Helping Elisabeth Fritzl

Top psychologist Anne Carpenter - a specialist in helping adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse

The story of Elisabeth Fritzl, the 42 year old woman who was imprisoned in a cellar and raped by her father over a 24 year old period, is so shocking it is inconceivable to most of the public.

While this is clearly an extreme case of sadistic emotional and sexual abuse the need to treat victims of child abuse is unfortunately commonplace within the mental health field.

And, in the last 30 years, academics and clinicians have developed a greater understanding of the complicated psychology of abuse survivors.

Clearly this woman is likely to require extensive help and support to come to terms with her dreadful ordeal. However, those involved in her recovery will need to be cautious and sensitive particularly as she will have grown used to her emotional and physical needs being over-ridden by her abuser. In fact, she may be unable to articulate or even recognise them.

She will be feeling a range of conflicting and confusing emotions – shock, disorientation, anger, guilt, sadness as well as happiness and relief. It is likely that she will shift rapidly from one emotion to another in the early stages of resolution and as such, above all at this time will need gentle support from those caring for her.

Miss Fritzl will have to be gently encouraged to express her own needs and make her own decisions. Living in a cramped cellar away form normal social contacts will mean she has lost many basic life skills: meeting people, shopping, using a telephone, even crossing the road - all will be strange and daunting tasks.

Intensive psychological therapy is often inadvisable in the immediate aftermath of extreme trauma, particularly at a time of extensive police and media interest. Research on counselling in the immediate period after distress warns against probing into feelings too deeply and too quickly.

Any disclosure of abusive experiences can lead to the individual feeling that they are being abused all over again. People often describe traumatic “flashbacks”, where they feel as if they are being pulled back into the past and are being abused again. They may experience sounds, smells or sensations which can feel distressing; as if they are losing their minds. Such experiences are quite normal and are the mind’s ways of rationalising and understanding the incident. They are, however, very alarming.

Disclosure of such events is particularly difficult where someone is not used to being treated with respect. She may expect to be punished or blamed. Miss Fritzl may even anticipate repeat abuse from those looking after her as it is what she has been accustomed for most of her life. She will look to therapists to tell her what to do, where to go, what to eat, who to speak to. In other words; will have lost all initiative. This is why the preliminary stage of providing gentle support is so crucial in helping her resolve and understand her feelings. At this stage, all involved should be telling her they believe her and know this is not her fault.

Sexual abuse survivors commonly express feelings of extreme guilt: Guilt that they didn’t stop the abuse; guilt that they “let” it go on for so long; guilt that the abuser has been arrested. The public commonly ask “Why didn’t they stop it?” It is vital that such a question is not put so bluntly to Miss Frutzl.

Working with abuse survivors and sex offenders has helped clinicians understand the very complex relationships that exist between them. “Stockholm Syndrome” was identified in the 1970s and recognised that, where a victim is dependent on their abuser for their very survival, a curious, almost infantile, attachment can develop. The victim may hotly defend the perpetrator and even apportion much of the blame to themselves; particularly where they have been told by the abuser that they are to blame. Again, such attachment is normal and Miss Fritzl will need help to express such feelings. This will not be possible if she feels that she will be labelled as “mad” or complicit. No-one freely consents to such horrific abuse.

The final issue which she will face is in taking on her role as a mother to her six children. Children about whom she may have ambivalent feelings. Some were cared for by her parents; some may also have been abused; some were also the victims of the sadistic decision to imprison them in a cellar; all of them are active daily reminders of her unwanted incestuous relationship. The children will, of course, also need extensive support.

Miss Fritzl’s reintroduction to Austrian society will be long and traumatic. It may even be as traumatic as her first few months in captivity. She will need above all to be protected from the eyes of the world as she is helped to reconcile the very complicated and often conflicting emotions that she will experience.

