Cleveland Police Department/AP Photo, Tony Dejak/AP Photo
The man who held three women captive for over a decade in Cleveland, Ohio has been sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years without parole. Ariel Castro claims he is not a monster and that he was a victim of child abuse. Castro also admits to being addicted to pornography before a court room of people who found it difficult to show sympathy for the perpetrator.
As a society, the time has come where we have an important question to consider: what can the mental health and criminal justice systems do to prevent these types of crimes from occurring?
The problem is two-fold:
Firstly, we have a society that rewards and promotes isolation and privatization along lines of family, religion, and even roles in the workplace. Secondly, the thought of seeking mental health assistance is still seen as taboo – sharing feelings and emotions have been marginalized by a patriarchal system – leaving individuals feeling alone in their treatments.
Castro apologized for kidnapping the women, but denied “beating and torturing the women and insisted that most of the sex was consensual” as reported on Huffington Post. Castro’s claims and statements are symptoms of a person with a mental illness.
According to CNN, Castro tells the jury: “I’m not a monster. I’m just sick. I have an addiction, just like an alcoholic has an addiction,” he said. “God as my witness, I never beat these women like they’re trying to say that I did. I never tortured them.”
While some have passed this off as Castro playing the victim and pretending to have cared for his captives, it’s evident this man is mentally and emotionally disoriented.
If society had a better understanding of how to detect deviant behavior or anti-social personality traits in others and what to do about it, we could help prevent crimes from being committed. An article on the Daily Beast describes “sociopathy as not simply a disorder of serial killers but one that exists on a spectrum, plaguing to varying degrees a large portion of successful, apparently well-adjusted people.”
To sociopaths like Castro, morality and social behavior are skewed which is why professional help is required. By identifying the signs early on, we can prevent the victimization of innocent people.
There has been much clinical research conducted around psychopathology dating back to 1980 when criminal psychologist Robert Hare developed the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). However, most individuals with a predisposition to deviant behavior are not likely to book an appointment with a psychiatrist anytime soon.
Depending where they fall on the sociopathy spectrum, perpetrators like Castro lack impulse control and remorse, and have a relentless need to inflict pain onto others. A central theme affiliated with this disorder is power – Castro derived a sense of power by keeping female prisoners. It gave him pleasure to know he was in control of the prisoner’s lives through the imprisonment, devaluation, and abuse he executed.
With 12 million Americans considered sociopaths, mental health professionals, the criminal justice system, and governmental bodies need to work together in educating society on how to detect a sociopath; develop prevention programs in schools that reach out to potential sociopaths; and create a non-judgmental, encouraging space for sociopaths to seek help for their deviant behavior. This will not eliminate all sociopaths but preventative programs must be implemented to mitigate causes of such damaging effects on society.