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Susan Estrich
10 Feb 2016
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It Takes a Village


Hillary Clinton has been much mocked over the years for arguing that it takes a village to raise a child.

On the other hand, she was right, at least some of the time.

It is impossible to read the shocking details of Josef Fritzl's 24-year-long abuse and imprisonment of his daughter and her children without recoiling in horror and wondering how it was that, in a town of 23,000, in a household with a wife and children, in a community with neighbors and teachers and social workers, no one knew.

The hard question is not what's wrong with Fritzl. He is evil incarnate. It's what's wrong with everyone else, who clearly turned a blind eye to a man they should have suspected, watched, questioned and paid attention to, but instead ignored and let get away with murder or worse.

What is wrong with the people of Amstetten?

Then you read about the 416 children removed from the Yearning for Zion Ranch, the more than 1600-acre "community" near Eldorado, Texas, and you realize it isn't just the people of South Austria who have a problem with giving wrongdoers too much respect and privacy. As details emerge of the number of teenage girls among them who are pregnant or have already given birth, the claims of the "mothers" in the group that they are being unfairly separated from their children seem more and more ludicrous. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do for children is to separate them from their parents.

It is easy to blame civil liberties for the neglect children face at the hands of their parents, whether in Texas or Austria. But I don't buy it for a minute. The law has always allowed the government to take action to protect children. And while the rights of parents have on occasion been given more respect than they deserve, when protection comes at the expense of children, most courts have shown themselves ready and willing to act on evidence of abuse or endangerment.

No, the bigger problem is that too many of these cases never make it to the courts.

The bigger problem is with "communities" that let parents abuse their children without the village stepping in, without anyone asking questions, without any desire to get involved much less operational.

Could it be that no one in evil Josef's home, including his wife and the children they raised as their own, had any idea what was going on in that basement? Could it be that he kept adding on to the cellar, but neither his family nor those doing the work nor the neighbors considered it their business to ask why?

Could it be that no one in Eldorado had any idea that abuse was going on within the confines of their own community, that children were being forced to become parents and that parents were not protecting their own children? Why did it take an anonymous phone call to bring the force of law and decency to a 1600-acre tract that clearly respected neither? One local official from the community emphasized that neighbors and local officials tried to remain on good terms with the cultists who took up residence in their community. Presumably Josef Fritzl's neighbors were eager to do the same with him. The children paid the price.

Every kid deserves decent, loving, caring parents, but not every kid is that lucky. And when they aren't, the least they deserve is a village that doesn't turn its back on them, that helps the parents who want and need help, but also moves forcefully against those who have no right to the privilege and blessing that raising children is.

Before we recoil in horror at Josef Fritzl, before we assure ourselves that what happened at Zion Ranch could not happen in our neighborhood, we might all be wise to look around and make sure that's true. Sometimes, it really does take a village to raise a child. But even more often, it takes a village to leave one abused and bereft.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



2 Comments | Post Comment
These are 2 terrible cases...but, regrettably, Child Protective Services are usually so insanely over zealous! They take kids away so easily, and then dump them into a foster-care system that utterly destroys them...producing monsters that will wreak havoc on another generation. They let whack job Brittney keep her kids, but will "rescue" a child who doesn't want to attend church with his parents. Even pre-teen kids know that if they make-up a story about abuse, CPS will jump in with no proof or verification, and even get psuedo-psychologists to "plant" repressed memories. CPS has a "guilty until proven innocent" mentality. Let us pray these cases don't cause a huge pendulum swing to CPS being even more intrusive!!!
Comment: #1
Posted by: pmp
Wed Apr 30, 2008 7:38 AM
If I thought for one second (My ) Hillary, understood the concept of "It takes a village,..." Well, I digress, but it would be nice to get my money returned for the cost of the book, and yes, I'd donate it to her campaign. From personal experience I do know (tend to believe,) the gure is usually worse in this evolutionary process of social awarness (as regards children.) Yes my dear I do know a lot about the village here in the backwards of the American Republic. Az you suggested the problem and the cure are both systemic. I don't think I'm being cynical when I say, both usually prove to be negative. From personal experience I do know there are brave (unlikely) heros to be found within the sordid mess; In my case, there was a black man in Hawaii, a cocaine adict of whom I can only say, "Herny played the upright so GRAND. He played what was right, het taught me to play what was left-over." THere was a woman, too,. She had a name, but refused it. She had escaped the Russian Revolution. That sweet mountain of sugar was white, and terribly "Mama Russia," to me. The question I pose is this: Can a 6 year old male prostitute who smokes Cqamel Cigaretes and drings eight shots of expresso for breakfast, survive? The answer is yes, and too, only to the degree that Survival becomes the sole objective so when the Male Prostiture grows up, he's age 60 and 2, he ponders, "WHy... there something more to life than survival?"
My point: I do respect your myopic view and too, how you poison the wellness comparing horror stories of abuse and adding a sprinkle of politics I only remember the gentle voice, the breath of Mama Russia sitting under the table and teaching me to stop eating off the floor, or exhanging surviaval for sex. I only remember a man named Henry Taylor Webb of South Sangamon, teaching me to sit at a table and not feelig bad about myself because no one really wants to play with an abused child. I don't really feel bad about what might have happened in a Trust Territory of the United States back when, but I do know this much: It's impossible to judge the wanton behavior of a village or of a perpetrator, yet I'm well aware that if it bleeds, it does lead. I think of such things and I'm cautioned to ask since when has America ever been a village? Since when has America been anything more than a selfish competition of social philosophies? Personally, I have no affection for the Zion Cult or Ausie Child molestor; I tend to be cautious about well meaning interventins, All such fruit fall from the same tree of the Adam and his Eve. I remember how on her death-bed, as I cared for the Sainted Paternal Grandmother who sold me into sexual bondage decided to say: "The only person you ever cared for was the N.... Mr. Webb." I was never so angry in all my born days, so I calmly sat. I did to say: "If Mr. Webb was a N...., he never made the mention. I think he would have told me of such a horror come to pass. Are you finshed with your breakfast?"
It's what the Henry would have said as he sat nest to me under the table and tought me how to spoon feed of my owned self. Henry played the upright so Grand. He taught me to play what was left over.
Maluhia oi.; Aloha Nui Kau kou (Peace to you and yours. Ya' all come back no, ya' hea.)"
Mo ichi nichi... (Someday I may tell you about the Jap,... Okinawan really, name of Tsutomo who was saved from Suicide Ridge in Okinawa, and became part of my Village.
Someday I hope (my) Hillary might actually come to understand, "it does take a village," as long as it's not organized into another feudal faction. "Kiyote skite yo. (Take care.)"
Tell the Hillary, I'm here in the pacific. My fingers are crossed. She sort of reminds me of a Haole (white woman,) name of Ms. Ivy. She talked a lot of crap, but I can still feel her hand on my shoulder. I forgave her for being white, American and "Voces e zonzo, Dona Ivy, mas amo-ti mais (You dizzy Ms. Ivy, but I love you very much.)" Someday I'll tell you about Downtown Molly Brown; she learned to speak the Portuguese to help me. She spoke very poor portuguese; when she wasn't being paid for. (Notice I didn't capitalize on her language but I did end the sentence with a prep-position.) That's the voice of the Molly laughing when she wasn't being Ivy from Connecticut.
A village Ms., is a group of hopelessly flawed humans trying to do their best without the noterieity or personal gain, save... I don't know... I don't guess.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Micheal J Breitha
Fri May 2, 2008 9:13 PM
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