From a world where she will have felt very alone, she will need to learn from her carers and therapists that, while her case may be extreme, child abuse is unfortunately not unique and her feelings will be very similar to those commonly expressed by our many abuse survivors.

Anne Carpenter is a Consultant forensic clinical psychologist employed within the Forensic Mental Health directorate of Glasgow and Clyde health board. For over 20 years she has worked with victims of child abuse, female offenders and mentally disordered offenders. She has worked extensively with Victim Support Scotland and is a member of the Parole Board for Scotland.
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The New Statesman Quiz of the Year, 2016

Grab your pen and paper for this year's New Statesman quiz.

Brexit

1 Which foreign politician hailed Leave’s win in the EU referendum as a “Victory for freedom!”?

a Geert Wilders

b Norbert Hofer

c Donald Trump

d Marine Le Pen

 

2 Which London borough had the highest percentage of Remain voters in the EU referendum, at 78.6 per cent?

a Lambeth

b Ealing

c Merton

d Hammersmith and Fulham

 

3 Which of these newspapers did not support Leave?

Sunday Express

Sunday Times

Mail on Sunday

Sunday Telegraph

 

4 Boris Johnson caused controversy by suggesting to an Italian economics minister that Italy would allow the UK access to the single market in order to safeguard exports of what?

a Parma ham

b Prosecco

c Pasta

d Parmesan

5 In a YouGov poll asking voters how they thought fictional characters might vote in the EU referendum, who was viewed as most likely to vote Leave?

a Jim Royle

b Basil Fawlty

c Alan Partridge

d Mary Poppins

 

US politics

 

6 Which of these words did Donald Trump use most frequently during the three
presidential debates?

a Unbelievable

b Wonderful

c Tremendous

d Amazing

 

7 During his campaign, Trump suggested the father of his rival Ted Cruz could have been linked to whose assassination?

a John F Kennedy

b Robert F Kennedy

c Martin Luther King

d Anwar Sadat

 

8 What was Nigel Farage’s description of Trump during the second debate, in which he had to defend himself against assault charges and seemed to invade Hillary Clinton’s space?

a “A big silverback gorilla”

b “A mighty mountain
of a man”

c “A great white shark
sniffing blood”

d “A defiant, strong lion”

 

9 At a New York fundraiser in September, Hillary Clinton was assailed for saying that “half” of Donald Trump’s supporters could be described as “a basket of . . .” what?

a Unmentionables

b Deplorables

c Awfulness

d Idiocy

 

10 Which of these states did not swing from the Democrats to the Republicans in the 2016 US presidential election?

a Iowa

b Pennsylvania

c Ohio

d Virginia

 

UK politics

 

11 In August, which former cabinet minster was photographed firing off a machine-gun, Rambo-style, while on holiday in Vietnam?

a George Osborne

b Michael Gove

c Nicky Morgan

d Ken Clarke

 

12 Who claimed in his autobiography, Speaking Out, that the idea Jeremy Corbyn will take Labour back to power is a “leftist utopian fantasy”?

a David Miliband

b Ed Balls

c Alastair Campbell

d Neil Kinnock

 

13 In the first round of voting in the Conservative leadership contest, who received the support of 34 MPs?

a Liam Fox

b Michael Gove

c Andrea Leadsom

d Stephen Crabb

 

14 Who won in the Politician category at GQ magazine’s Men of the Year awards?

a Boris Johnson

b Nigel Farage

c Sadiq Khan

d Jacob Rees-Mogg

 

15 Labour now boasts the largest number of members of any political party in western Europe. What was the party membership figure by September?

a 388,400

b 551,000

c 776,300

d 917,000

 

Around Britain

 

16 What did Sergeant Colin Norden, a Cambridgeshire police officer, call “the biggest organised crime group” in the country because of a racket in picking wild berries and selling them on?

a Scouts

b Ramblers’ Association

c Women’s Institute

d Camra

 

17 Despite public demand for the name Boaty McBoatface, after whom was the UK’s new polar research ship eventually named?

