Horror in Cleveland: Why the Warning Signs Went IgnoredS

We're all horrified that Ariel Castro allegedly kidnapped and imprisoned three young women for a decade so he could rape and beat them at his convenience. But given the circumstances that allowed him to evade suspicion for so long, Castro's case is a not-so-hyperbolic allegory for what millions of domestic violence survivors regularly experience without attracting national attention. Cops and neighbors missed the warning signs because domestic violence is too often treated as something "private," a matter between couples best resolved behind closed doors.

"So, you know, I figured it was a domestic-violence dispute,” newfound American hero Charles Ramsey told an ABC affiliate in Cleveland while describing what happened after he heard Amanda Berry "going nuts" trying to escape from the house she'd been trapped in since the day before her 17th birthday in 2003. (Click here for case specifics.) Ramsey intervened, but most bystanders don't.

One in every four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. An estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year, but most cases of domestic violence are never reported to the police. Americans, ever independent, are conditioned to view domestic "disputes" as private matters. Many think it isn't their place to judge a stranger's personal life; who knows, maybe she deserved it.

For recent evidence of that mindset, look no further than the ex-girlfriend shooting target sold by a vendor who attended this year's NRA's convention in Houston. The company, Zombie Industries, makes "life-sized tactical mannequin targets." Here's how the "Ex" target (now called "Alexa"), the only female model available, was advertised until recently:

Be warned, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned but a man scorned is nothing to mess with! A young gent from Louisiana, we’ll call him Andre to protect his identity, was deeply committed to his one true love and her to him, or so he thought. While partying with her friends during one particular Mardi Gras, she took several suitors over the course of the festivities.

In other words, the bitch was asking for it.

In 1993 and again in 2005, Castro's former wife, Grimilda Figueroa, accused him of domestic violence and attempting to "abduct" their daughters. The Plain Dealer quotes from the 2005 report:

Figueroa suffered two broken noses, broken ribs, a knocked-out tooth, a blood clot on the brain and two dislocated shoulders, according to a 2005 filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court. Her attorney requested that a judge “keep [Castro] from threatening to kill [Figueroa].’’

Attorney Robert Ferreri said Figueroa “has full custody with no visitation for [Castro]. Nevertheless, [Castro] frequently abducts daughters and keeps them from mother.’’

Castro denied that he was ever abusive, but the allegations made it that much harder to see his daughters. So, it appears, he kidnapped their pals so he could beat and rape them with impunity. His daughters were friends with both Berry and DeJesus; Arlene Castro actually told America's Most Wanted that she was the last person to see DeJesus, her "best friend and classmate," alive.

Since the women escaped this week, multiple neighbors have told reporters that they called cops on Castro's house over the years after witnessing disturbing events: three naked young girls crawling on all fours with dog leashes around their necks while three men (likely Castro's brothers, who were also arrested this week) watched, troubling pounds and screams, a little girl looking out of an attic window. The neighbors say cops rarely followed up — once, they briefly knocked on Castro's door but left when he didn't show. The Cleveland police department claims they never got those calls.

Despite his past, Castro was a school bus driver until he was fired in 2012 for leaving his bus unattended for four hours. Funny story: he was suspended for 60 days without pay in February 2004 after he "inadvertently" left a child on a bus. According to The Guardian, Castro drove the boy around for hours instead of dropping him off at school and ordered him at one point to "lay down, bitch."

Meanwhile, Castro was considered a "fun" and "charismatic" guy who liked to play music and offer kids rids up and down the block on his bike. "I mean, parents trusted him. He talked to the parents. He was just a regular guy on the street," a neighbor told ABC.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a shooting target called "kidnapped teenager" because we care very much about pretty adolescent girls who disappear into thin air. As we should, of course. But we should also care about men who abuse their wives and children before they go out and find replacements to hide in the basement.

If the cops are lying about ignoring Castro's neighbor's calls, that implies they were unconcerned about a man who had a record of being abnormally and dangerously cruel to women and children. If the neighbors are lying about making those calls in the first place, that probably means they suspected something was up underneath Castro's jovial mask and wish they had spoken up sooner.

Both conclusions show that we're not adequately enraged by domestic violence unless it seems ripped from the headlines of Law & Order: SVU.