In a horrific case sure to be compared to that of Josef Fritzl, a New Jersey man is accused of raping his five daughters and fathering six children, while evading detection by a child welfare agency.
David Porter of the AP reports that the father, who has not been named to protect the identities of his children, had "apocalyptic visions" of creating a "pure" family with his daughters. From the mid-eighties until 2002, he assaulted his daughters, intimidating them with beatings and starvation. Unlike Fritzl (who's pictured above), he didn't keep the girls imprisoned, but he did homeschool them and "discourage" them from talking to outsiders. His wife testified that, "No one really asked questions of each other because somebody would tell on somebody and somebody would get in trouble." An incredibly upsetting detail: two of the daughters' babies died at home, and the family buried them in secret.
The case also shares some characteristics with Phillip Garrido's kidnapping of Jaycee Dugard. In both instances, the men managed to avoid detection for some time. Garrido appears to have benefitted from some serious mistakes by the California parole board, while the New Jersey father apparently moved several times to evade authorities. He was charged with kidnapping in 2000 for trying to remove his daughters from a state facility, and was given probation — he then continued to rape at least one of the girls until 2002.
As in both the Garrido and Fritzl cases, the New Jersey father was married to a woman who failed to stop his crimes. Like Nancy Garrido, the New Jersey man's wife was aware of his abuse. She testified,
I was afraid to ever accuse him of being demented, or being a pedophile. I knew the word but I wouldn't dare use it because it would result in a beating. I'm sure my not standing up to him didn't help the kids. They felt disempowered also. There was just a lot of fear. Everybody was threatened.
Perhaps the mother could have helped her daughters by resisting, but it's a little hard to fault someone who was so clearly also a victim. Her words call into question how much any partner can be responsible for stopping an abusive madman. The New Jersey authorities, however, weren't victims of the father's beatings, and it's not clear what kind of investigation they did into his family life before granting him probation (neither the prosecutors in the kidnapping case nor New Jersey's Division of Youth and Family Services would talk to the AP). It's possible that the family's secrecy was such that no outsider could have known the extent of the abuse — but the 2000 kidnapping attempt certainly seems like it could have been a clue. And while the family's move certainly would have made the father harder to track, this may mean we need a better nationwide system for catching such criminals.
"Fritzl" has become the name the press give to any father who repeatedly rapes his daughters. It's terrifying that we even need such a name, but even more terrifying that these stories often involve years of undetected assault. The daughters of a "British Fritzl" recently received an apology from their government for the thirty years of abuse they suffered while their father moved them around to avoid authorities. One official said,
We are genuinely sorry. We should have protected you. People's lives were devastated both by a controlling, power-obsessed and deviant father and our failure to act.
The New Jersey authorities may have to issue such an apology in the coming months — if they do, let's hope it's the last of its kind.
A smaller point: CBS recently changed the graphic they used to illustrate this disturbing story. A reasonable step, since their original choice was this one:
At least CBS realized a bare midriff isn't the best way to depict child rape.