Today an 80-year-old man was arrested in Austria for allegedly keeping his two mentally disabled daughters trapped in their home and physically and sexually abusing them for decades. The case is horrifying in its own right, but it's getting even more press because it's reminiscent to the Josef Fritzl case.
The sisters, who are now 45 and 53, say that their father kept them imprisoned in their home in St. Peter am Hart since 1970 and would regularly rape them, threaten them with guns, and beat them with pitchforks and sticks. According to The Guardian, the man has only been identified as Gottfried W. in the Austrian press. He's facing charges including rape and other sex crimes, abusing and neglecting minors and defenseless people, threatening behavior, coercion, and causing bodily harm.
Though the story only came out today, the women escaped their home in May and were taken in by social services. The Austrian paper Oberösterreichische Nachrichten reported that the sisters knocked their father over while he was attempting to rape them, then fled when he wasn't able to get up. He was found several days later by a social worker. The sisters say the abuse started in 1970, and their father didn't allow them to have contact with the outside world. They claim they lived in one room of the house and were forced to sleep on a wooden bench in the kitchen. Their mother died two years ago, and they say she was also abused. A spokesman for the local police department said:
"Both women have mental deficiencies and suffered permanent beatings and violence ... They became dependent on their father and were so withdrawn and mentally disabled that they couldn't cope on their own and were unable to leave the house unless he wanted this."
Most reports have highlighted the similarities between this story and the Fritzl case. For those who don't remember (or have managed to block out) the details, Fritzl was imprisoned for life after being found guilty of imprisoning his daughter in a windowless basement for 24 years, repeatedly raping her, and fathering seven children with her. However, there it's also reminiscent of several other recent crimes. Austrian schoolgirl Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped and held in a basement for eight years. After she escaped in 2006, her abuser committed suicide. There are also similarities to the Jaycee Dugard kidnapping, particularly since it seems social workers may have been slow to act. The AP reports:
Police were initially quoted as saying the daughters did not tell anyone about the alleged abuse until weeks after their escape. But authorities later said that a social worker who discovered the father two days after he fell went to police shortly after with her suspicions. The man was moved to the senior citizens' home after he was found.
After his fall, the father was moved to a senior citizen's home and remained free for months.
Each time we hear a story like this we're naturally fascinated and repulsed by the idea that such evil could exist. But the most disturbing thing about this case isn't that there's "another Fritzl" in Austria. It's a reminder that there are "Fritzl"s all over the world and evil like this isn't as unusual as we'd like to think.