On air: Do you live in a look-away society?

It’s been the most read story in the world for the past two days, and the case of the Austrian man who kept his daughter in a cellar for 24 years, and fathered 7 children with her continues to demand our attention. On bbcnews.com alone, 2.5 million people read the story yesterday. And these are the questions that it’s raising.
Do you know your neighbours? Do you know what they’re doing from day-to-day? Do you want to know? Or to put it more strongly, is it necessary for us to know a certain amount about the people around us? If you saw something unusual, would you make it your business?

Does your society frown on or encourage you to take an interest in your neighbours? Is keeping yourself to yourself the way things are done? And if it is, is that the way you like it to be?

160 Responses to “On air: Do you live in a look-away society?”

  1. 1 steve
    April 29, 2008 at 13:32

    If you run a sexual predator search where you live, you’ll find that some of your neighbors are pedophiles.

    However I do think in this day and age, and I still don’t think we should be going into our neighbor’s homes just to see if we should be suspicious, people are completely self absorbed and simply don’t care about anything other than themselves. They put on an iPod, and walk down the street, shutting off the rest of the world. They don’t care about anything but themselves. Last week at work in DC, I was walking down the street, and some woman or child somehwhere was screaming her head off, I never saw the person, but it was a horrible scream, and went on for minutes, and nobody even noticed, or tried to look, it was busy out too, and I was the only one looking for the source of the noise, which I never found.

    Then again, this isn’t new, anyone ever heard of Kitty Genovese?

  2. 2 Sandra Patricia, Colombia
    April 29, 2008 at 13:43

    😛 Hello everyone!

    Society has changed that much that now we don’t care who our neighbours are but just that they don’t bother us. Today every person is on his own, and that’s why we don’t know even what the members of our family are doing, and much less our neighbours. This situation is particurlaly true in big cities, where no one knows each other. That’s a shame!

    Cheers! 🙂

  3. 3 Brett
    April 29, 2008 at 13:48

    I certainly care about what my neighbors do, especially if it affects me or the community. But within reason, everyone is entitled to privacy. I don’t snoop, or prod into their business nor do I expect them to do so into mine. I only know the neighbors on either side of me and only talk on a regular basis with one sides kids who love to play with one of my dogs through the fence.

    American society has made the ‘snooping neighbor’ into a sort of old man or woman in part of a homeowners association with nothing better to do than make life hell for other neighbors. That does have some relavence though. With HOA’s it seems monitoring neighbors activities are more common than in neighborhoods without HOA’s.

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  4. 4 Shayhar
    April 29, 2008 at 14:00

    I live in Singapore, where a majority of the population live in blocks of flats. The nature of the buildings themselves allow only limited interaction between neighbours. I must admit I don’t know any more about my own neighbours than the occassional ‘hello’. Very much unlike past tight-knit communities, but that’s just how reclusive today’s society has become. What happened in Austria was a horrific tragedy and I hope the nation will come to terms with the incident.


  5. 5 Julie P
    April 29, 2008 at 14:32

    I like to get to know my neighbors, but, sadly, that is not the way things really are. As a young adult I can remember going to a popular night club in Milwaukee. Later I learned that on the other side of the block a serial killer and cannibal was active at this time. I no longer remember how man young men he murdered and ate, but it was a lot and it gave me the creeps to learn I walked right passed where this grizzliness happened.

  6. April 29, 2008 at 14:56

    In my experience of living in Africa, Europe and the US I have noticed that communities treat each other differently. In Africa communities are very open and everyone more or less knows whats going on in other people’s houses. In Europe and America it seems that there is a fear factor involved in allowing other people to get close to ones family. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is a very African way of managing the stresses of family life and people are generally very open about their feelings. That doesn’t seem to be the case in some parts of the US and Europe.

  7. 7 Muthee Mwangi
    April 29, 2008 at 14:57

    Hello everyone,
    The world is changing fast and if you peep at your neighbour out of genuine concern, it is interpreted as being nosy and not minding your own business.
    In the African traditional setup, the society could be described as I AM BECAUSE WE ARE. This still rings true in many parts that are considered rural or undeveloped. Everyone knows their neighbour and anything amiss is the talk of the village within hours.
    But in the urban setting where the ‘civilised’ live, people just mind their own business and we don’t even know what our relatives are up to leave alone the neighbours.
    The situation is so sad and i think it is very hard to do anything about it.

    And by the way, is it possible that the victim in Austria could do absolutely nothing to attempt an escape or at least raise an alarm?

