herald

Tuesday 16 January 2018

They didn't put their children in dungeons -- but that doesn't mean we don't have our own Fritzls here

ANOTHER 'Fritzl' monster is revealed -- this time an Austrian man in his eighties who imprisoned and sexually abused his two intellectually disabled daughters for four decades.

Our first reaction to these cases -- the original Fritzl case in Austria and others that have come to light -- is to see them as rare and bizarre.

Could they happen here? The answer is yes, but it doesn't necessarily involve keeping daughters physically locked away as in the case of Josef Fritzl and also of this new monster.

Our Irish Fritzls commit their crimes without ever having to turn a key in the door.

Think of the Kilkenny incest case in which a man sexually abused his daughter for more than a decade; the prolonged sexual abuse of his children by Joseph McColgan in Sligo; or the years and years of abuse endured by the children in the 'House of Horrors' case in Roscommon.

No child was locked up for years in these cases but the result was the same from the point of view of the unfortunate children concerned.

Imprisoning the children for years is an extra abuse and a cruel denial of human rights.

The really cruel twist, though, is that imprisonment may not be necessary at all.



terror

The two daughters in the latest case in Austria were visited at intervals by a social worker because of their disabilities but their plight went undetected.

In a German case, a father abused his daughters for more than two decades, keeping them silent through terror.

Yet he attended the births of the eight children he fathered by one of his daughters.

Though a midwife and a doctor told the authorities they suspected something was wrong, social services could find no sign of neglect and the daughter said nothing.

In the Roscommon case, a mother terribly neglected her children and sexually abused her son. She was able to do so even though the poor state of her children had been known to social workers for many years.

How can this happen, here or in other modern countries?

It is tempting to say that as we lead more individualised lives it is easier for parents to get away with these abuses.

Yet the McColgan and Kilkenny cases happened before many of today's young adults were born -- in other words at a time when community relationships were probably stronger than they are today.

Perhaps the sad fact is that there will always be those who will exploit the principle that the rights of families must be protected.

And very often parents who are not fit to rear children are, nevertheless, able to put on an act that fools the child protection services -- though in the Roscommon case this does not, in my view, excuse the failure to act on obvious signs of neglect.

A third ingredient is the personality of the abuser. In many of the cases that have come to light, it is clear that the children found themselves in the hands of psychopathic men who who had no regard whatsoever for their rights and feelings.

Psychopaths, moreover, are very good at turning on the charm when it suits them and they can be very good at fooling anyone who might be suspicious of them.



monsters

Bring all these fatal ingredients together and, in Ireland, add a child protection system that is barely functioning and faces the same savage cuts as other services, and what do you get?

You get fertile ground for our modern Irish Fritzls.

And, as I explained above, they don't have to build secret rooms in which to imprison their children.

How can we guard against them? By reporting our suspicions to the authorities and by continuing to demand a well-functioning child protection system.

Sadly, though, some of these monsters will still manage to slip through the net.

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