Michael Palin

David Attenborough

Ranulph Fiennes

Bear Grylls

 

18 London’s new railway Crossrail will be given what name when it opens in December 2018?

a The Regal Line

b The Elizabeth Line

c The Queen Line

d The Windsor Line

 

19 A new Royal Bank of Scotland £10 note will be the first to carry a picture of a woman who is not a member of the royal family. Who?

a Mary Somerville

b Muriel Spark

c Flora MacDonald

d Winnie Ewing

 

20 Which of these products briefly became scarce in Tesco supermarkets this year after a price disagreement with the supplier, Unilever?

a Pot Noodles

b Colman’s Mustard

c Bisto

d Marmite

 

21 According to the Office for National Statistics’ happiness index, which religion has the highest happiness rating?

a Hinduism

b Buddhism

c Christianity

d Judaism

 

22 A study found that which biscuit can endure the most number of dunks into a cup of tea before breaking apart?

a Bourbon

b Custard cream

c Digestive

d Rich Tea

World

 

23 The Cuban leader Fidel Castro died in November at the age of 90. Ten US presidents held office during his time in power, but who was Fidel’s first US counterpart?

a Harry S Truman

b Dwight D Eisenhower

c John F Kennedy

d Lyndon B Johnson

 

24 Archaeologists used laser technology to discover a number of hitherto lost medieval cities in the jungles of which country?

a Guatemala

b Thailand

c Cambodia

d Brazil

 

25 Maria Grazia Chiuri became the first female creative director of which fashion house?

a Valentino

b Givenchy

c Louis Vuitton

d Christian Dior

 

26 Which European country voted to reject a proposal to introduce a guaranteed basic income for all its citizens?

a Finland

b Norway

c Switzerland

d Austria

 

27 In which US city were 11 police officers shot, five of them fatally, by at least two snipers at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in July?

a New Orleans

b Atlanta

c Dallas

d St Louis

 

28 Adama Barrow won Gambia’s presidential election. As a student in London, he once worked as a security guard for which high-street retailer?

a Marks & Spencer

b Argos

c John Lewis

d Boots

 

29 Which politician was heavily criticised for having a personal barber who earns €10,000 a month?

a Matteo Renzi

b Joachim Gauck

c Mariano Rajoy

d François Hollande

 

Sport


30 The 23 March is a special day for sport, as three of Britain’s four most successful Olympians, in terms of gold medals won, share a birthday on that date. Which of the four men won his medals despite being born on 28 April?

a Chris Hoy

b Steve Redgrave

c Bradley Wiggins

d Jason Kenny

 

31 In which sport did Great Britain win most of its gold medals from the Rio Olympics?

a Rowing

b Cycling

c Swimming

d Sailing

 

32 Great Britain took second place in the Rio Paralympics table with 147 medals (including 64 gold) behind which country?

a China

b Russia

c United States

d Germany

 

33 Which Scottish golf course was removed from the list of possible venues for the Open Championship after it voted to retain its “men only” membership policy?

a Turnberry

b Muirfield

c Carnoustie

d Royal Troon

 

34 Who appeared on the BBC’s Match of the Day wearing only his underpants, after he promised to do so if Leicester City won the Premier League?

a Alan Shearer

b Mark Lawrenson

c Ian Wright

d Gary Lineker

 

35 Which British tennis player won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon?

a Laura Robson

b Naomi Broady

c Johanna Konta

d Heather Watson

 

36 Borussia Mönchengladbach changed their name to “A German Team” on Twitter in response to fans of which UK side being unable to spell the name?

a Liverpool

b Celtic

c Aberdeen

d Manchester City

 

Arts and books

37 Love by All Sorts of Means was Brendan King’s biography of which writer, whom he worked for as secretary and assistant for 23 years?

a Beryl Bainbridge

b Penelope Lively

c Doris Lessing

d Barbara Pym

 