  8. 8 Ana
    April 29, 2008 at 15:00

    I have lived in 4 countries and I have to say that in the only one that I could recognize a “look away”society was in Germany, the one country with the strictest Samaritan laws. In each case though, different forms of violence or emergency had different levels of involvement by passers bye.

    If we talk about car accidents, I have to say that Germans excel.
    If we speak of violence on the streets, Germany is the worst. I have experienced people been beaten up and nobody wasting a second to at least call the police. People are petrified and being run over by pubescent thugs. Really embarrassing. Although I understand the dangers of interfering when young thugs are raging, a call to the cops could do wonders. (and better response times too)

    If we speak domestic violence, South America ranked pretty low on the involvement level, although there is more being done to create awareness. I have seen a lot more people defending lower social classes from abuse by the cops than decades past.

    Overall New Yorkers fare the best. Every time violence is perpetuated I have seen people jump into action. In emergencies, New Yorkers rank pretty high, pulling together and helping each other out. I have seen people defend kids, women, men, in various kinds of situations, violent and not violent. Also, until now, it is the only place that when asked for directions, you get a correct answer and sometimes even a smile. I love NY.

  9. April 29, 2008 at 15:01

    Having lived in UK for 58 years then immigrating to the USA I see a vast difference. I think that part of it is the lifestyle dictated by the circumstances. Most people in the UK live on a par with themselves and remain on that footing for most of their lives. Certain things are unattainable and they don’t seek them. They seek a house, be it rented or owned and a car that works. Sometimes their job relies on a working car and sometimes it doesn’t. In all the communities I lived in for the last 50 years I knew my neighbors well. I knew many of them by their first names. Many were my customers as the local driving instructor. There was not much that people did not know about each other as we lived cheek to jowl. We all at times relied on medical help or welfare if you like to call it that for one reason or another. When we fell on hard times we hardly ever were affected regarding our homes. Even people renting had security to obtain help if they needed it. We lived much closer to each other than people do in the USA. Even the poor here have more space and real estate than most Brits have. People in the USA are much more affected by the rise and fall of finances. They are much more likely to be transient. Even the very well off will suffer bad times and have to start all over again sometimes. They might go from mansion to trailer park. People are much more on a treadmill here and much more likely to lose their jobs. As well as not having job security they also do not have health security or home security. They seem to accept more readily employer control and brutality. They also accept along those same lines landlord control and brutality. So it transpires also that they equally accept police control and brutality. It is another subject, but they do not fret over someone else ‘getting bashed’ by any of those former. At the moment there are many people in foreclosure and the renegade mentality that you quite often experience here leads to smiles and the wealthier cash in and make a killing. Neighbors seem to be in competition more here and it seems like there is some conspiracy somewhere that encourages that. As the President of my homeowners association in Jax FL, I was amazed when one homeowner reported me to the city over a fountain I had secured to beautify my sub division. Anne Frank would not have wanted these kinds of neighbors I assure you. My next door neighbor is convinced that someone doctored his conifer and was so angry over it to me. They talk to no one but their own. He is Albanian and a refugee. A while back in one part of town a retired naval officer shot his neighbor several times over something she did to his plants. He reloaded and shot her several times more. In Paston, Peterborough I knew the first names of 90% of the 28 housholds in my street. Here I run a Website for them and over three years know about 10% of the dwellers despite newsletters and walkabouts to improve things. I think that in the UK the war equalized many and they are less competitive and more community spirited. They work together more. Here the way to get on is oft times to step over or brush aside your neighbor in the race for more and more. Many seem to view their neighbor with suspicion. A policeman with a huge truck and a huge boat and a powerful jet ski is not the norm for Britain. I think that would be more scrutinized anyway in the UK. Go figure as they say here? ‘Get over it’ is what I hear mostly?

  10. 10 Abdi ,Mandera Kenya
    April 29, 2008 at 15:17

    In our SOMALI Speaking culture,we interect socially with our neoughbours hence we now very well a bout each other.This strory is really shocking for any Muslim person to imagine that this could ever happened.In our culture a father should teach his daughters good manners,advice his daughters on whom to marry etc,our daughter do not even share the same room with their own brothers and fathers once they rich 12 years and a bove.
    The world has changed a lot and nothing has been left unheard off.In our town here in Mandera-A daughter can not even walk on the street weither he is her brother,uncle or father.

  11. 11 Nick in USA
    April 29, 2008 at 15:19

    I make it a point not to bother neighbors because those are the people you need to see everyday. At the same time, I wish there were a neighborhood watch program in my area, so I didn’t have to worry about leaving my wife at home alone.

