Where does the buck stop again?
"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?