Sharing Shame

Unthinkable as it is, abuse and violence within families is sickeningly common

Only days after the end of the trial against Josef Fritzl, some of the international focus on Austria has shifted to two other incest cases that are capturing the world’s attention.

In Columbia, a man named Arcebio Alvarez, dubbed the “monster of Mariquita” by the local media, has allegedly abused his daughter, now in her 30s, since she was nine years old. The 59-year-old needed protection in court after a crowd mobbed him and threw things at him as he was being transported to court.

And in Italy, Michele Mongelli, 63, a scrap metal dealer in Turin, has been remanded in custody after being accused of abusing his daughter “Laura” from the age of nine – for 25 years.

Colombia has a particularly bad record on child abuse and cases such as these are believed to occur more often in South America and Asia. But many remain undiscovered, especially in rural areas.

But Italy is neither underdeveloped nor backwards, and thus bears similar responsibility to an advanced country like Austria, especially after the news that Mongelli, now known as the “Italian Fritzl” has had frequent dealings with police and social workers in the past. His alleged crimes escaped the attention of the police, of social workers and even the local priest who once asked after the family.

So for all the ugliness of the Amstetten story, Austria turns out not to be alone in this misery. What was described as the crime of the century – and by implication unique to Austria – may be just routine tragedy, another case of what Hannah Arendt described as “the banality of evil.”

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