    I do have some interesting anecdotal evidence of the USA being a look away society. In 1998 I had just graduated from high school, and I took a trip to UIC in Chicago with a friend. We were on campus having lunch outside where a group of 50 or so people were gathered, when an obviously strung out crack head came whipping around the corner of the big brick building we were sitting next to. He was carrying a nice new red computer bag (which stuck out like a sore thumb against his dirty 1980’s parachute pants and white tank top). About 30 feet behind him was a college student trying to chase him down in sandals and yelling “call campus police” over and over. Well, the reaction of the crowd was something I never would have expected. Everyone just looked up, as if disturbed while reading a book, and then went back to whatever they were doing. Nobody even went to the payphone to call the police. My friend was one of the priveledge few that had one of those Nokias that were so cool at the time, so he called the campus police.

    This situation actually impacted me pretty deeply. What if it had been me. What if something worse than my computer bag had been stolen. What if the crack head were a kidnapper and I was chasing after my baby. Would the people have reacted the same way?

    This type of thing happens everyday though. People don’t want to recognize the problems because it means we need to deal with them. I’m guilty of this too. I see the the 40 year old addicts in the park riding those little pink 14″ bicycles. The kind with the basket and streamers. I know they didn’t go into the bike store and say “give me the strawberry shortcake bike”. Instead, they went into a person’s yard, picked it up, and rode it off. Some little girl is now without her new bike because this guy needed a quicker method to get from the library to his dealer, but what am I going to do about it?

  12. 12 Arnaud Ntirenganya Emmanuel
    April 29, 2008 at 15:25

    It is not surprising to hear such a story in Europe…people there don’t care for their neighbors…what we see here in Africa as good lifestyle to imitate…because Africans for instance over mind people’s business…also what makes life difficult and miserable…an African would mind what you ate last night, when you came back home, who entered your house etc. what kind of life? I don’t need to mind my neighbors’ life and I don’t need them to mind my own

  13. 13 Kalypso
    April 29, 2008 at 15:29

    Yes, i think its true that in the West people are not so social. I can say from my own experience: I’m blind and when I’m on the street, for example, people are not so willing to help, they rather mind their own business and don’t look around much. this goes for the West in general, I believe. its not specific to Austria at all.
    I think in this extremely tragic case the man simply arranged everything so “perfectly” that the neighbours couldnt suspect aanything. I mean, its really unthinkable. how could any one think (even if they know this father is brutal and all) that he is holding his daughter captive in the cellar and she’s giving birth to 7 children there and all? I also really dont blame the authorities – how could they have known? this is just to unthinkable!
    but I think the mother of the daughter (who’s now 68)is to blame. I believe she must have known, but looked away for all these years. the daughter was first abused when she was 11, so by that time the mother must have known, but she just kept looking away and believed the stories her husband told her about where they daughter was and all. I believe it must be like this, I don’t have any other explaination. she must have known. but surely it is possible that she ignored it in such a way, that she actually really believed she didn’t know, although she must have suspected things all these years.
    we are all so shocked by this case! yesterday we were also discussing how this could have happened. it’s just so horrible!
    let us now pray for this poor woman and her children.
    Kalypso – Vienna, Austria

  14. 14 John in Salem
    April 29, 2008 at 15:52

    I give my neighbors the privacy that I want from them but if I see or hear anything unusual, as you suggest, I DO make it a point to pay attention. I would rather live with being called a snoop than with the knowledge that I could have prevented something and didn’t.

  15. 15 Rudolph in Antigua
    April 29, 2008 at 15:53

    from what i have seen we are living in a look away society. society today has lost that concern for each other that was there befor where by it was the village that took up the responsibily to looking out for eachother. today you cant correct a youngster on the streets because they will then start speaking a language that was not allowed for a child. and then the parents will join them too so people just keep to them selves. but wen something like what happend in austria comes to light everyone takes note n condems it n wonder how come could it have happend in our so call “modern society”.

  16. 16 Ros Atkins
    April 29, 2008 at 15:56

    I’m lucky enough to live among good and friendly neighbours. But the points that have puzzled me about the Austrian story are 1) how did he build and soundproof the room without anyone noticing the mess and noise? 2) did his wife not ask where her daughter had gone to? and 3) that of those children his wife brought up; did she not ask where they had come from?

