The three women who survived a decade of imprisonment and torture in a Cleveland house made a rare public appearance together to receive a courage award from Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were welcomed by a two-minute standing ovation when they walked onstage Monday night to receive their medals.
Kasich called them “three extraordinary women, who despite having the worst in this world thrown at them, rose above it and emerged not as victims, but as victors.”
The women were abducted by Ariel Castro between 2002 and 2004, when they were in their teens or early 20s.
They were freed last May after Berry managed to run out of the home and call for help.
Castro pleaded guilty in August to hundreds of charges for the sexual abuse and torture he inflicted on the women.
“These people are trying to paint me as a monster. I’m not a monster,” Castro said at his sentencing, where a judge ordered him to serve a life sentence plus 1,000 years.
A month later, Castro, 53, was found hanged in his prison cell.
Berry and DeJesus announced a book contract last year to tell their story. Knight, who was Castro’s first victim, signed a separate deal to release her memoir.
She also shared her story on Dr. Phil McGraw’s show in November.
Knight remembered Castro telling her that he would let her go after he got two other girls.
“No, you don’t need to do that,” Knight recalled telling Castro. “I begged him not to bring any more there to suffer the hell I went through.”