Monday, February 12, 2007

Where does the buck stop again?

What do you make of this story?

"THREE girls who were imprisoned by their mother in a house littered with their own excrement for seven years may never recover from the ordeal, experts said last night.

The girls were shut away from the outside world, existing in almost complete darkness, playing only with mice and communicating in a made-up language.

When they were discovered, their home in a smart, upper middle-class suburb was filled with waste and excrement a metre high. The floor was corroded by mouse urine.

The case has stunned Austria, still reeling from the Natascha Kampusch kidnapping, and authorities were struggling last night to explain how such a horror story could have gone unnoticed.

The girls' ordeal was apparently sparked by their parents' divorce, after which their mother, a 53-year-old lawyer, suffered a breakdown. But she won custody of the girls - then aged 7, 11 and 13 - and withdrew them from school, claiming that she would give them private tuition at home.

Her husband, a local judge, was not allowed to see them once, despite his claims for access reaching court nine times.

The girls, Viktoria, Katharina and Elisabeth, were rescued only when police broke into the house after a neighbour, who had reported his suspicions several times, threatened a local council official with a lawsuit.

Although that was in October 2005, and the three have been in a specialised therapy centre since, the scandal was only revealed at the weekend.

The mother is now being held in a special remand prison branch for the mentally unstable. She will appear in court in a few weeks on charges of grievous bodily harm and torture and faces between five months and five years in prison.

She had ensured that the blinds were constantly shut, and that all but one light bulb had been removed in the house. When the three girls were released, they had white skin and could not endure exposure to natural light.

The mother was said to have been summoned to court nine times during the seven years after complaints by the father and neighbours, but officials never found a reason to investigate the case more closely.

Waltraud Kubelka, a therapist who is now treating the three girls, said that their psycho-social and physical development was "catastrophic".

"In the first weeks after their release they were hiding under a bench in the kitchen (in the therapy centre) because that was the darkest spot. They could not endure light."

Okay, at first reading this story shocked the hell out of me. I thought of the poor girls emerging from the darkness as the police kick down the doors, terrified and half blind.
But after reading it again I have nothing but questions.
Firstly, whither the father? What does it mean he was not alllowed see his girls again? How was this possible? Custody does not mean ownership. Why did he leave it up to the courts? Why did he not kick the bloody door clean off his hinges and demand to see his children?
I wonder about the made up language bit too. If girl were in school at 7, 11, 13, chances are they spoke fairly well already, why would they forget and revert to using a non-language? What happened to them? Were they not allowed speak?
What of the mother? Does she not have family, a sibling, cousins, parents? If her break down was as bad as they say how did the family function at all? Who shopped for food? Who paid the bills?
Why did the courts not insist this woman attend? Why did they not send an officer of the court to speak with her when she did not attend even one of the nine court dates?
How can three girls effectively disappear for 7 (!) years and no one do anything at all about it?

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14 Comments:

Blogger Conan Drumm said...

Werry werry weird... do they not have habeus corpus in Austria?

11:03 a.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

I don't know if they do or not. I'm really puzzled by the father in this case too. No law on earth would keep me from my children and if he was a judge and of good character why did he not exercise his right to see his offspring.
I shall ponder these things as I for for a run. My new running outfit is so unbelievably chav. Just call me waynetta.

11:16 a.m.  
Blogger Kim Ayres said...

I don't understand that one at all.

11:54 a.m.  
Blogger Kav said...

Have you ever seen the film The Descent? I reckon those children are the cave actors they used in that movie.

1:10 p.m.  
Anonymous Pat said...

Thank God for the neighbour. The mother is severely mentally ill. The father is the puzzle. They all seem to live in a vacuum. Society has deteriorated over the years and people tend to live in theit own little worlds.

4:34 p.m.  
Blogger Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Pat's right we are all living in our own bubbles. The neighbour in this case was the only person who saved these children from God knows how many more years like that.

It is very odd though. I don't understand how the father, a judge after all, could not have seen his girls for 7 years. There's something not right there.

5:02 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

I read that the therapist who is trying to help them thinks the eldest girl-who is now 21- will never recover. She stands on one foot for great periods of time and stares at the floor crying. But that the younger girl might soon be released to her father who is NOW in constant contact with the girls.
Poor bloody pathetic creatures. Why did no one help them?
I read the father called to the apartment on numerous occasions and was told the girls weren't there or they were sick. This is the most bothersome aspect of it-well that and the authorities absolute refusal to look into the case. The mother is insane, but why did he not insist on coming in and speaking with his children. He could have saved them from whatever horror they endured for 7 YEARS!
This is only coming to light now, but you can be sure it's going to be a big case.

5:38 p.m.  
Blogger Twenty Major said...

I read that the therapist who is trying to help them thinks the eldest girl-who is now 21- will never recover. She stands on one foot for great periods of time and stares at the floor crying.

Someone should paint her pink. She could get a job as a flamingo.

9:51 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Major, don't you have some plaintive whimpering to do?

9:57 p.m.  
Blogger Twenty Major said...

I'm all whimpered out.

10:40 p.m.  
Blogger MairĂ©ad said...

Terrible story.
Question I had was if the mother was home-schooling them, how come the authorities didn't check up on that? In Ireland, Department of Ed inspectors visit home-schooled families to check that they are being taught the curriculum, are of a certain standard etc.... Probably not very often, but certainly a few times in 7 years???

3:02 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

That's a good point M, where was the Austrian version of the department of education? And what of social services. If the father was not allowed see his children would he not have been within his rights to get them involved to check on the health and wellbeing of his girls?

4:02 p.m.  
Blogger MairĂ©ad said...

Definitely - if he cared enough to bother!!

9:31 p.m.  
Blogger Fat Sparrow said...

I'll bet it's the mom's lawyer who's claiming she's mentally ill. She's a sick fucker, undoubtedly, but truly mentally ill? Seems to me she'd have to be awfully high-functioning to put off all the inevitable inquiries over the years. No doubt her class status had something to do with it. I know here in the US, you'll get investigated up the yang if you're poor, but if you're well-to-do and educated, there's an amazing amount of leeway in the system. It's all about how you play the game, and with the mom being a lawyer, I'm sure she knew how to play. How much of her treatment of the kids has to do with the mom's hostility towards the dad? And how much did she have to threaten them to get them in that condition? I have a hard time picturing a normal 13-year-old putting up with all of that. The level of abuse concocted by the mom must have been truly horrific.

2:41 a.m.  

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