Men Behaving Badly
Well, men behaving badly seems to be in the news these days. The Josef Fritzl case in Austria being the foremost example. Here’s a guy who ruled his family with fear and intimidation and complete control, even going so far as to keep his own daughter locked in a dungeon for decades, raping her, and fathering seven children with her. This is a terrible crime by almost all standards, and it is a source of some speculation as to how this could both happen and go undetected so long. I’ve waited a week or more for details to emerge, and I’m sure casting for a made-for-TV movie is already underway, but enough information is now out to comment on this strange case.
First of all, the basics. Josef Fritzl is a classic control freak, he was absolute master of his wife and kids, no dissent was allowed. We’ve all heard about or even known families like that. Mr Fritzl went further though, he built a dungeon and unbeknown to everyone he drugged and imprisoned his 18 year old daughter Elisabeth, and used her as a sex slave for over two decades. She had seven kids by him (her father) and four of them never left the dungeon. One died, and the other three were raised upstairs. Mr Fritzl told people his daughter had joined a cult, and that she had left the babies on their doorstep. The situation was exposed when one of the kids in the cellar, Kerstin, got very sick. When she was bought to the hospital Elisabeth had left a note in her clothes pleading for help. The hospital staff asked questions…and called the police.
Well now. Obviously Mr Fritzl is a very bad man. That being said, the first point is that while this is certainly extreme, it’s just a pathological extreme of the normal range of human behaviour. IE lots of parents try to control their kid’s lives for their own purposes. Would that it were different, but Mr Fritzl is man, not a monster. He’s just a man who took being father and husband to monstrous extremes. I know on one hand that doesn’t seem important or even counter intuitive, but I do think that if we reject Mr Fritzl’s humanity that we lose the chance to understand what drives some to this extreme. For good or for ill the forces that created this situation are echoed to some degree in each of us and in society at large. Or for a warped analogy, if one finds a cancerous tumour in one’s body, it’s neither helpful nor accurate to say “That evil tumour isn’t part of me.” While obviously the tumour must be excised, it can’t hurt to try and figure out what caused it in the first place. Mr Fritzl isn’t a monster, he’s a tumour.
Another point that troubles people is how could the victims let this happen? Both the ones above ground and the ones below ground? Why didn’t his daughter somehow contrive to attack and overpower her captor? She had years to come up with something. And how could the people upstairs, including Mr Fritzl’s wife, not know what was going on? Well, again, it’s all pretty normal psychology. When one is held captive, there are powerful psychological forces that kick in. The Stockholm Syndrome, brainwashing, and cognitive dissonance are good things to read about if one wants to understand why a captive might not resist. And outside of movies, there are few cases of victims resisting their captors in situations like this. Though it’s not all hopeless, there are many cases of victims making a run for it when the opportunity presented itself, as happened here.
As for why didn’t the people upstairs or the neighbours notice? People see only see the outside, and what the Fritzl’s presented to the world appeared normal. Social workers even visited the upstairs kids, and a story about a mother abandoning her kids to be raised by the grandparents would be believable anywhere. People don’t normally suspect that a neighbour or relative has a secret slave chamber under their house, so it’s not something they keep an eye out for. There have been other cases like this. In a nightmarish case in Belgium, the Dutroux case, police even searched a home without finding the secret basement and its prisoners.
Speaking of other cases, there’s another case recently that has at least some parallels with the Fritzl case. Though the media is treating it differently than the Fritzl case, since this cases involve a group of men conspiring to behave badly while using Christianity as a justification for their actions. I am talking of the FLDS case is Texas. The prisons they built for their women and children were more elaborate than Mr Fritzl’s dungeon, but they were prisons all the same. I will expand on this in my next post, the evil that men do is something that concerns us all.
“Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man, don’t do such a disgraceful thing.”
But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight.
Judges 19: 24-26
Part II is here: Men Behaving Badly, Part II.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is not being used for profit, it is central to illustrating he post, its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image…and it’s a damned interesting image. Credit and copyright: News of the World/The Sun. Imagine being born and raised in such a place? The mind reels. Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.)