By Tam Sutherns
Stories of child abuse and women abuse going on behind closed doors have made headlines for years. Who can forget Austrian’s Josef Fritzl, who kept his daughter in a room underneath his house, sexually assaulted her and abused her and continued to keep her imprisoned after she mothered seven of his children?
Or Ohio’s Ariel Castro, who kidnapped and imprisoned Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina ‘Gina’ DeJesus in his home, sexually and physically abusing them?
Latest to emerge is South Africa’s very own House of Horrors in Springs in the East Rand of Johannesburg. The home was raided and a man was arrested and accused of holding his wife and five children prisoner and torturing them. This man allegedly raped his wife multiple times, exposed his children to pornographic material and severely assaulting his 11-year-old son, including punching him in the face, hanging him from the wrists for two days using a rope and using teargas on him.
The man was arrested after the 11-year-old boy escaped from the house and ran to a neighbour’s house. The neighbours called the police and the boy’s father, who allegedly took him home and assaulted him, according to News24 articles. When police arrived at the scene the next day they found four other children living in the house along with their mother. The boy had allegedly been hidden in the ceiling. The woman alledgedly reported that her husband had abused the family repeatedly, including with electric wires and a blowtorch.
More shocking is the fact that neighbours to this house were unaware that children even lived in the house. On News24, one neighbour reported that she was shocked that she lived next door to such a man and described him as smart and tidy and that he always wore expensive clothes. She was unaware that there were children in the home – the children allegedly did not ever attend school.
In a country where we live behind gated fences and secure walls, could it be possible that the danger is not always what we are keeping out but what we are holding in? The South African Police Service statistics show that between April 2011 and March 2012, 793 children were murdered, over 20 000 children were victims of assault and there were 25 862 sexual offences involving children. There is something grossly wrong with these numbers and it begs the question, we may be doing everything we can to protect ourselves from crime, but what are we doing to look after our community and protect our children from abuse? Do we know enough about what is happening in the very street we live in?
On 23 June, two women will be appear in court on charges of assault and child abuse after a video of a 21-month-year-old toddler gagged and tied up at a creche in Rosettenville went viral. A man also appeared in the Alexandra Magistrate’s Court in June this month after he allegedly locked up his four children in a hostel for eight years for their “own safety”.
The justice system in South Africa can be a long and tedious process, especially for victims of abuse. However, there are cases where justice is served. In April this year, Xolile Tose was sentenced to life in prison in the Eastern Cape High Court for raping a six-year-old girl in 2011. Shinawaaz Ahmento and Kyle Fredericks received 23 years and 15 years respectively for raping and strangling Tracey-Lee Martins in 2013.
While we can fight for harsher sentences and justice after the crime, the point is that no one should feel afraid, violated or tortured in their own home. Will these children from the House of Horros be moved into homes where they will feel safe, loved and protected? Is there a way for women like Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry or Gina DeJesus to feel safe in a home again? Will Josef Fritzl’s daughter ever recover?
Ariel Castro committed suicide, escaping punishment for the years he spent ruining lives. Josef Fritzl will spend the rest of his life in jail. The Johannesburg man accused in the House of Horrors incidents attempted to commit suicide by slitting his wrists. While no punishment would be fit for a crime of this nature and nothing will erase what his family have had to endure, suicide is not punishment. He needs to be held accountable for the pain and the torture that he has dished out and for the abuse of these human beings.
While it is too late to change what this man has done, we can call for justice as well as begin to foster a better sense of community and care where these acts are known about and are unacceptable.
Follow #HouseofHorrors on Twitter, have your say and let’s make sure that not only is justice served but that we learn a very big lesson here and start to wage a war on abuse. It’s time that the world sits up and takes notice and that the human beings violated and abused in this instance are heard. Let’s show the world that South Africans are capable of making sure our children and our women are looked after and safe. Before and not after the act.