Via CNN, on the man who “allegedly” imprisoned his daughter in a basement dungeon for 24 years, repeatedly raping her and forcing her to bear seven of his children, and who is just now finally entering his plea in the case:
Josef Fritzl, accused of imprisoning his daughter in a cellar for decades and fathering her seven children, pleaded guilty to incest, imprisonment and one charge of assault Monday at the opening of his trial in Austria.
He denied charges of murder and enslavement. When asked to enter a plea on a charge of rape, the 73-year-old replied: “Partly guilty.”
Franz Cutka, a press spokesman for the Landesgericht St. Poelten court, said the “partly guilty” plea might mean that Fritzl contends he is not guilty of all the individual rape charges or that the violence used wasn’t as severe as rape.
I’m not up on Austrian rape laws, so I have no idea what contending that “the violence used wasn’t as severe as rape” means in legal terms. (The insight of anyone who does know would be greatly appreciated.) But the idea that there might be some sort of threshold for severity of violence in order for any non-consensual sex to legally count as rape makes me physically seize up, wince and feel queasy. And even worse, but just barely, the idea that anyone — anyone, even the perpetrator — could possibly think that such a concept applies in a case where we’re talking about rape committed through forcible imprisonment for 24 years, just. Yes . . . it leaves me completely speechless.
Leaving me significantly less speechless is the description of the charges that CNN provides.
• Murder: The infant who died in 1996 died from a lack of medical care, the state prosecutor said. The charge carries a sentence of life in prison.
• Involvement in slave trade: From 1984 until 2008, prosecutors allege, Fritzl held his daughter, Elisabeth, captive in a dungeon, abused her sexually and treated her as if she were his personal property — in a situation similar to slavery. If he is convicted, the sentence could range from 10 to 20 years in prison.
• Rape: Between August 30, 1984, and June 30, 1989, Fritzl “regularly sexually abused Elisabeth,” according to the prosecutor. The sentence could be from five to 15 years in prison.
• Incest: Parallel to the rape charge. It carries a sentence of up to one year.
• Withdrawal of liberty: Three of the children Fritzl had with Elisabeth were illegally held captive in a dungeon with no daylight or fresh air, according to prosecutors. That charge carries a sentence of one to 10 years.
• Assault: Between August 28, 1984, and April 26, 2006, Fritzl repeatedly threatened Elisabeth and their three children with gas and booby traps as warnings in case they tried to escape, authorities allege. The sentence would range from six months to five years.
I look at those charges, and what I see is a serious discrepancy between the acts committed and the possible sentences being laid out.
I want to be entirely clear that if what is alleged is true (and I do not doubt it for a second), the death of the child was absolutely murder. There’s no question about that. Purposely failing to get medical treatment for a human being in order to hide one’s other crimes is murder. And that, like everything else about this case, is absolutely horrific.
But. While a charge of murder that seems to have been committed more through (again, absolutely horrific and unforgivable) negligence than through direct violence seemingly carries a mandatory life sentence, we’ve got every single act of violence, terror, torture, imprisonment and indignity committed with forethought and as a result of direct and purposeful actions that were entirely intended to do harm, adding up to a total maximum sentence of 51 years.
Am I the only one who sees a significant and fundamental problem?
I’m entirely aware that Josef Fritzl is 73-years-old, and therefore there is not much of a material difference between 51 years imprisonment and a lifetime of imprisonment. The possibility of a 73-year-old man still being alive 51 years later is absolutely nil. But what if he was a younger man, and somehow did not receive the maximum allowable sentences?
Further sentencing is highly symbolic in addition to being practical. Like it or not — and there are plenty of things to dislike — it’s the system we live in. And the sentences we ascribe to certain crimes are a clear way of displaying how we view the damage inflicted by those crimes and the value we place on that damage. And the only reason that the possible, maximum sentence, if convicted of all of these crimes, even adds up as high as 51 years is because there are so many charges applied.
So what I see is 24-years of a woman’s life, in addition to the entire lives of three of her children up to the point of their rescue, being taken not nearly seriously enough. Looking at the individual charges, I see 24 years of rape, even in the maximum sentence, not worth that many years in prison. I see imprisoning a woman for 24 years and three of her children for many years, too, as also not worth nearly that much time of imprisonment for the perpetrator. I see a woman’s entire violence-filled life — because you know that this horror is not “over” for her in any material mental sense — as well as those lives of her children, utterly devalued as not really that bad.
Call me punitive for not thinking that 51 years, symbolically or actually, is nearly enough to adequately represent what was committed. But I do not.
I see one of the most horrific crimes perpetrated against a woman that I have ever heard of in my entire life being shrugged of way too easily. Maybe because of issues with the statues that are far out of prosecutors hands, but still shrugged off.
And then we wonder how a crime like this might happen.
The defence lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, appealed to the jury to be objective and not swayed by emotions. He insisted Fritzl was “not a monster”.
Addressing the jury, Mayer said: “You need to keep emotions out of this. Even with someone like him who has been described as a monster, it’s irrelevant if he is an unsympathetic character or a monster.”
Mayer described how Fritzl had managed to care for “two families” – “you cannot call someone who does that a monster”.
He added: “If you only want your daughter for sex you don’t want children. You would let them starve.”
I think I’m going to be sick.