COLUMBUS, OH, February 25, 2014 ( – Ohio Gov. John Kasich presented his annual courage award to three women who were held as sexual slaves for a decade, repeatedly raped, and subjected to beatings that amounted to forced abortions.

Kasich honored Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight this morning.

The three had been kidnapped by Ariel Castro between 2002 and 2004. He kidnapped Michelle Knight in August 2002, when she was 21. He kidnapped Amanda Berry on April 21, 2003 – one day before her 17th birthday. Gina DeJesus was only 14 in 2004, when Castro kidnapped her as she walked home from middle school.


When they became pregnant, he beat them until they lost the babies they were carrying. Knight, who was kidnapped in 2002, said she lost five children during her captivity. Berry conceived her daughter Jocelyn with Castro during that time.

Castro blamed his actions on his lifelong, compulsive porn use. “My addiction to pornography and my sexual problem has taken a toll on my mind,” he said in court. “I was victim as a child, and it just kept going.”

Castro kept them locked, and sometimes chained, inside a home in a run down part of Cleveland, until last May when they broke out of the door and called 911.

“No one rescued them,” Kasich said at the awards ceremony. “They rescued themselves, first by staying strong and by sticking together, and then by literally breaking out into freedom.”

The women, he said, “emerged not as victims, but as victors.”

The ceremony praised the women who survived first the sexual and physical assault, then the forced miscarriages, and finally Ariel Castro himself.

After police arrived at the scene last spring, they excavated the area for the bodies of babies Castro had killed in the womb. Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty had said he intended to seek the maximum penalty for “each act of aggravated murder he committed by terminating pregnancies.”

Castro could have become the first American on death row for killing an unborn child. Instead, he struck a plea bargain that led to Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Russo sentencing him to “no less than 1,000 years” in prison last July.

Two months later, Ariel Castro hanged himself with a bedsheet in his prison cell at the Correctional Reception Center in Orient, Ohio.

The award choice also underscores Gov. Kasich's pro-life bona fides as he faces re-election in the fall.

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Kasich signed a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, the Viable Infants Protection Act, in 2011. A law requiring abortion facilities to meet more stringent safety standards and for abortionists to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital has resulted in several abortion facility closures in the Buckeye State. He has moved to defund Planned Parenthood and named Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis to the State Medical Board.

Kasich, who made a brief run for president in 2000 after retiring from the House of Representatives, is considered a dark horse candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.