The past two years have seen an abundance of scary child captivity cases come to light. These cases are really scary and difficult to understand. They bother me not only because they are so completely horrific, but also because I have no way of understanding the actions that these men and women have taken to imprison and abuse children. I feel like I have no tools to access this, or find a solution to stop this from happening again.

The most recent of these was in Victoria, Australia, where a 60-year-old man has been charged with rape after fathering two children with his own daughter. His wife claims not to have known. The abuse started when the girl was eleven years old. The police had known about the abuse since 2005 but could not do anything because the daughter was afraid of her father.

In August 2009, 29-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard walked into a police station with her two kidnappers and the two children she had by a convicted sex offender as a result of rape. She was kidnapped when she was 11 and has spent 18 years in captivity. In this case his wife knew about it.

In Colombia, March 2009, Arcedio Alvarez (59) was arrested for the abuse of his daughter from when she was 9 years old until she was 30 years old. She had 11 children, 3 of whom died.

In Italy, March 2009, Michele Mongelli was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting his daughter, and his four nieces. His son was also arrested for having believed to have been involved. The survivors had been kept in captivity, in conditions likened to slavery.

In November 2008 “The Gaffer”, a 54-year-old business man in the United Kingdom, was sentenced to 25 consecutive life sentences for holding his two daughters in captivity for 25 years, raping them and fathering 9 (some reports say 7) children with the two girls (although they had been pregnant 19 times between them). The mother of the two girls had fled her home because she two had been abused by the man.

In April 2008 the world was stunned by the Austrian case of Josef Fritzl, who has been found guilty for imprisoning his daughter for 24 years, as well as the 7 children that she had as a result of the rapes. He was also found guilty of murdering one of their children. His wife claimed not to have known.

These cases all just seem completely crazy, and disempowering to the general public. More scary is that they are not just random once-off events, but seem to be happening all the time while the rest of us just continue our day to day life. What can all of us do to stop things like this? In many of these cases, concerned neighbours had reported suspicious activity to no avail. In some cases the police already knew about the offenders but had chosen not to act or had acted ineffectively.

It is really difficult to understand the lives of these survivors, and the lives of their abusers.

I’m not sure whether the kidnappers were crazy or sane and evil, and I’m not sure which option is worse. If they were crazy do we let them off? Put them in an institution? Medicate them into docility? And if they were sane, what then? Put them in prison? The irony is too much. Is it better to try and understand what makes them tick, or just to certify them as unacceptable abusers who should be silenced, like they have silenced others? Goodness gracious, but it just seems mad.

And what you’d do if you suspected your neighbour was guilty of an offence like this? Should we be peering over the walls policing the behaviour of others? How many times when an alarm goes off next door, or you hear angry shouting, do you just lie down in your bed, roll over and feel grateful that its not your alarm or your life that is unravelling? If we were supposed to do this would we? And if we shouldn’t, why not?


  • Jennifer is a feminist, activist and advocate for women's rights. She has a Masters in Politics from Rhodes University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from UCT. In 2010 she started a women's writing project called 'My First Time'. It focuses on women's stories of significant first time experiences. Buy the book on the site or via Modjaji Books. Jen's first novel, The Peculiars, came out in February 2016 and is published by Penguin. Get it in good book stores, and on


Jen Thorpe

Jennifer is a feminist, activist and advocate for women's rights. She has a Masters in Politics from Rhodes University, and a Masters in Creative Writing from UCT. In 2010 she started a women's writing...

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