    Best wishes

  17. 17 Nana Yeboah(Ghana)
    April 29, 2008 at 15:58

    Living in an African community like i am in Accra,you in one way or the other will need if nothing at all the service of your neighbour.Our society is such that every on tends to’ care for another.’…Urbanization has tried relentlessly to distant us from each other but even with that we get to know about the condition of life of most of our neighbours…i’ll will be very much interested in knowing each and every one in my vicinity…who knows?i might be in dire need of help one day

  18. April 29, 2008 at 16:06

    In my neighborhood there are neighbors I see on a daily basis and there are some neighbors I don’t see. I’m fairly positive there are things going on in some of these homes that are beyond my scope of vision. But, if I see anything out of the ordinary, I call 911 immediately. It is something I have no problem doing. As for the Austrian case, I think the wife knows more than she says. How can anyone live in a house with seven kids (seven curious kids) and not know what’s going on in the basement.
    “mommy what’s daddy doing in the basement?”
    “I don’t know just leave him alone.”
    The next topic for this show should address the question of why women in certain countries or sects allow men to treat them like slaves.

  19. 19 steve
    April 29, 2008 at 16:10

    @ Nick, what you saw in chicago was just the self absorbedness of people, these days, even though that was 10 years ago. When I was at the University of Michigan for school, some idiot driving a Ford Aspire (the replacement of the Fiesta) didn’t look as I was crossing crossing a 4 way crosswalk, with stop signs, I had the right of way, the Ford rolled through the stop sign as I was walked, scooped me up, I rolled along the hood, up the windshield, and onto the roof, and then rolled off the side and onto the ground. It was very slow, I wasn’t really hurt at all, but the person not only didn’t stop, they drove on, put on a left turn signal, and slowly made a left turn. I honestly thing the person didn’t even realize they hit someone they were so clueless. That’s not the worst part of the story (and I think I caused more damage to that car than it did to me), not only did people not offer me any help, or to call an ambulance as I lay bleeding on the road, someone actually came up to me and started laughing and pointed at me..

    I think society is just full of sick, totally self absorbed people, and it’s only going to get worse.

  20. 20 Nicola Mair
    April 29, 2008 at 16:10

    Words cannot describe my anger,horror, frustration – most of all my pain in reading about Elizabeth Fritzl her captivity, abuse sexually, psychologically, morally, inflicted by her own father upon her for almost quarter of a century. Most disturbing is the fact that not a single person in the small community of Amstetten was aware of this gruesome crime. How does this woman go forward & reconstruct a life worth living and what of the 6 remaining children, the soul of the incerated infant – how can they ever live a life without this nightmare playing over and over like a stuck movie..?
    Communities today seem to be concerned only with their own needs and have no understanding of what the word ‘community’ truly means hence live in cocoons of denial. We must all be mothers & fathers of humanity offering a protective hand and heart to those who need it..The tears are streaming down my face as I write this and my heart pains at the fact that I am too far away to have stretched out my hands to Elisabeth and save her..I ask the world to open your eyes and see all that is happening around you and right all the wrongs..Nicola, Jamaica

  21. April 29, 2008 at 16:14

    thus very unfare the wife had to notice the cruety or the husband is bad, that the lady and family fears him like a lion. i dont get much supriessed thus african culture anyway women fear men not respect but coz of violence.

  22. 22 selena
    April 29, 2008 at 16:16

    Kitty Genovese is always held up (in university courses) as an example of people not caring. But things happen every day that points to the fact that people simply do not meddle in the affairs of others, especially if it is a man controlling *his* woman and children.

    And then there are the wars. How much do we really care, when it come right down to it? Was there ever a caring society in the history of the human race?

    We have been taught to care more about identifying with groups, rather than with individual humans, as I see it.

  23. 23 Nick in USA
    April 29, 2008 at 16:29

    I was thinking about something related to this last weekend. My neighbor likes to play super loud graphic rap music and the lyrics of one song were about not ratting people out and how a narc is the most pathetic person in the world. Obviously, I can’t quote it here. Rap music is not the only guilty party in this sentiment though. Italian mafia movies have always made the witness who testifies a pathetic low life who only thinks about himself.

    Why do we believe this? Why do we glorify the people who are hurting their own communities (i.e. pimps and drug dealers) and condemn the people who tried to do the right thing. I’m sure that a lot of these whistleblowers got themselves into a situation because they were greedy, but then went to the police when they realized that what they were a part of was wrong.

