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Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Monday, 28 April 2008 12:51 UK

Austria stunned by sex abuse case

Austrian paper Kronen Zeitung/house in Amstetten case
"Martyrdom in the House of Horror", says Kronen Zeitung's headline
Austrian media express shock and dismay at the horrific details of alleged child abuse and imprisonment in a quiet provincial town.

The Amstetten case, in which a man allegedly imprisoned his daughter and abused her sexually for 24 years, has gripped the nation.

Austrian psychologists say the children allegedly born in the cellar and believed to have been held captive with their mother are most likely severely traumatised.

"After this case it will be impossible to carry on with business as usual," writes Petra Stuiber in Austria's Der Standard daily.

"An entire nation must ask itself what is going fundamentally wrong."

"Martyrdom in the House of Horror," says the front-page headline in Austria's Kronen Zeitung.

"How can it happen here?" asks Austria's Die Presse daily.

Neighbours quoted by Die Presse say the family shut itself off so much that some people, who had lived in the same street a long time, thought the "old man" might even have died.

Such a lifestyle was unusual in a community where most neighbours knew each other, the paper reports.

Authorities 'duped'

The suspect, identified only as Josef F, is alleged to have imprisoned his daughter in the cellar in 1984, when she was aged 18. Police say they believe she bore him seven children, one of whom died - but DNA tests should confirm that.

A reader asks Austria's Wiener Zeitung daily: "How is such a thing still possible today and how many people maybe still live in such circumstances? How can the authorities be duped so easily? One can only hope that these poor creatures get adequate psychiatric help."

KEY FACTS IN CASE
Local people watch police at work at the back of the suspect's house in Amstetten
Elisabeth reappeared at home after disappearing 24 years ago
Six children she says are hers have been found and placed in care
One of the children, aged 19, is seriously ill in hospital
Elisabeth's father Josef, 73, has been arrested on suspicion of incest and abduction

The daily Kurier is among those drawing parallels with the case of Natascha Kampusch, who was 10 years old when she was kidnapped in Vienna in March 1998. She made a dramatic escape in 2006.

And in an earlier case, a Vienna couple kept their mentally retarded adopted daughter caged in a cold room like an animal.

"These cases shocked the nation," Kurier's headline reads.

Psychoanalyst Rotraud Perner, quoted by Die Presse, says the imprisonment of young children inflicts "massive damage".

"The brain does not develop," she says, adding that the powers of vision, hearing and speech are all affected by captivity, along with social skills. Victims of prolonged imprisonment can be compared with stroke victims, with similar impairment of their spatial awareness, she says.

The children in the Amstetten case are now in care, and the authorities are giving no information about their condition, because of Austria's strict privacy laws.

The BBC's Bethany Bell in Austria says the case is so horrific that most Austrians are just stunned and are not yet blaming any officials.

Police are expected to spend a long time questioning the suspected abuser, Josef F, our correspondent says.

Vienna psychiatrist Ernst Berger, quoted by Die Presse, says abusers in such cases "often do not show any sign of their psychological disturbance - these people can appear to lead quite a normal life".

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