38 Which former Blue Peter presenter published the debut novel The Butcher’s Hook?

a Valerie Singleton

b Mark Curry

c Konnie Huq

d Janet Ellis

 

39 Which comedian and television presenter’s painting of David Beckham’s tattoos was part of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition?

a Nick Hancock

b Justin Lee Collins

c Harry Hill

d Leigh Francis

 

40 Which artist acquired exclusive rights to “Vantablack”, said to be the “blackest black” pigment of paint?

a Grayson Perry

b Chris Ofili

c Jeremy Deller

d Anish Kapoor

 

41 Which musical won 11 Tony Awards from 16 nominations, falling one short of the all-time record held by The Producers?

School of Rock

Hamilton

Waitress

Fun Home

 

42 Who was the only Briton to make the Forbes Top Ten list of the world’s highest-paid comedians?

a Peter Kay

b Frankie Boyle

c Kevin Bridges

d John Bishop

 

Science and media

 

43 In the first 15 years of Wikipedia, which person’s entry was edited the most?

a Justin Bieber

b Barack Obama

c Adolf Hitler

d George W Bush

 

44 A study found the average smartphone user touches their device how many times a day?

a 137

b 589

c 1,457

d 2,617

 

45 The wildlife TV presenter Chris Packham controversially suggested that children should be encouraged to eat which local wildlife?

a Snails

b Earthworms

c Tadpoles

d Grasshoppers

 

46 Researchers found that the milk of which Australian marsupial is capable of killing antibiotic-resistant human pathogens?

a Tasmanian devil

b Red kangaroo

c Quokka

d Tiger quoll

 

47 Scientists suggested which sixth “basic taste” to describe the flavour of bread and potatoes?

a Starchiness

b Solid

c Heavy

d Glutinous

 

Media

 

48 Which national newspaper closed after only nine weeks of operation?

New Day

New European

First News

24

 

49 Which newspaper led the investigation that brought Sam Allardyce’s time as England manager to an end after 67 days?

Times

Daily Telegraph

Daily Express

Observer

 

50 Which magazine published Sean Penn’s interview with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán that Mexican officials claim led them to the drug kingpin’s hiding place?

Esquire

New Yorker

Rolling Stone

Vice

 

Film, TV, music

 

51 Spike Lee’s latest film, Chi-Raq, is a modern-day adaptation of which play by Aristophanes?

The Clouds

Lysistrata

The Frogs

The Birds

 

52 Which film won the
Golden Globe award for
Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, despite being neither a musical nor a comedy?

Carol

The Big Short

Steve Jobs

The Martian

 

53 Who played the title role in Fleabag, the TV adaptation of her 2013 Edinburgh one-woman play of the same name?

a Joanna Vanderham

b Zawe Ashton

c Phoebe Waller-Bridge

d Immy Waterhouse

 

54 Who became the highest-grossing female film star of all time?

a Jennifer Lawrence

b Scarlett Johansson

c Zoë Saldana

d Nicole Kidman

 

55 Which German film by the director Sebastian Schipper was shot in a single, continuous take?

Victoria

Mary

Anna

Eva

 

56 The season finale of Westworld revealed the existence of which other theme park?

a Space World

b Medieval World

c Gangster World

d Samurai World

 

57 The video for Kanye West’s song “Famous” did not feature which of these people in the form of a naked sleeping waxwork?

a Barack Obama

b Anna Wintour

c Donald Trump

d Bill Cosby

 

58 Which musician released the online animal rights game This Beautiful Creature Must Die in collaboration with Peta?

a Paul McCartney

b Morrissey

c Moby

d Dave Navarro

 

59 The Eurovision Song Contest-winning song “1944” commemorated which event?

a D-Day landings

b Deportation of the
Crimean Tatars

c Battle of Monte Cassino

d Liberation of Leningrad

Click here for the answers.

This article first appeared in the 15 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special 2016