A series of underground rooms equipped for sleeping and cooking, and with sanitary facilities, lay behind a concealed door, police said. The father, 73, allegedly had seven children with his daughter, now aged 42, and is under arrest. Authorities are caring for the daughter and six surviving children.
Three of the children were kept in the cellar with their mother, three were “adopted” by the father and his wife, Rosemarie, (Elizabeth mother) using the story that they had been abandoned by Elizabeth or another unknown woman on their doorstep. Elizabeth (now 42) and her children are now in the care of Austrian social services.
The father, Josef Fritzl, has admitted the offenses to Austrian Police. He admits to kidnapping Elizabeth on 28th August 1984 and drugging her. Her mother, Rosemarie, apparently knew nothing about the situation. The first child, Kerstin, was born in 1988-9 (exact date unknown) and a second follows soon afterwards. In 1993 a third child is supposedly “found” on the doorstep and is fostered by the grandparents. A fourth child “appears” in the same way in 1994. In 1996 twins are born but one dies through lack of medical attention, Josef Fritzl has admitted to incinerating the body in his home incinerator. In 1997 a third child appears on the doorstep and is again “adopted” by the grandparents. In 2003 another child is born and is raised in the cellar with Kerstin and her brother and Elisabeth. Earlier this month, April 2008, Kerstin was admitted to hospital seriously ill, and the authorities appealed for Elisabeth to come forward. Josef then released Elisabeth and the two remaining children and tells Rosemarie she “returned home”. Kerstin is still in hospital in a very serious condition, Josef is under arrest, the five remaining children are with Social Services and Elisabeth is receiving medical and psychological care.
The news coverage has been predictably amazed and outraged. Sadly I’d ask the question why? Why are we surprised by this? Whilst this is at one extreme of abusive and violent behaviour it’s just an example at one end of the continuum of violences women suffer daily. Why are we surprised when last year Natasha Kampusch escaped after being held for eight years in a cellar in the outskirts of Vienna? Why are we surprised when women are trafficked across continents and raped by their captors and other men paying for the privilege? Why are we surprised when children are raped for the internet viewing pleasure of other (mostly) men?
We easily talk about “man’s inhumanity to man”, lets talk about “man’s inhumanity to women” instead please – we act amazed and as if this is an extraordinary event but then accept the everyday dehumanisation and objectification of women. We hear people defending the forced trafficking of women as just “economic migrations” and defending sexual assaults as just “boys will be boys” and defending street harrassment as being a non-event caused by feminists without senses of humour. And by doing so as far as I am concerned the public lose all moral ground on which to be outraged by this – you cannot defend other behaviours which express the same sentiments and then claim moral outrage at this. Either societies have to wake up to the fact that men regularly and routinely abuse women and children and accept that and do something about it or they have to admit they are willing to tolerate it. For me this is an all or nothing issue.