Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Horror

The Austrian case of Josef Fritzl and his imprisoned incestuous family is so shocking that it produces a feeling of physical revulsion. How can it be true, we wonder, such monstrous behavior? As neuroscientists, psychologists, and psychiatrists, as students and researchers and clinicians, we question what was (and is) so fundamentally broken in this man's brain that he was able to perpetrate such unspeakable acts upon his own flesh and blood.

Latin perpetratus, past participle of perpetrare, from per- through + patrare to accomplish, from pater father — more at father
From the BBC:

Police announce the arrest of Mr Fritzl on suspicion of incest and abduction. All the children are placed in care and [his 42 yr old daughter] Elisabeth is given medical and psychological treatment.

Mr Fritz gives police the code to unlock a hidden door to a basement living space made up of a network of tiny windowless chambers.

All the children except Kerstin meet for the first time, and Elisabeth is reunited with her mother.


Mr Fritzl confesses to imprisoning Elisabeth in a cellar for 24 years and fathering her seven children. He confirms to investigators that one of their children died in infancy and that he had taken the dead body and thrown it into an incinerator.


Mr Fritzl appears before a magistrate and is remanded in custody while the investigation continues.

Police announce that DNA tests confirm that Mr Fritzl is the father of Elisabeth's children.

How did they survive? It is impossible to imagine how developmentally stunting, how physically and psychologically damaging, such an existence must be.
Scale of the physical scars from Josef Fritzl emerges

The scale of the physical scars borne by Josef Fritzl's victims was becoming apparent today as the three children he kept imprisoned for years in a cellar were reunited with their siblings.

While three of the six children to survive from Mr Fritzl's incestuous relationship with his daughter Elisabeth were brought up as part of normal Austrian society, the others lived their lives without daylight in rooms 1.7 metres (5ft 6in) high.

The Austrian authorities revealed that all the imprisoned children have emerged with defective immune systems and suffering from vitamin D deficiency.

None of them had ever seen a doctor or a dentist before their release and the oldest, at the age of 19, has already lost most of her teeth.

The height of their prison ceilings has left them each with a cramped physical posture and all three are anaemic.

One of the children is being tested to see if his sight and hearing have been impaired by 18 years of confinement.

Experts said that the psychological problems resulting from being the child of an incestuous relationship – and of living in a claustrophobic bolthole – are unique.

“Psychologically a lot depends on what their mother has told them over the years, whether she has explained the reason for their imprisonment or whether they have come to accept it as a normal condition,” Rotraud Perner, a psychotherapist from Vienna, said.

A normal condition. More from Times Online:

Mr Fritzl went on lengthy holidays abroad and was absent for weeks on end. Pictures of him on holiday in Thailand in 1998 were published in a German newspaper, which deemed the trip “a gentlemen’s holiday”, claiming that Mr Fritzl had gone there with a male friend from Germany.

. . .

Even though Mr Fritzl’s former employers and neighbours – as well as newspaper investigations – revealed that he had previous convictions for sex offences and arson in the 1970s and the 1980s, the authorities claimed that it would probably be impossible to recover the original criminal records because such documents were not kept in Austria after a certain time.

His history of rape and sexual assaults extend back to the 1960s, according to some reports. How did he get away with it for so long? In his own house, even, living with his wife and the rest of his family? It remains to be seen if the level of public outcry and protest in Austria, and the depth of soul-searching, will match what occurred in Belgium in response to the case of Marc Dutroux.

[Related: Regarding the Pain of Others]

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At April 30, 2008 8:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found your blog through the Fritzl case. I've got to say, it's really interesting. =) I'm still in shock about what happened to poor Elizabeth almost as if it happened to my family. It could be because a similar yet completely different family scandal has just occured in my neighbourhood and believe it or not, none of us noticed!!!

At April 30, 2008 10:18 AM, Blogger Andy McKenzie said...

You remind me so much of Hunter S. Thompson that I have to assume it is intentional, especially considering your apparent history of drug usage (and I stress apparent). Bravo, regardless.

At May 03, 2008 9:51 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Thanks for stopping by (and for the compliments)... A comparison to Hunter S. Thompson is high praise, indeed.


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