Wednesday, September 17, 2014

House of Horrors: Why Didn't We Know?

Like many others, I have been horrified yet obscenely fascinated with the recent local story of  the "house of horrors" in Blackstone, MA. I'm not sure which is worse: the fact that this woman -- who is clearly mentally ill -- was somehow able to conceal her mental illness from everyone including extended family, FOR YEARS, all the while concealing multiple  pregnancies(at least five) from said family and giving birth to babies AT HOME (how do you even do that!) and then killing or allowing the babies to die and leaving their corpses in the house; that her two older children (13 and 10) somehow managed to go to school and appear somewhat normal while all this was going on; that her husband was living in the basement and was somehow unaware of all that was going on upstairs; that she gave birth to two more babies, one three and one 5 months who she kept HIDDEN and apparently never took out of the house; there is also a hoarding thing going on with piles of dirty diapers and other trash piled up several feet high in the house, leading to mice, bugs, etc.; and finally there are remains of dead pets, dogs and cats. Every time I hear more it's kind of unbelievable.

How could no one have known? asks the Boston Globe's Yvonne Abraham. Apparently neighbors noticed that bad smells came from the house, but there were no other signs of anything amiss. Apparently the Department of Children and Families was called to the home a number of years ago, and while things were messy, they weren't deemed bad enough to justify removal of the children or other action. Apparently the mother wouldn't allow anyone to visit the house. Shouldn't this have been a clue? Shouldn't her family members, whom she saw quite frequently, have insisted on going into the house once in a while to see what was happening there?

The truth is, people can do a lot of things privately, in their own homes, and no one will know. We Americans value our privacy. We love it. We can do what we want to do in our homes, and as long as it isn't blatantly illegal, we can get away with it. Neighbors and passers-by tend to turn a blind eye, even if things seem a little off. That's how family violence (spousal, child) and worse, child sexual abuse, domestic slavery, etc. keeps happening. The three kidnapped women in Ohio were living in that house for 10 YEARS and no one knew.

I think part of the solution is that there needs to be a bit more accountability. Neighbors checking in on each other. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong in your community, with a family, following through on that feeling.The editorial in today's Globe discusses just this issue.

I keep thinking about the male partner in this. He claims he had no idea of what was going on in the house, including the birth of the most recent two babies. But clearly he was having sex with this woman, over and over again. Enough so that she became pregnant at least seven times. How could he have not known what was going on in that house? It sounds like he had some issues with marijuana. But would that allow him to ignore what was going on, for years?

The other thing I keep thinking of is the effect of all this on the kids who lived in that house. It sounds like the youngest two children are already terribly developmentally stunted. But how about the older two kids, who apparently went to school and were out in the world, seemingly normal?  It's beyond horrific to think what is going on in their minds. I've been trying to imagine what is going through the head of that 10 year old boy:

My mom has big brown eyes and a friendly smile, but something isn't quite right. Our house isn't like other houses that I've visited. Other houses smell like cookies, or bread, or perfume. Our house smells terrible, like poop. Part of the reason is that mom leaves dirty diapers out in the open, all piled up. She says she just got sick of washing them all the time. So she just quit.

She quit doing other things, too. She doesn't wash our clothes. She doesn't wash the dishes. She doesn't wash anything, really. So my sister and I have to go to school in the same dirty clothes every day.

I think it has to do with the babies. Things were pretty much okay until a few years ago, when the first baby came. Mom was worried that Dad would find out about the baby, so she kept the baby hidden, and stopped doing much of anything. Then a few years later, the second baby came along. She told us that she was just babysitting those two babies, but we knew the truth. Now Mom was really worried. How could she hide two babies?

I mostly try to stay out of the house. I play in the yard as much as I can, or I go over a friend's house, or I go to school. Our house smells bad, and mom just doesn't act right. She loves us, I know that for a fact, but she has been acting pretty weird lately. It finally got so bad, and the baby was crying so much,  that I asked my friend's mom for help to stop the baby from crying. That's when everything changed. The police came, and took all of us out of the house. Now we live at a different house. At least it doesn't smell. 

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