By Molah Media
Just over a week ago, news broke of the rescue of 13 siblings who had been held captive in a California home by their parents over a yet undisclosed number of years. The children ranged in age from 2 to 29 years old. It seems that on the day the news broke, one of the siblings, a 17-year-old girl, had escaped and alerted the police. They arrived at the squalid, foul-smelling and dark family home to find the other children emaciated and chained – some with padlocks – to beds and other heavy furniture. Apparently, the family dogs appeared healthy and well-fed though.
The emerging details of the Turpin family are deeply disturbing, yet there is probably a lot worse to come. But adding to the horror of the story were the statements given by the family’s neighbours and relatives.
So, here’s the scene. The suburb in which the family lived was middle-class with well-kept homes. The father was allegedly an engineer with a 6-figure salary. Neighbours were reported as saying that the families all ‘looked out for each other’. Yet one backyard neighbour shared that they were unaware of so many children living in the house. Another said that the older children ‘looked younger, because they looked so malnourished, so pale.’ Others said they rarely saw the children outside. The children were also reported to be home-schooled – yet so far, there is no word from the regulators of home schooling. The parents of the father have revealed that they were a deeply religious couple and as grandparents, were rarely allowed to visit; the sister of the mother said she hadn’t seen them in 19 years and disagreed with their parenting style.
This tragic story of course raises all sorts of inevitable questions. But the one question that hasn’t come up yet is why these neighbours and relatives who realised something wasn’t right, didn’t speak up or out to someone. It’s the question that’s never addressed whenever these horror stories come to light, because this is not unique to the residents of this sleepy suburb in California. What is it about the human condition today that has much to shout about on social media, on things that are largely inconsequential, yet fails to speak out about something more meaningful in real life?
There is no doubt a psychological explanation for this reaction, and that explanation would probably tell us that we are all guilty of the same behaviour to varying degrees, in varying situations and with varying consequences. For one, it’s very easy to lose objectivity when a bad situation is right in front of us, especially if it involves loved ones. Even if we recognise the seriousness of that situation, we are often powerless to act, or rather, feel powerless to act. We often worry more about the disruption we may cause, than the real consequences if we don’t disrupt things.
Despite us now knowing that all sorts can go on behind closed doors, the human psyche still struggles to reconcile our socially conditioned expectations of how certain people should ‘behave’ with how they actually behave. In this case, how could a quiet, middle-class family with seemingly devoted parents, who sacrificed all to take their 13 children on holidays, and who had 4 cars in their drive, partake in any kind of bad behaviour?
That just can’t happen!
Of course, we don’t hear of the stories where neighbours and relatives act on their suspicions, their sixth sense, and call out potentially devastating situations. Maybe we do need to hear more of them though. Maybe these stories will remind us about what it really means to look out for each other, that this is what makes for safe communities for our children. These stories might remind us that it is ok to step in appropriately when something just isn’t ‘right’. And that stepping in doesn’t mean you are nosey or a busy body, but rather a person living by the code of a community spirit. Maybe hearing more of these stories will reset the human condition to the default position where we are not only just our brother’s, but also our neighbour’s keeper.