  24. 24 umoh, amos (from NIgeria)
    April 29, 2008 at 16:49

    I am yet to recover from the after shock of the Austrian story. It has been a major source of discourse in my work place for the last couple of hours. We are at a fix as trying to figure out EXACTLY how the scene played out itself over 24years.

    a) Could a so-called wife live with a husband for that length of time without knowing EVERY nook and cranny of their house?
    b) Could she be so casual as not to, at least follow her husband (un)consciously to every part of the house? What of in his absence??
    c) How sealed was that underground room that there was no way for any amount of natural air (there must have been on air condition, etc) that even the cry of any of the seven children ( e.g. in the dead of the night) could not be heard?
    d) Who helped when the daughter was giving birth? Or did she go through labour and deliver (with all the complicates therein) ALL alone.
    e) Was there a spell of a sort at work.

    There are so many things that we are yet to know concerning this case.

    I live in a part of Nigeria, where I don’t even know the names of all my neigbours. The fences are all HIGH with mighty gates (that only open up when a car is being driven out or in). I must confess that I only see my neighbours on the street and I don’t know much of anything personal of them.

    My child only happens to go to the same school with one of them and occasionally bump into him when going to pick my child from school. THIS KIND OF LIFE, I SUBMIT (based on recent events) is not ideal. We life in a world where we need (or will someday need one another).

  25. April 29, 2008 at 16:56

    The terrible life this woman lived was all because of the awful father she was born to. I am sure than many more incidents go uncovered and unpunished. He must have known his time was up but at least he did not dispose of all the evidence as might have happened here in the USA. He finally had the compassion to allow the sick child to get attention. He was very clever in digging out under the garage and away from the main part of the house. He must have spent every waking moment in enlarging and containing the dungeon. They did at least have light and sanitation and appliances. The way it was set up it could quite easily have been something the mother was unaware of. Then again there are many ‘compliance’ relationships around the world. It was awful for that woman down there but then again it has been awful for the cult women in America. We are still a society with deep dark capabilities. I believe that there was cannibalism in some remote islands even 60 years ago. We are held to keeping up appearances on a day to day basis. What would we become though after a world shattering holocaust of nuclear proportions? What indeed would we stoop to if stranded and competitive and living on our merits on a remote desert island for a year or two?

  26. 26 steve
    April 29, 2008 at 16:58

    @ umoh

    People are evil, people are selfish. LEt’s not forget that Hitler had a woman, he even married her. In fact, german women described hitler as one of the most diserable men becaues he was so powerful, completely ignoring what a monster he was, and how he led to the destruction of Germany as well of millions of lives..

    The wife probably just saw her husband as a powerful man, and was in love with that, to the level of being delusional.

    Youd be shocked how common mental illness is in society today. People are actually quite frightening if you find out who they really are.

  27. 27 Rachel in California USA
    April 29, 2008 at 17:06

    Hello everyone!

    It’s really wonderful to get a small taste of what neighborhood life is like around the globe.

    I live in a small in-law apartment in a rather well-off neighborhood near a public school. I choose to walk rather than drive most of the time, so I see a lot of what’s happening in the neighborhood. I know many of the neighbors to say hello to, but I know few names. In front of the house is a pedestrian pathway, where many people run and walk, and kids sometimes sit drinking beer and making graffiti. There are two vacant houses (California’s tax policy makes this advantageous).

    A few interactions: Many of the pedestrians become familiar over the years, and we smile and nod. I rescued the neighbor’s cat that climbed up onto my roof. I stop to admire the school children’s garden, and chat with the gardening teacher. I called the fire department when I saw big smoke coming out of the chimney in a vacant house. A neighbor complained that I always parked in front of her house and don’t move my car for days on end. A neighbor’s gardener warned me of teenaged kids walking by, talking about how to break in to my house.

    Definitely not a close-knit neighborhood, but not completely anonymous either. Do I know the neighbor’s daily patterns? Only a few. Would I know if a neighbor was locked into a basement, or if a child vanished from a family? Maybe, maybe not, some I would notice, others I barely recognize. Would I take action if I suspected something badly wrong? Yes. Do I feel the neighbors are looking out for me, or monitoring me? Not really, except for the parking.

    We have a lot of homeless people begging in our streets. I give money to the first person in a day who asks me, but I think most people have trained themselves to turn away from needy faces and voices, and this carries over into treating even neighbors as strangers.

    I hope the neighbors will all pull together after the big earthquake we’re expecting, but am not sure how that will work out.

