How the family may start leading a normal life

Psychologists experienced in helping the victims of hostage taking, sexual abuse and prolonged isolation say that great care will need to be used in trying to bring some normality to the lives of Elisabeth Fritzl and her children.

Lesley Perman-Kerr, who is in private practice in St Albans, Hertfordshire, said: ”What I would do, and I am sure the psychologist working with them is doing, is play it by ear, let them talk as and when they want to, no pressure, just generally gaining their trust. People who have been abused find it very difficult to take on any new kind of information because they feel everything is a threat. That is the way they have had to live.”

Elisabeth ”may have been compliant because she had her children to protect. There is a natural human instinct to bond with the person who holds their life in their hands,” said Perman-Kerr.

The older children incarcerated with her would also have ”real difficulty in adapting to the real world … with flashbacks, waking nightmares, always being on red alert. I think the one who is going to fare best is the five-year-old. He is so young. He has already said he wanted to go in a car and was so excited. He has a very good chance of leading a normal life.”

She added: ”Personally I would be surprised if [Elisabeth] ever recovers from this totally. It would be very difficult for her to have any relationships at all, to trust in any way at all.”

Ian Stephen, who is in private practice in Scotland, said: ”The children have grown up with a mother who must have been compromised by her own experience of adolescence. Apart from her father, there doesn’t seem to have been any adult male involved in the family in the cellar throughout their lives.” He said even if the family did have access to television, the children would not have learned to differentiate fully between fact and fantasy, something normally learned through play, contact with a wide range of people and developing their own moral codes.

His work with prisoners who had been segregated suggested many could not cope with noise or crowds after release. ”We have had people going into town and having panic attacks, go back to their rooms and lock themselves up again. They need a place to go, then be weaned out gently and exposed to other people and groups. Everything is going to be new.”

James Thompson, of University College, London, and a co-director of the UK Trauma Centre, said Josef Fritzl ”must have had delusions of grandeur and importance, wanting to dominate and have absolute control”.

Those in the cellar ”will have had to form some sort of attachment to him in order to survive. In this situation he represented most of humanity to them and, of course, his inhumanity is what they have had to deal with.”

Separating the family after their ordeal would not be right. Instead the best way forward may be ”in something like the wing of a small hospital so they can still have the bond and return to what they know in much more agreeable and sunny circumstances. They can go out and explore and come back so they don’t have a massive and bewildering change.” – Â

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