Daily we are bombarded by news of horrible events. Technology provides continuous fodder for our curiosity, and many of us are both drawn to and repelled by what is presented on our computer or plasma screens.
Josef Fritzl, his wife Rosemarie, and their daughter Elizabeth are at the center of a much publicized news story from Austria. Josef kept his daughter locked up in the basement of their apartment building for 24 years, using her as a sex slave — she mothered seven of his children. She was eighteen when her captivity began.
There are volumes being written on this story every day, but it seemed relevant to try to identify just what motivated him. At the moment, he is getting a psychological thrill from having his picture and information about himself appear on every major newspaper and news source around the world. He takes tremendous pleasure in his infamy.
Josef is a sadist. Sadists enjoy and live to inflict pain on others; seeing victims suffer is sexually arousing for them. It is also about control of the victim. Dr. Michael Stone, a forensic psychiatrist, describes sadists as “bad, not mad.” Fritzl is in no way psychotic or crazy. He knew exactly what he was doing and his acts were premeditated. He is not sorry and he cannot be rehabilitated.
Sadism almost always begins in childhood and adolescence. Those who torture helpless animals are at high risk to become sadists. Viewing violent pornography (snuff films) has also been linked to this disorder. Sadistic behaviors are chronic and increase in severity as time passes. When the sadist is humiliating, dominating, controlling, or inflicting pain on someone, he experiences a rush of those “feel-good” brain chemicals called endorphins.
According to reports released by the police, Josef had been sexually abusing Elizabeth since she was eleven. Sexual abuse does not happen in a vacuum, nor is it a solitary event — the signs are often myriad and obvious. So where was her mother?
In all my years of working with abuse survivors, I have never heard of a case where the mother did not know the father was molesting the daughter(s) or son(s). However, admitting they knew about it and doing something about it are entirely different things.
Rosemarie, the mother in this case, has been the “silent one,” the “colluder.” Now, we could make the case that Josef is a tyrant and most certainly abused his wife as well as his daughter, but pretending that the mother is blameless is hypocrisy. Josef had sexually abused Elizabeth for eight years before she was locked in the dungeon of horrors. Her mother had to know, but it’s so much easier to pretend that abuse isn’t happening. If Rosemarie had addressed it in any way, she might have felt she had to stop it, and more than likely she was terrified of her husband. The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” syndrome is characteristic of incestuous families.
After Elizabeth’s disappearance, did her mother look for her? Elizabeth’s aunt stated that her sister, Rosemarie, did attempt to locate her daughter but could not find her. After her disappearance, a letter appeared, written in Elizabeth’s handwriting, asking her parents not to look for her, stating that she had joined a religious cult.
Six months prior to her imprisonment, she had run away from home. That might have been a clue something was greatly amiss in the household. Ignorance and fear on the part of the mother do not excuse her, even though she, too, lived with a sadistic tyrant. Josef obviously chose Rosemarie as his wife because he knew she was weak and would accept any and all of his dictates. Elizabeth was victimized and betrayed by both her father and her mother.
By a twist of fate or a lack of oxygen, Kirsten, Josef and Elizabeth’s nineteen-year-old granddaughter, was released from the dungeon and taken to the hospital. She is comatose and on a ventilator. After an appeal by medical authorities, Elizabeth came forward, because Josef allowed her to leave her prison to take her daughter to the hospital. The story of the family’s inhumane captivity unfolded while Kirsten was being treated. Throughout the process, Elizabeth was concerned for the welfare of her children, refusing to speak about her own abuse or captivity until she was assured her family would be safe and Kirsten would not have to see Josef again. Two other children, aged eighteen and five, were also released from the basement.
Josef’s decision to seek medical treatment for his granddaughter was not motivated by even a shred of humanity. He probably took her to the hospital because she was violently ill. If she had died, he would have had to dispose of a body, which is no small feat.
There might also have been a part of him that wanted to get caught. After all, he is quite proud of his accomplishments. He assumes that long after he has left this world, his name and heinous acts will be remembered.
Time does not heal all wounds. Elizabeth and her three children have been traumatized beyond belief, in ways that most of us cannot comprehend and never will. It is beyond our ability to fathom what Elizabeth experienced: being repeatedly raped, giving birth to seven children with no medical help, trying to survive in cramped living quarters with minimal air circulation and five foot six inch ceilings, children who have never seen the light of day. This description does not do justice to what she and her children survived — nothing can. As time passes, hopefully Elizabeth and her children will adapt and accommodate to their new life, but it will be a long road to recovery and healing.Powered by Sidelines