Skip to main content

Castro a psychopath who will never feel remorse

By Anna Salter, Special to CNN
August 5, 2013 -- Updated 2119 GMT (0519 HKT)
Ariel Castro listens during the sentencing phase of his trial on August 1 in Cleveland alongside defense attorneys Craig Weintraub, left, and Jaye Schlachet. Castro held three women captive for years inside his Ohio home until their escape in May 2013. He pleaded guilty to 937 counts, including murder and kidnapping. On September 4, Castro was found dead inside his prison cell in Orient, Ohio. Ariel Castro listens during the sentencing phase of his trial on August 1 in Cleveland alongside defense attorneys Craig Weintraub, left, and Jaye Schlachet. Castro held three women captive for years inside his Ohio home until their escape in May 2013. He pleaded guilty to 937 counts, including murder and kidnapping. On September 4, Castro was found dead inside his prison cell in Orient, Ohio.
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Photos: Kidnapped teens found decade later
Photos: Kidnapped teens found decade later
Photos: Kidnapped teens found decade later
Photos: Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
Kidnapped teens found decade later
  • Anna Salter: Ariel Castro believed he had "consensual sex" with chained women
  • Salter: Most predators justify their behavior; it's not sexual, it's psychopathic
  • If Castro believed he had an addiction, she says, why didn't he seek help?
  • Salter: Forgiveness must be earned: Castro has not taken a step to atone

Editor's note: Anna Salter is an internationally known expert on sex offenders, a psychologist and the author of three books on sex abusers, including "Predators." She has worked at assessing and treating sex offenders and victims for more than 35 years and lectures and consults throughout the United States and abroad. She also writes mystery novels.

(CNN) -- "There are so many ways of being despicable it quite makes one's head spin. But the way to be really despicable is to be contemptuous of other people's pain." -- James Baldwin

No doubt most people who listened to Ariel Castro's self-serving monologue during his sentencing hearing on "consensual sex," and "harmony in that house," wondered at his sanity and his definition of "monster." Sanity, however, is judged by reality testing and not by caring or compassion. Human cruelty is not a disease or a mental illness, although it is a plague on humankind.

As someone who has worked with violent offenders for 35 years, I can tell you unequivocally the number of offenders who deny, minimize or justify their behavior far outweigh the number who take responsibility. Never mind the tortuous loops the mind has to jump through. If the sex was consensual, what exactly were the chains and locks for? There is no limit to the mind's ability to rationalize.

Anna Salter
Anna Salter

A man who beat a 3-year-old to death told me that he only committed violence when "the situation called for it. I never did anything I didn't have to do." When asked how he feels about the boy's suffering, he replied, "I guess I don't feel anything." When asked if he saw himself as a criminal, he said, "I know that's what I'm seen as but no, I don't."

A man whose brother took him in when he had no place to go after being released from prison raped his benefactor's 12-year-old daughter -- his niece -- and stabbed his brother 12 times when he came to her rescue.

When asked why he did this, he replied: "I was drinking. It just happened. ... You can't blame anybody for the rain. You can't blame anybody for nothing."

We are familiar with whole cultures justifying violence as extreme as genocide. Why are we surprised when individuals do the same? Violence is almost always denied or rationalized -- after the fact, if not before.

Victim's kin: Castro home a 'dungeon'
Toobin: Castro's remarks 'repulsive'
Victim: I won't let Castro define me

Even violence that appears impulsive is usually related to thinking patterns and beliefs that justify it. Such rationales are important to protect self-image. Again it was Baldwin who said, "No man is a villain in his own eyes."

As to Castro's claim that he had an illness, a sexual addiction, there is a difference between urges and behaviors. Castro could have dealt with his urges by seeking help. Medication and treatment have been available for sex offenders for well over a decade.

Would they have worked? Who knows? He didn't try. He made a decision to live out his sexual fantasies, not to try to control them. In treatment, at the least he would have learned how not to reinforce the fantasies through violent pornography. At least by telling someone, he would have had some check on his behavior.

Castro may not have chosen the fantasies that dominated his dreams, but he chose to act on them -- for more than a decade. Even the most persistent urges are not present 24 hours a day. All Castro needed was for 51% of him to have an attack of conscience for a few minutes and want to release those women long enough to open a door. In more than a decade he never had it.

In fact, he tormented his victims not only in sexual ways but in nonsexual ways as well: He showed them TV coverage of their families grieving. He told one that her family didn't care about her. He fed them once a day. He beat a pregnant woman until she miscarried. None of these speak to sexual urges; these acts speaks to psychopathic traits: the lack of a conscience, lack of caring about other human beings, callousness, lack of guilt and lack of remorse -- in short, malevolence, the desire to harm another human being gratuitously while being contemptuous of her pain.

Even now, he has shown no genuine remorse or regret. What we saw at the hearing instead was a cocoon of aggressive narcissism wrapped so tightly Castro could proclaim with a straight face that chained women were having sex with him consensually. Yet at the same time he asked for their forgiveness.

No doubt there are those who will advise the victims they must forgive in order to move on. I disagree. Forgiveness is not a gift; it must be earned. Atonement and change must precede forgiveness or else it is an empty gesture.

It is difficult to imagine how much Castro would have to change for forgiveness even to be legitimately on the table. I'm not sure his sentence is long enough for that to happen, and to date, he has not taken a single step.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anna Salter.

Part of complete coverage on
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?