever there is a sort of trigger or reminder … those things are very activating in terms of trauma symptoms,” she said.
“Whether it’s a good or bad thing, I can’t say,” she added. “It’s a thing that will weave itself into the tapestry of reactions to the trauma.”
There’s not much insight into this type of rare crime, Xenarios added. “As far as any kind of generalized impact of suicide of an offender, really there has been no research done on this,” she said. “So we really don’t know. “
First published September 4 2013, 10:16 AM