How to steal a life – Elizabeth Fritzl has had her life stolen from her

How must it feel to be Elizabeth Fritzl? How must it feel to be her mother?


In this nightmarish tale of abduction, rape and abuse in Austria, how does it feel to enter a cellar as a girl and leave as a middle-aged woman?

When Fritzl’s father pushed her into the basement, she was only 18 years old. It was 1986. Now she is 42 and emerges to a very different world.

All that time, she has spent in one tiny space, seeing no-one, never seeing daylight, being raped and beaten, giving birth to child after child – presumably with no pain relief or medical attention.

Aside from the fact that this should never have happened in a civilised society and the trauma she has suffered in being at the mercy of a psychopath, her father has stolen her life.

From 18 to 30 are probably the most tumultuous years in most women’s lives, the years when they find love, marry, have children, become adults rather than children. Fritzl has enjoyed none of this. Her isolated condition in her dank windowless cellar has been far worse than that of a prisoner, who at least would have access to television, books, magazines, and other human beings – a sense of not being lost entirely to the world.

It made me think for a moment about my own life. Between the ages of 18 and 42, I left home, attended university, lost my virginity, experimented with drugs, had my first real love affair, lived out of a trunk, had numerous flatshares, graduated, went to secretarial college, lived with a boyfriend, bought a property, had my first full-time job, learned to drive, became a journalist, lost my father to a heart attack, met my now-husband, got married, bought a house in France and emigrated. For most women, add children to a similar mix and maybe the odd divorce and you have the prime years of an average life. Everyone knows that nothing can make up for what Fritzl has lost in this time, even if she can ever learn to cope with having lived with so much abuse and fear.

Between 1984 and now, the world has also changed enormously. In 1984, did anyone own a mobile phone? Builders and stockbrokers perhaps – a phone the size of a housebrick. Germany had not reunified. China and India were not developing nations. The Soviet Union still existed. There was no Internet, no Facebook, no Google, no YouTube, no Xbox, no flat-screen TVs, virtually no email, DOS instead of Windows, hardly anyone owned a PC. There was no Starbucks, no Ipods, no satellite TV, no DVDs. The world to which Fritzl is emerging is one she may barely recognise – even the cars are a different shape.

God knows how this woman and her children, and her mother are now to cope with what lies ahead. One can only hope that they get the very best care and counselling available – specialists in PTSD of the kind who have helped other prisoners such as John McCarthy. As for the father, nothing can make up for what he has done, and so the only satisfaction is that hopefully he will die in prison – assuming, of course, that his wife or his neighbours don’t get to him first.

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