There’s been a disturbing trend lately in people’s reactions to Josef Fritzl- namely that we act as if there’s some huge seperation between him and us, like he’s a mosnter or some force of nature that nobody really understands. Labelling him like that dehumanises him- yet he is what happens when a quite ordinary, yet quite pathologically dominant type of personality is not checked and balanced by the rest of society, and people like Fritzl who don’t get the help they need in advance will commit this type of act, often while their community and family are confident in the knowledge that he’s “a good, respectable man,” while conveniently blinding themselves to the subdued nature of these men’s wives and partners because it’s hard to tell between a woman who “knows her place” and someone who’s been abused.
I’ve also heard a lot of outrage that he’d do this to his own daughter- I feel that too- but you need to remember that most rapes are commited by people known and trusted by the victim. Until we develop a culture where it’s okay for wives to check up on what’s in the basement, where it’s not okay for men to make women doubt their thoughts, suspicions and feelings, where victims of abuse are taken seriously by their relatives and friends, and where people who commit these sorts of acts are not allowed to be left with vulnerable people who are potential victims1, then this sort of thing will perpetuate itself. If it’s true his wife was abused- if she had gotten help and he had been investigated along with the suspicious adoptions of his daughter’s children, perhaps this could’ve come out sooner. If we had a culture where friends and family felt confident in challenging people who domineer their partners in one way or another, then this might have come out sooner.
These small, insidious issues of discrimination that I talk about do add up to allow people like Josef Fritzl to sneak between the cracks.
1Whether through restraining orders or through incarceration, seperating victims from perpetrators is so critical, yet we seem to think that women who truly love and care for their domineering partners are qualified to put their children at risk. As much as I hate the idea of forcibly breaking up families, if there is good evidence of rape- best to make the alleged victim safe until the matter is resolved.
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