Skip to main content

Ariel Castro's alleged abuse, sadism is all too common

By Paul W. Ragan, special for CNN
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Sat May 11, 2013
Ariel Castro stands with his head down during his arraignment on kidnapping and rape charges on May 9 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Ariel Castro stands with his head down during his arraignment on kidnapping and rape charges on May 9 in Cleveland, Ohio.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A psychiatrist says the psychological profile emerging of Ariel Castro is not rare
  • Ragan: Battering, sociopathy, and sexual sadism do not seem enough to explain the crimes
  • Castro had the 'sociopathic instincts of how to terrorize and demoralize his victims'

Editor's note: Dr. Paul W. Ragan is the medical director of New Life Lodge, a Drug & Alcohol Treatment Center in Burns, Tennessee. He received his psychiatric training in the U.S. Navy, served with the U.S. Marines in Desert Storm, trained in addictions at the National Institutes of Health, and has been an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for 16 years.

(CNN) -- In trying to understand the mind of a man like Ariel Castro, accused of kidnapping, beating, and raping three young women held in captivity for almost 10 years, two things are important to keep in mind: (1) in human psychology, nothing occurs in a vacuum; and (2) the psychological profile that is emerging of this man is not rare.

Paul W. Ragan
Paul W. Ragan

In fact, although Castro may be a more extreme example, there are aspects of his alleged pathology that are all too common.

What I mean by the first item is that the clues to understanding Castro is to look at the totality of his adult functioning, and to look at his developmental years growing up.

Read more: 'He is dead to me,' daughter of Ohio suspect says

The point is that the alleged monstrosity of his behaviors does not come out of thin air. We have only fragmentary evidence at this point, but many details will emerge in the coming days and weeks.

And while it's impossible to psychoanalyze someone from a distance, there are plenty of clues in this case.

Woman held captive in box for 7 years
Kidnapping victim's advice on healing
Psychological ramifications of abduction
Ohio victims detail life in captivity

We have reports that Castro was violent towards his common-in-law wife, Grimilda Figueroa, with whom he had three children.

She reported to police that Castro "broken petitioner's nose (twice), ribs, lacerations, knocked out tooth, blood clot on brain, (inoperable tumor), dislocated shoulder, (twice, once on each side) threatened to kill petitioner and daughters 3 to 4 times just this year."

Timeline: Three Cleveland girls go missing

The domestic violence protection order, filed on August 29, 2005, alleged that though Figueroa had full custody of their children, Castro, "frequently abducts daughters and keeps them from mother/petitioner/ legal custodian."

Of note, at the time Castro has this Order of Protection filed against him is after he is alleged to have kidnapped his three victims and while he has them imprisoned.

Men (who constitute 90% the cases) who are bent on the total control of a woman, using psychological and physical abuse, are termed batterers.

Read more: Inside Cleveland's haunted house

The dimensions along which male batterers have been studied include the presence or absence of alcohol or drug abuse, whether or not the violence is intrafamilial or extends outside the family, the presence or absence of criminality, and the presence or absence of psychopathology, especially personality disorders.

In Castro's case it may be as he got older, he progressed from predominantly intrafamilial violence to kidnapping adolescent girls whom he controlled through systematic physical and sexual violence.

We don't know yet if drug or alcohol abuse played a role in promoting violent behaviors. But sociopathy appears to explain some of Castro's psychology. He seemed to have the sociopathic "charm" to drive up to adolescent females on the street and convince them to get into his car.

Read more: Neighbor feels 'fooled' by Cleveland abduction suspect

He had the sociopathic instincts of how to psychologically terrorize, demoralize, and "break down" his victims with beatings chainings, rapes, and basement imprisonment.

He seemed adept at the psychological torture of allowing his prisoners to watch city vigils highlighting their disappearances. He participated in these gatherings and vigils and even interacted with one of the victim's family members.

His seeming ability to maintain a detached demeanor while present in the community suggests antisocial personality.

So besides the concepts of batterers and sociopathy, what is striking in Castro's case is the degree of sexual sadism.

Unfortunately, the systematic physical and sexual violence extending for years towards one's children, step-children, or spouse is something I hear every day in the histories of my patients admitted for treatment of severe alcohol or drug addiction.

Case law records prosecutions of men charged with kidnapping women for hours or days at a time to sexually abuse them. But what is mindboggling in Castro's case is the breadth and depth of sexual violence he is accused of perpetrating against these three women.

If he is charged for every assault and rape his victims report, he could receive thousands of charges.

Where do people like Castro come from? Male batterers often grow up in families fraught with strife, conflict, neglect and violence.

The basic theory is that deleterious early life experiences of the perpetrator cause developmental arrest of their psychological maturation and personality formation.

This theory would predict that in the coming weeks and months details will emerge of the events in his early years that derailed Castro being able to develop a normal, healthy, mature adult ego. What happens is that the individual is left with deep emotional needs for which they feel totally inadequate to get met.

Their self-concept is so impaired and their self-esteem is chronically so low that they feel totally unable to compete in the normal adult game of attracting and keeping a mate.

When their attempts are met by failure, their impaired moral development and lack of empathy coupled with unbridled anger and rage lead them down the road of violent possession of their "partners."

But even battering, sociopathy, and sexual sadism do not seem enough to explain the enormity of Castro's alleged crimes towards these three women. In fact, they suggest a more pervasive pathology such as a sadistic personality disorder -- currently a research category.

His alleged violence towards vulnerable women was so extensive, repeated over so many years, extended beyond sexual violence and perversions, to alleged forced miscarriages, starvation, and other forms of behavioral control.

We will need to brace ourselves as the investigations unfold and the true extent of the horrors that were committed at 2207 Seymour Avenue is revealed.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul W. Ragan.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes: Evil is the strongest word we have to prepare ourselves to kill others.
updated 9:59 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
As protests over the shooting of an unarmed black teen calmed down, the question remains: Where's the police officer who pulled the trigger?
updated 5:22 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
CNN's Tim Lister: Getting rid of ISIS will be tougher than taking on al Qaeda.
updated 8:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
American patients infected with Ebola are being released from the hospital. What now?
updated 6:48 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
One of the first observers at the MH17 crash site in Ukraine describes the harrowing scene.
updated 9:53 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Five survivors of acid attacks capture India's attention with a "ground breaking" photo shoot.
updated 8:19 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
In an exclusive CNN interview, Lance Armstrong admits to having a "f**k you" attitude.
updated 8:36 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
The pain that Michael Brown's parents are going through is something Sybrina Fulton can relate to. She, too, lost a son in a controversial shooting.
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid gestures during the UEFA Super Cup match between Real Madrid and Sevilla at Cardiff City Stadium on August 12, 2014 Cardiff, Wales.
"We are like one grain of sand against a whole beach," says Eibar fan Unai Eraso.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
updated 6:22 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
From fierce protests in Ferguson, to an Ebola survivor discharged from a hospital in Atlanta, browse through the photos of the week.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT