A missing person poster for Amanda Berry, one of the three kidnapped women found alive in Cleveland. (Reuters/John Gress.)
In just the last few days, we’ve seen a series of news stories involving violence against women. The violence comes in different forms—physical, psychological, financial—and from different quarters—a former school-bus driver in Cleveland, the NRA convention in Houston, the military, Congress—and so it’s not surprising that the media, as usual, are delivering these stories as unrelated incidents. But arriving almost simultaneously, these tales of misogyny should jolt us all to connect the dots and to shine an unblinking light on the violence against women that’s always there, just below the surface.
The story of the three Cleveland women who were found alive after being held captive (and, by all accounts, raped, beaten and bound) in a neighbor’s house for ten years is the most shocking. The suspect, Ariel Castro, 52, reportedly let them outside only twice in all that time. Michelle Knight was 20 when she disappeared in 2002, Amanda Berry had been reported missing in 2003 when she was 16, and Gina DeJesus vanished at age 14 in 2004 on her way home from school. Berry’s mother died in 2006 of what friends say was “a broken heart” less than two years after a psychic on The Montel Williams Show told her Amanda was dead. DeJesus’s mother believed her daughter had been sold into the sex trade. On Monday, Berry and her 6-year-old daughter (possibly fathered by Castro) escaped with the help of neighbors Charles Ramsey and Angel Cordero. The other women came out shortly after. Berry and DeJesus are now home, while Knight remains in the hospital.
As this story unfolds, it will serve as fascinating cable TV filler: We’ll learn more of the horrific details and get to know the victims, their friends and families, and the suspect; we’ll urge neighbors to keep a closer eye on each other; and hopefully we’ll learn why the police didn’t follow earlier leads. But this shouldn’t be treated as just the latest incredibly sad and sensational crime story, as if it were devoid of social and political context—or unrelated to the other news of anti-women violence that accompanied it this week.
When I first saw the photo of a freed Amanda Berry with her sister and daughter, and tried to imagine the women’s unimaginable captivity, I couldn’t get another set of images out of my mind—that of “The Ex,” a target mannequin that squirts blood when you shoot her. “The Ex” (variously called “The Ex-Girlfriend” and “Alexa”) is a large-breasted white woman, her clothes party ripped off, blood dripping from her mouth down her cleavage, and she was sold with other “bleeding zombie targets” at the NRA convention in Houston last weekend. A target mannequin that looks like Obama painted green (one happy customer calls him “Barry” in a video that has been removed) also made the news. Buzzfeed reported that the NRA asked the vendor, Zombie Industries, to remove it from display, but it continued to be sold, a reminder of the racism that fuels the pro-gun paranoia. But the NRA didn’t object to displaying “The Ex,” and she still appears on the company’s website, where one commenter writes, “This Zombie Bitch is awesome, reminds me of a girl I knew in High School.”