There were six of them, chained in the basement of a Philadelphia house. The police almost couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The horrors of what the women experienced were almost unbearable to hear. Their kidnapper, Gary Heidnik, chained them, enslaved them, raped them, starved them, murdered two of them and forced them to eat another human being (feeding the rest of the body to the dogs).
What did all of these young women have in common? They were young, black and brown girls from the lower echelon of society. They grew up poor, some of them were prostitutes, all of them perceived to be “unwanted.” Our America, hosted by Lisa Ling on the Oprah Winfrey Network, featured the stories of missing Black women and the now infamous Heidnik kidnapping case. A quick google search of his name will render headlines like “Heidnik’s House of Horrors.”
Indeed the women survived an unimaginable, terrifying ordeal. One of the survivors, named Jackie shared her experiences. She now suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. Sometimes, she blacks out and unconsciously re-enacts being chained to the basement floor and eating dog food.
For months Jackie and 5 other women languished in a seemingly timeless agony, wondering if they would ever get their freedom.
When hearing about these types of stories, the blame is usually placed solely on the perpetrator. Yet, we need to realize that society plays a complacent role in allowing these types of crimes to occur. All too often perceived “respectability” trumps humanity. Lives are somehow worth less, or are less important if the victims did not lead “perfect” lives as dictated by societal norms. This is especially the case for young Black women, people living in poverty and for sex workers.
Jackie, being a symbol of this marginalized trifecta, was as they noted in the documentary, “lost before she was kidnapped.” As she lived on the margins of society, Heidnik presumed that no one would miss her. And for the most part he was right.
Jackie asked, “Did anybody care that we were out there? Just to call 911 and say, ‘she’s gone?’ Who cared about a Black prostitute, on drugs?”
So as four of the six women, survived until they were finally freed, time moved on without them. And as they finally regained their freedom, society gasped at the horrors they’d experienced, media focused on the perpetrator and in-depth discussions concerning why or how this truly could have happened in the first place, were passed over in the name of sensationalism.
Moreover, Jackie returned to a community that blamed her for being kidnapped and called her “the slave” and “the people-eater.” This severe lack of community support only exacerbated her fragile mental condition.
“She was a slut. She was a whore. She was high. She was drunk. She was in the streets. That’s what she gets. She shouldn’t have been [insert any excuse]. ” Whenever you hear someone say these things, whenever these words leave your mouth, know that these beliefs nurture the ambitions of abusers and murderers.
What she was, who she was, doesn’t negate her personhood. It didn’t negate her human right to live and be free.
There is a dispute over whether or not Gary Heidnik was sane while he was committing these unthinkable acts. His past medical records indicate that he may have been schizophrenic. But one thing is clear, Heidnik knew for certain where to find the perfect victims, the people that were would less likely to be protected or fought for. He chose the people that had already been used, abused and thrown away by society….poor, young, Black women.
That’s what really enabled this crime…a mass societal lack of care and he knew it.
I guess he wasn’t insane after all.
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Jessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com. Follow Jessica @TweetingJAM.
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