Ariel Castro pleads to Judge Michael Russo during his sentencing on August 1, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Ariel Castro’s words at his sentencing hearing on Thursday are almost jaw-dropping. Given a chance to speak before he was sentenced to life in prison, plus a thousand years for aggravated murder and for holding three young women captive for 11 years, he repeatedly blamed his victims.
He denied he raped and beat Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, claiming instead that they asked him for sex and that his sexual addiction was to blame. He even said the abuse couldn't have been that bad because DeJesus "looks normal." While many onlookers were astonished, abuse experts said they hear that kind of language and justification every day.
NBC News asked them to weigh in on specific comments Castro made:
"Most of the sex that went on in that house, probably all of it, was consensual," Castro said. "These allegations about being forceful on them -- that is totally wrong. Because there was times where they'd even ask me for sex --many times. And I learned that these girls were not virgins. From their testimony to me, they had multiple partners before me, all three of them."
The denial and rationalization comes as no shock to experts on rape and abuse. In fact, they say, it’s typical that men who rape or batter women will deny they did anything wrong, and even that the victim was "asking for it".
“I think it’s actually very typical of an abuser,” says Barbara Paradiso, who directs the center on domestic violence at the University of Colorado-Denver.
"There is a widely held belief that women enjoy rape or that it is 'just sex at the wrong time, in the wrong place'," Rape Crisis of England and Wales says on its website. "Often when a woman is raped she is afraid that she will be killed - rapists often use the threat of killing a woman or her children to ensure her 'submission' and her silence after the attack. Women do not enjoy sexual violence. Victims of murder, robbery and other crimes are never portrayed as enjoying the experience."
"I am not a violent person. I simply kept them there without being able to leave."
“It is not uncommon for offenders to have justified their own behavior, oftentimes to see themselves as a victim,” Paradiso said in a telephone interview. “They often have a sense of righteousness around their behavior, that they had a right to do what they did or it was acceptable to do what they did that they were forced to do what they did because of the victim.”
"I never had a record until I met my children's mother. My son was on there the other day saying how abusive I was but I was never abusive until I met her. And he failed to say that at the end before she passed away that them two weren't even talking.
Castro’s son Anthony has said Castro beat him and his mother, Grimilda “Nilda” Figueroa, who died in 2012.
"What he's saying, that I was a wife beater - that is, that is wrong. This happened because I couldn't get her to quiet down. I would continuous tell her the children are right there, would you please? She would respond, I don't care if the children are there and she would just keep going...the situation would escalate until the point where she would put her hands on me and that's how I reacted, by putting my hands on her."
It’s familiar thinking to Paradiso. "'I had to hit her because she did x, y or z’,” she says. “(They are saying) ‘I had to bring her back into line’ … It doesn’t really surprise me at all that he said what he said. That behavior is completely based on power and control and domination, which our society supports. So I am not surprised that he said that.”
While his is an extreme case, experts say the pattern is anything but rare.
“I was taken aback [by Castro's statements] but at the same time not shocked by it,” says Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victim services for RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. “It’s somebody who was not willing to accept that what they did was wrong and who may have convinced themselves that what they are doing is not wrong or justified. It read like the way that a perpetrator thinks.”
According to RAINN, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States every two minutes, and only three out of every 100 rapists ever spends any time in jail.
“This is something we work on every day,” says Marsh. The group operates telephone and online hotlines at the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org)
"Perpetrators are particularly adept at manipulating and controlling their victims," Walsh said.
"I just wanted to clear the record that I am not a monster. I did not prey on them ... I just acted on my sexual instincts because of my sexual addiction. And god as my witness, I never beat these women like they're trying to say I did. I never tortured them."
Abusers will often try to cast themselves as the victim, says Kim Wiley, a former victim advocate at the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence who is now researching gender-based violence at Florida State University.
“Batterers often call crisis hotlines to gather information about victim services in order to stay one step ahead of the victim,” Wiley says. “They also may call to establish themselves as the ‘victim’ on the record in order to sabotage the victim’s access to these helping systems. They use the systems in place as tools to hurt the victim.”
And they’ll try to argue that they didn’t really hurt their victims, all the experts agree.
"I see Gina (DeJesus) through the media and she looks normal. She acts normal. A person that's been tortured does not act normal. They'd act withdrawn and everything. On the contrary, she's happy. Victims aren't happy."
“One of the things we often say is that it’s almost like there is a batterer handbook and a sex offender handbook as well,” says Zoe Flowers, a former domestic violence counselor who has written a play about this issue, “From Ashes to Angel’s Dust: A Journey Through Womanhood”. "They have the same root causes. It doesn’t really surprise me at all that he said what he said. That behavior is completely based on power and control and domination, which our society supports.”
But the experts agree it’s possible to work to prevent the type of thinking that underlies the skewed thinking of abusive men. “There are lots of organizations across the country that are having real conversations and doing real work around healthy masculinity, healthy ways of being in the world,” says Flowers.
They include groups like Men Can Stop Rape and A Call To Men, both of which have been praised by the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women.
"Until society decides this is unacceptable, it will continue to happen," says Flowers. "People really have to move from colluding with battering behavior. They have to interrupt the silence."
First published August 1 2013, 3:03 PM