This story is, of course, all over the news and the Internet, and by now, the facts are pretty well known, as summarized by the BBC,
“A 73-year-old Austrian man has confessed to imprisoning his daughter in a cellar for 24 years and fathering her seven children, police have said. Police said Josef Fritzl also admitted burning the body of a baby that died at the house in Amstetten, Lower Austria. Mr Fritzl has been taken to court while authorities are caring for the woman, now 42, and her six surviving children.
Photos of the man’s basement show a concealed network of tiny windowless chambers which were soundproofed. Prosecutors say Mr Fritzl is expected to be taken into protective custody after appearing before a magistrate. The woman, Elisabeth, disappeared aged 18 on 28 August 1984 when, according to her testimony to police, her father lured her into the cellar, drugging and handcuffing her before locking her up. She is reported to have been made to write a letter which made it look as if she had run away.”
Floor plan via the BBC.
And that’s not all. The man was still married with six other children (now adults), but apparently, neither his wife nor children knew anything about the abomination taking place in the cellar. For 24 years. How is this even possible? There is more:
“Three of the children were kept in the cellar with their mother and had never seen daylight, police told a news conference. The other three children were adopted or fostered by the suspect, after he forced Elisabeth to write a letter saying she could not look after the baby, according to police.”
This case was not discovered by the police. When the oldest daughter became seriously ill, she had to be taken to the hospital where the medical personnel could not figure out what was wrong with her. They pleaded on television for her mother to come to the hospital and help them. Fritzl allowed her daughter to go to the hospital. And that’s how the whole story was discovered. The hospitalized girl is now in a coma. The other lock-up children, who have never been outside and have never seen sunlight are very page and stunted. They are all very weak, and growing up in this environment, never conceived of trying to escape.
There is a lot of soul-searching going now in Austria. How could this happen? How could something like this be permitted to happen in the 21st century, in the heart of Europe? And of course, all the news sources are bringing up the case of another sequestered Austrian girl, Natascha Kampusch, now 18, who was kidnapped and sexually abused by a deranged man for 8 years and who managed to escape. Ms Kampusch has offered to help in the rehabilitation of the children.
So, we have the facts but where is the explanation? As Petra Stuiber wrote in a commentary in the Austrian liberal daily Der Standard, via the Guardian,
“There are pressing questions raised by this monstrous crime which need to be put to a rich, self-satisfied society in which during a quarter of a century what was happening in the immediate vicinity went apparently unnoticed. How is it possible that no one ever heard or saw anything, how can it be that no one ever asked questions?. What does it say about neighbours, relations, acquaintances and not least about authorities who had anything to do with the family, that the perpetrator succeeded in ‘deceiving’ everybody?”
I blame the patriarchy. Because of this (via Der Spiegel):
“Josef Fritzl apparently sexually abused Elisabeth for the first time when she was 11 years old. The girl twice tried to escape from her ordeal by running away, first at the age of 16 and then when she was 18. When she returned, Josef Fritzl lured his daughter into the basement, put her in handcuffs and locked her up — apparently out of fear that she would report his abuse.”
In introduction to sociology classes, patriarchy is often defined as male dominance. This is not exact. Patriarchy literally means “the rule of the father.” As such, the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints, which has been in the news a lot as well lately, is a patriarchal society where fathers rule over women and sons. And, of course, the similarities between the institutionalized FLDS and this individual case are striking. It is truly a textbook case of patriarchal dominance exercised through sex and procreation where the rule of the father is absolute, hence the passivity (at best) of the wife and children and the father’s ability to duplicate his family structure with his daughter (with the same number of children in each unit).