By Majed Iqbal- “They appeared normal, just like any other family,” Guenter Prameiter, who runs a bakery just down the street, said. “They had a swimming pool in the garden. We would hear them [the children] laughing, the three of them,” said a third.
These were the comments raised by neighbours describing the Austrian father who kept captive his daughter Elisabeth, now 42, in three windowless underground rooms ever since she disappeared in 1984.
The news of the Austrian man who imprisoned his daughter and fathered a hidden incestuous family having seven children with her has left people speechless in the country. Police described the revelations as “one of Austria’s all-time worst crimes” and Guenther Platter, the country’s Interior Minister, called it “unfathomable”.
While we all ponder on the details of the horrors unveiling in the house over the years which have been graphically described in press and Television stations, it is of paramount importance that we all take a step back and evaluate our thoughts and responses on this story.
Are we shocked at the news on the incestuous relationship of a father and his daughter or are the fact that so many children were put to abuse over so many years with un-humane treatment.
I’m sure most of us would say both, as they are equal and on par of being gruesome, sick and decadent actions which we would look down upon. However, some people would be selective in their response as to what really struck them in the case. I say this, because, the heinous action of incest committed by the Austrian father is actually sanctified in law in many countries, enjoying legal status, including Europe, where this story has emerged from.
Whilst incest is forbidden in Britain, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Japan, Argentina and Portugal allow these relationships (consensual incest) freely to flourish. In Brazil, an uncle and niece may have a relationship provided they undergo health checks. In fact, in France, Napoleon abolished France’s incest laws in 1810 which are still in operation whilst, Sweden is the only country in Europe which currently allows marriage between siblings who share a parent.
With the growing trend of such relationships which were considered criminal and taboo are now undergoing the process of normalisation under the banner of Personal Freedom. Citizens of other countries have began gaining inspiration from these as seen with the German brother and sister who are challenging the law against incest so that they can continue their relationship free from the threat of imprisonment despite having four children together since starting together in 2000.
Endrik Wilhelm, the couple’s lawyer, said that the couple were causing no harm to others. “Everyone should be able to do what he wants as long as it doesn’t harm others.”
“Incest is not illegal in many of Germany’s neighbouring countries” he said. The law was a “historical relic”.
Across the Atlantic, with the legalisation of Gay marriages in certain states in America, the flood gates were opened to many questions posed on other forms of relationships and their legal status. In Ohio, lawyers for a man convicted of incest for sleeping with his 22-year-old stepdaughter said that they will make the Lawrence decision (landmark gay rights case in 2003) the centre piece of an appeal to the Supreme Court.
“Our view of Lawrence is a fairly narrow one, that there is a Constitutional right under the 14th Amendment’s due process clause that says private consensual activity between adults cannot be criminal,” said J. Dean Carro, the lead lawyer for Paul D.
In Australia, a Tasmanian Senate candidate for the Liberty and Democracy Party (LPD) is standing by his party’s policy to decriminalise victimless crimes such as euthanasia and incest between adults.
The dark stories of child abuse have regularly hit the headlines over the years, even til today, where we live in modern day liberal, secular societies often advocated as the beacon of light and exemplar for the rest of the world.
In this day and age statistic after statistic highlights damaging revelations. Some estimates have shown that around 20 million Americans have been victimized by parental incest as children. (1) Research indicates that 46 percent (46%) of children who are raped are victims of family members. (Langan and Harlow, 1994.)
The majority of American rape victims (61%) are raped before the age of 18; furthermore, an astounding 29 percent (29%) of all forcible rapes occurred when the victim was less than 11 years old. Eleven percent (11%) of rape victims are raped by their fathers or step-fathers, and another 16 percent (16%) are raped by other relatives. (2)
Indeed the above examples send a chill down our backs and make us ponder on the direction society is heading towards. Our shocks and horrors about the case in Austria in light of the above examples may now help us to understand some of the fundamental reasons to the lead up to such crimes. Our responses should not be relegated to the horrors which surfaced in the house against the members in the household only.
A step further into the discussion would require us to deeply ponder on the spiralling moral, social, and societal chaos being born out of ideas like Freedom which seem not to have any boundaries to restrict human action to what is just and balanced for society as a whole and to cater for the individual and their needs.
This dilemma of Freedom and its offerings is the open discussion which needs to be had in society and possible other examples of models of values, laws and systems which can be presented as alternatives to the decay that liberal ideas have bought around us all need to be deliberated upon.
(1) Turner, Jeffrey S. (1996). Encyclopedia of Relationships across the Lifespan. Greenwood Publishing Group, p92. ISBN 031329576X.
(2) Incest- National Centre for Victims of Crime and Crime Victims Research and Treatment Centre. National Centre for Victims of Crime (1992).