Saturday, 29 November 2008

Britain's Fritzl: is Austria off the hook?

Back in April, as the details of the notorious case of Josef Fritzl in Austria became public, the world became instantly fascinated. The details of the case were absolutely horrific: A man had imprisoned his daughter in his family's basement and repeatedly impregnanted her over 20 years, hiding the children she bore in the basement with her and never letting any of them see the light of day.

At the time many in the media (including myself) sought answers to the incredibly bizarre circumstance within the culture in which they took place. A lot of ink was spilled about how the case reflected the "look the other way" culture in Austria, a traditionally conservative society that highly values privacy.

But now details are emerging about a case in Britain that may throw that argument on its head. This week a man in Sheffield received 25 life sentences for getting his two daughters pregnant 19 times during almost 30 years of rape and physical abuse. The case has eery similarities to the Fritzl case, but the numbers involved in the story are even worse in the UK case. Instead of 20 years, the raping went on for 30 years. Instead of impregnanting one daughter, this man impregnanted two. And rather than hiding his daughters and their children, this family was living out in the open, and even received visits from British social workers.

If the fact that this abuse could have gone on in the light of day so long undetected seemshocking, the motivation for it seems even more shocking. Reportedly, the man was working so hard to father children with his daughters because he wanted the child benefit payments.

The British media has dubbed the man the "British Fritzl," as they cannot reveal his identity because it would identify the victims of the abuse. But the moniker seems to be clouding over the fact that this case is even more egregious than the Austrian one, particularly in what it says about the society that let it go on for so long.

Outside of the UK this case has received little to no media coverage. Without the basement imprisonment aspect it lacks the shock value of the Austrian case, and perhaps the international media has a bit of a "been there, done that" feeling about this. And of course the Mumbai attack was sure to push any mention of this in the continental European media off the front pages. It seems rather unfair for Austria, which received a big black eye from the massive publication of the Fritzl case. Wider dissemination of the "British Fritzl" case might have redeemed them, making people view these senseless acts of brutality as something that can happen anywhere. But with this case receiving little attention outside the UK, it is likely Austria will still be associated with the terrifying tale of Josef Fritzl for some time to come.


Anonymous said...

Even if this crime was in plain site, I think the severity of imprisoning your children and grandchildren so the never see the light of day is a lot worse

VNTuongLai said...

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