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Monday, May 20, 2013

What do We take Away From This Sad Story of Captivity and Pain?

The wickedness of Ariel Castro, the Cleveland, Ohio man who kidnapped and held three young women captive for a decade is fairly well established by now. Since the dramatic escape of the women on May 6, troubling details about what they endured have trickled out.

Jubilation at the fact that Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight are now free from further harm, however, is mixed with a peculiar and occasionally perverse interest in hearing exactly what they endured at the hands of Castro during their captivity.

But what purpose does such knowledge of evil ultimately serve? It’s a question recently considered by New Yorker writer Sasha Weiss. In an extremely thoughtful article, Weiss contemplates the significance of revealing the grim details of this story and others like it — along with the Cleveland story she mentions Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart.

For Weiss, the question thus becomes: ‘whether there’s inherent value in telling stories about evil’.
Certainly we tell a lot of these kinds of stories. But do we learn anything from intimate knowledge of sadism, cruelty and depravity? Or do we in fact further exploit the victims when we choose to share their private horrors one week and then move on to the next, abysmal example of human wretchedness the following week. Wouldn’t it be wiser to linger on the more profound questions these stories ask us to consider rather than gorge on the details and look for more.

It’s a question that both readers and journalists need to consider. Perhaps if we drew more salient lessons from these stories rather than dwell on the darkness they reveal we’d all be better served. Because after the details about whips and chains and heinous acts are run through we’re still left with the problem of how to best protect young women from predators, how we can be more vigilant neighbours, guardians and friends to one another, and how to prevent the creation and flourishing of another Ariel Castro.

 We have responsibility here. Castro was part of our society. How did he get to be who he was ? And how did he get away with it all?  He was not stopped and dealt with properly when he was abusing his wife and breaking her bones. The authorities should track people like that. And the police failed again when a  neighbor complained they heard screaming in Castro's house and saw a naked woman crawling in the yard. They did not investigate further than knocking at the door.

Perhaps we should prepare our daughters better to face a new, harsher world and teach them to avoid all strangers and run like hell or scream like hell if they are approached. We may end  up wiring our children with alarm systems and tracking devices or letting them carry guns. Any better ideas?  I wonder what the world will be like in twenty years.

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