Secrets in the Cellar Case Study

Pages: 6 (1825 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Children

Secrets in the Cellar

The purpose of the present paper is to discuss the issue represented by child abuse. The theme is father-daughter incest, while the main points of the analysis will be represented by the symptoms which the victim exhibited, the type of offender, the engagement strategies used by the abuser, as well as the profile of the non-offending mother. These points will be discussed as the story develops and the final part of the paper will be an attempt to understand whether intervention, treatment or prevention strategies might have been employed in order to change the development of the situation.

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The case study used in order to illustrate the concepts associated with child abuse refers to Josef Fritzl who held his daughter prisoner in the basement of their house for 24 years, abusing her, raping her and fathering seven of her children. "Three of the children had been imprisoned along with their mother for the whole of their lives: daughter Kerstin, aged 19, and sons Stefan, 18, and Felix, 5. One child, named Michael, had died of respiratory problems three days after birth, having been deprived of all medical help; his body was incinerated by Josef Fritzl on his property. The three other children were raised by Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie in the upstairs home. Fritzl had engineered the appearance of these children as foundlings discovered outside his house: Lisa at nine months in 1993, Monika at ten months in 1994, and Alexander at 15 months in 1997. When the eldest daughter, Kerstin, became seriously ill, Josef acceded to Elisabeth's pleas to take her to a hospital, triggering a series of events that eventually led to discovery." (The Fritzl case)

Case Study on Secrets in the Cellar Assignment

The main stages of the story, presented in chronological order are the following: in 1977 when Elisabeth was only 11 years old her father started to abuse her sexually. The abuse continued until 1981, 1982 when he began to turn the cellar into a prison cell. In 1984 when the girl was 18 Fritzl lured her into the basement and locked here there. In 1986 she lost a baby in the tenth week of the pregnancy. In 1989 the first child Kerstin is born. The following one, Stefan, is born just a year later. (The Fritzl Case)

The third child is born in 1992. Lisa is kept in the cellar until the age of nine months and then she is "found" outside the house where she had been allegedly left by her mother. The forth child is born in 1994 and at this point the father decides to enlarge the space of the prison by 20 square meters. The fourth child Monika is found outside the house. The mother receives a phone call allegedly from Elisabeth who asked her to take care of the little one.(The Fritzl Case)

Afterwards the police will claim that Fritzl used a tape recording of his daughter to make the call. Nevertheless the mother went to the police, astonished by the fact that Elisabeth knew their number which had been recently changed and was unlisted. Two years pass and the girl gives birth to twin boys, one of which dies after three days because of health complications. The body is secretly cremated by the father. The other twin is kept in the cellar for fifteen months and then taken upstairs where he is "discovered" in similar circumstances as the other children. (The Fritzl Case)

In 2002 the last child is born and left in the cellar. Later Fritzl told the police that since his wife was not able to take care of the child, he was compelled to leave him in the cellar. In 2008 Kerstin has severe health problems and Elisabeth begs her father to take her to the hospital-which he does. The statements he makes at the hospital render the doctors suspicious. A week later Elisabeth and her two sons Stefan and Felix are released. Fritzl takes them upstairs and tells his wife that Elisabeth had decided to return home. In 2009 Fritzl is convicted after having plead guilty to all the charges (murder by negligence, enslavement, incest, rape, coercion and false imprisonment). (The Fritzl Case)

Needless to say that all the members of the family needed intensive psychological therapy. The "upstairs" and the "downstairs" children were taken to live together with their biological mother and the grandmother. However after a while Elisabeth lashed against her mother because she could not forgive her for not having defended her. The mother (who knew nothing about the whole thing) was forced to move out and is living on her own.

While the importance of the profile is the same for all the involved parties, it is safe to say that the most intriguing one is the father. During the trial he initially declared that he put his daughter in the cellar because he wanted to protect her from outside influences and discipline her properly (as a teenager he thought she was too wild). In order to further motivate his gesture he appealed to the influence of the Nazi during his childhood, saying that they had impacted his mentality. As far as the sexual abuse charges were concerned, he declared that Elisabeth had always been consensual. The declarations which he made afterward help us better understand his profile as abuser.

We know that he grew up with a mother who was always busy working and ignored him, depriving him of the needed and desired affection. Obviously this had been a strongly traumatic episode which marked him in a most definite manner, leading him to eventually do what he did. He declared that he had planned the entire thing and that he did not care about disciplining his daughter, he just wanted to make her suffer. Some might suggest that having her imprisoned might have been enough pain and that the sexual abuse was not necessary. It must be underlined that the rapes started seven years before the imprisonment. Not only this but he had already served time in jail for another rape and was involved in other similar accusations.

The medical reports showed that he actually had sexual issues. Fritzl himself declared that it was in his nature to be "bad" and a rapist. The declaration can be interpreted in the context of his childhood and his relationship with the uncaring, possibly abusing mother. His behavior is a reaction of anger to the unfair and painful treatment he got as a child from the most important woman in his life- the mother.

As far as the family pattern is concerned, it could be defined as possessive-passive (also known as patriarchal). Here we have a father who from the outside seems to be a perfect patriarch, dominating the other members of the family but not by means of force. In reality the father figure used "intimidation and physical force to maintain submission of family members" (Crossen). The children and the wife is considered a mere possession. The mother tends to be withdrawn and is unable to defend the daughter. The daughter on the other hand is led to believe that the father is the head of the family- who must be obeyed, therefore being very vulnerable. The reason for which the father turns to sexual abuse in the possessive-passive family is no other but a manifestation of power and authority.

The behavior of all the family members suggest that this pattern can be perfectly applied. Fritzl had told his wife that Elisabeth must have ran off and joined a sect. While the mother was alerted when she received the phone call telling her to take care of the baby, she did not really do big efforts to find out whether that was the truth or not. In addition she did not do anything to bring her presumed runaway girl back home. But the issue is not only the mother's behavior after the imprisonment.

We know that the sexual abuse started when the girl was eleven and she must have been severely affected by it. The fact that she did not openly turn to her mother for help suggests the absolute power that the father was believed to have within the family. The general attitude of the mother (who had no suspicions that her daughter was being abused by the father) describes her as a submissive and withdrawn person (Crossen). She acts like the possession of her husband and believes everything he says.

The fact that the rapes started when the girl was eleven and nobody reacted to it suggests this is a conflict avoiding type of family. Here the tone must have been set by the mother who made it clear that sexual or emotional problems are not to be overtly discusses. This also could explain why the daughter did not confess the abuse as soon as it happened in order to get help.

The mother fakes competence, but in reality she is unable to handle whatever possible problem. The daughter acknowledges this and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Secrets in the Cellar" Case Study in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Secrets in the Cellar.  (2010, October 14).  Retrieved January 24, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Secrets in the Cellar."  14 October 2010.  Web.  24 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Secrets in the Cellar."  October 14, 2010.  Accessed January 24, 2021.