"Woman Held Captive and Repeatedly Raped by Own Father for 24 Years" is my headline about Elisabeth F, a 42-year-old Austrian woman believed missing since 1984, because her now 73-year-old father has been holding her captive in an elaborate underground dungeon concealed by a series of locks and trapdoors, creating fake letters from her to give the impression she was part of a cult, and fathering seven children she bore—one of whom died, three of whom never saw daylight until this week, and three of whom he and his wife raised after he claimed his "missing" daughter left them on their doorstep with notes she couldn't care for them.
It's an absolutely horrific, nightmarish story, which began when the father tricked his own daughter, who he had reportedly been sexually assaulting since she was 11, into the cellar, then drugged, handcuffed, and dragged her into the dungeon, the existence of which even his wife was allegedly not aware. Bluntly, what we're talking about is the allegation that a man kept his own daughter as his sex slave for nearly a quarter of a century.
Yet neither the BBC nor the Telegraph could find a place for the word "rape" anywhere in their stories, no less their headlines. (H/Ts to Shaker Gentlewoman and Shaker Marissa, respectively.)
The BBC blandly headlines the story "Austrian hid daughter in cellar"—which, if one didn't know better, could mean he saved her life by hiding her from a madman, rather than meaning he was the madman—and opens with: "A 73-year-old Austrian is under arrest on suspicion of hiding his daughter in a cellar for 24 years and fathering seven children with her, police say."
"Hiding" and "fathering children" are certainly nice words for "holding captive" and "repeatedly raping," aren't they?
The Telegraph does better on the headline—"Man kept daughter in dungeon for 24 years"—but offers as their intro: "An Austrian woman has told police how she was held captive in a cellar for 24 years and abused by her father, falling pregnant six times."
She "fell pregnant" after being "abused." What a whitewash. She was forcibly impregnated via sexual assault would be accurate.
What irritates me most about this shit is that it's "news" because it's titillating—it's thrillingly vile, the kind of story about which most people want to read more and more and more, even as they suck air through their clenched teeth at the sheer horror of it, repulsed and compelled in equal measure. But these stories are palatable only because they are cleansed of their grimmest details. It's so much easier to digest when words like "rape" and "sexual assault" and "sex slave" and "terrorized" and "held captive" are removed and replaced with swallowable euphemisms like "abused" and "fathered children" and "hid" and "fell pregnant."
And because "news" like this is packaged so as to be acceptably dreadful, as opposed to so flatly abhorrent that no one could read it without being affected, we are slowly inured to the most horrific mistreatments of our fellow humans. We can take ever more with mere clucking tongues and shaking heads, instead of the gnashed teeth and clenched fists that a story like this would and should elicit, if only our decency had not been dulled by a constant stream of "news" of similar horrors neutered of their ghastliness.
This story should be reported with purpose. If it is not to be consumed as a pithy bit of titillation over one's morning tea, it should be blunt, and it should be contextualized. No whitewashing, framed within a larger cultural narrative about the mistreatment of women and/or incidents of incest/child abuse in Austria. And then every. single. time. there is another story of this nature, the frame should be repeated. And repeated. And repeated. And repeated.
Until we can't ignore its prevalence any longer. Until we can't treat sexual abuse and torture as so much faff to be dismissed once we've had the obligatory "What a world!" grouse to salve our barely piqued consciences.
UPDATE: Congratulations to CNN.com for getting it right (H/T to Tobes in comments). The following was on their front page:
The interior story also pulls no punches: "For the next 24 years, she was constantly raped by her father, resulting in the six surviving children, she said, according to the police statement."
(Minus points for "House of Horrors" headline, though. It's the news, not a b-movie.)