Digging for Good

>A 73-year-old father in Austria imprisoned and held hostage his 18- year-old-daughter in the basement of his home for 24 years repeatedly raping her and fathering at least 7 children with her, many of whom were born in captivity and never saw the light of day until freed by authorities this week.
    Sometimes it’s harder than other times to find the positive message in a story.
    It really challenges the rational mind and the loving heart to make any sense of this barbarous and heinous act. I am certain lawyers and psychologists will plead insanity or incapacity or some “Twinkie-like” defense (I’m a former practicing lawyer) but the woman and mother in me can find no justification sufficient to relieve this man of the burden of responsibility for his choices. Twenty-four years is a long, long time. Both the extent and complexity of his ongoing scheme necessitated repeated intent and knowing, willful behavior. Whether Austrian law will dictate the death penalty or his remaining years imprisoned without parole, one or the other is the rightful outcome.
    But can we take anything away from this nightmare that can be of service to us? I think so.
    It’s a reminder about the value of human life and, particularly, the value of and dignity due the lives of women. In too many cultures, ours included, we still send messages both overtly and covertly that it’s OK to objectify women, to think of them as property. And while we’ve come a long way, we’ve a long way to go.
    Recently separated, I had my own two experiences of late. The first was at a restaurant/bar where, after accepting a dance with a man, he proceeded to “steer” me off the dance floor by repeatedly touching me…as if I could not get to where I was headed without his assistance. I don’t really think that was his intent. I think he was claiming some level of ownership in relation to the other men around. He was saying, “This is mine so I can touch it.” The second happened days later when I met my estranged husband in a public place to discuss the terms of our separation. As we were entering the Barnes and Noble book store, he slapped me on the rear end and said, “Well, you won’t be on waiver long.” And while he was, in his own mind, “complimenting” me for how I looked, he was also assuming he had the right to touch me without my consent.
    I can take care of myself and let both men know they were over the line. But here’s the point.
    When you live in a society that markets sex and objectifies women in the media while still turning a somewhat blind eye to sexual harassment in the workplace, there is the tacit sanctioning of devaluing an entire gender. Once this happens, it becomes a slippery slope.
    I’m not saying that the average man is capable of the despicable acts performed by this sick “father” in Austria. Nor am I absolving women of our responsibility of knowing when a line is crossed and the need to speak out arises.
    What I am saying, however, is that the bar needs to be set very high when it comes to honoring human dignity, regardless of gender, and the burden is on each of us to lend our strength to seeing that the bar never falters.

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