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The Mindset of a Kidnapper

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Cleveland investigators are quickly trying to piece together the mindset of Ariel Castro, the man accused of kidnapping and holding three women captive on Cleveland’s West Side. What compels people like Castro to seek and capture victims? Ideastream’s Michelle Kanu turned to a local expert for some answers.

Sunday, May 12, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Kidnappers behave the way they do for different reasons. Sometimes they snatch someone for ransom. Other times, they kidnap as part of a child custody dispute.

But when it comes to capturing women and holding them against their will, kidnappers seem to have one thing in common.

Resnick: “The single trait that is most consistent is the need for total control over another person.”

Phillip Resnick is a forensic psychiatrist with University Hospitals Case Medical Center. He says men who specifically target women and hold them captive often use them to fulfill perverted sexual desires.

Resnick: “The need for control, rather than having to negotiate, one can just command the kidnap victim to do what one wishes.”

Resnick says finding victims is usually a premeditated act, although he may abduct someone spontaneously. The captor often uses charm, wit, or sympathy to keep the woman in their grasp. Once he has them, he’ll use fear to keep them in control and prevent them from trying to escape.

Resnick says kidnappers often rationalize their behavior, so it’s easier to detach from the physical or emotional pain they might inflict. And, he says, it’s not uncommon for kidnappers to keep their private lives hidden.

Resnick: “Some of these individuals really live double lives. They may go about their business holding full time work, even living with a partner, and the partner may be unaware of their propensities.”

When it comes to assessing an alleged abductor’s mental state, Resnick says it’s important to determine whether the person’s behavior is the result of a mental disorder, or a mental disease. He says the distinction is important: a disease like schizophrenia can absolve someone of criminal behavior; a disorder typically cannot.

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