  28. 28 Omunyaruguru
    April 29, 2008 at 17:23

    I believe we do not yet have the full Austrian story. Traditionaly the African society is communalistic. With western influence, socioeconomic changes, new pressures and globalisation, we have no choice but to steadily move into the more individualistic mode. The children no longer belong to the community but to the individual. We no longer look out for the good of each other. whereas when I grew up in Kampala in the early 70s I knew all my neighbours, now I only know one where I live in a small town of 10,000 people. Things have changed.

  29. 29 Janet T
    April 29, 2008 at 17:32

    I’d have to say that we are somewhere in the middle- we spend a lot of time in our front garden and we are on our front porch every evening (wine time!). A lot of people in the town feel they know us, because they see us so often- we are now on a waving basis with otherwise complete strangers that drive by every evening going into their other neighborhoods- (we live on a main street). Having lived out in the country for many years, I really prefer being back with neighbors. I know my next door neighbor and kitty-corner neighbor fairly well- and chat and wave with the across the street neighbor, and know several other people on other adjacent blocks- I think like most people there is just a lot going on in our lives to pay too much attention to all the details of our neighbors- I would notice if they were gone/vacationing and would respond if I thought something was wrong at their house. I don’t think it is being nosy as much as being concerned.
    A few months ago we found under the bridge next to us a lot of opened mail- rather than ignore it we went down and collected all of it and took it to the neighbor it belonged to, explaining what happened. I am a believer in a combination of karma and treating others as you wish to be treated- so be a good neighbor and you’ll (hopefully)have good neighbors.

  30. 30 Ahmad Hammad
    April 29, 2008 at 17:39

    We are certainly concerned with what’s going on around us. And we should feel the responsibility to contribute to the betterment of our society by keeping an honest and critical eye on our neighbours just without peeping into their compounds/rooms/compartments…

    Since man is a social animal, he can’t live isolatedly. It’s natural for a common man to have information of the activities in his whereabouts. However, after the boom in the urbanization, it has become seriously difficult for us to be aware of the others’ activities around.

    For example, in 1999, a serial-killer named Javed Iqbal strangled 100 children to death and yet remained successful in living in a populous street in Lahore. None knew until he himself confessed to a Newspaper. And then he suspiciously committed suicide in a jail where he was waiting to be executed.

    He used to dissolve the deceased bodies in nitric acid and then pour the fluid to the drains. Isn’t it horrible, even unbelievable for an eastern society in which people live relatively in more intimacy as compared to seemingly the indifferent-to-neighbours western societies…?

    From the horrible acts of Javed and Josef Fritzl, we must learn to keep ourselves updated about our whereabouts, be busy to whatever extent….

  31. 31 Lee Roy Sanders, Jr.
    April 29, 2008 at 17:43

    Do you live in a look-away society? Most people and even countries governments will look away. A media might allow someone like me to print something happening but never follow suite. Maybe there are crimes that can not be stopped. That doesn’t make them go away, it only escalates them. By not attending to stopping a heinous crime programming comes into play. Such crimes are so horrible it is absolute numbing to the conscious mind and it becomes ignored and unbelieved. This continues sweeping under the rug the lives and sufferings of hundreds and then it is carried onto millions and may engulf all of civilizations society.

  32. 32 Omunyaruguru
    April 29, 2008 at 17:44

    Selena, you ask if there ever was a caring society in the history of the human race. I say, MAN is a social animal becuase socialisation was an advantage in keeping the species alive. We look for/identify with other people as long as it meets a need. with todays western style societies, the state/ insuarance/ pension and many other bodies are there to cater for us. We no longer feel as dependent on one another as we used to. As a result we leave each one to his own life and there the elements that form man are laid bare – MAN IS A VERY SELFISH ANIMAL!!!

  33. 33 Scott Millar
    April 29, 2008 at 17:44

    + There is definitely a certain charm in romanticizing the idea of knowing your neighbors and fostering a sense of local community. At the same time this can be quite superficial and traditional. You don’t choose your neighbors and often they are people you have nothing in common with, so to pretend otherwise is indeed a waste of time.

    + At this point in history many areas are more integrated; ethnic and religious neighborhoods are on the decline. And modern transportation, with many having cars, means you are less likely to even bump into a neighbor. In countries like the USA, a lot of this look-away-ness is simply a part of modern global life, not necessarily a decided disinterest.

    – Portland, Oregon

  34. 34 Tracy by email
    April 29, 2008 at 17:45

    Society choses to look the other way. It is easier and more comfortable to look the other way. No confrontation or need to justify what you think or why you where looking. You don’t have to worry about the repercussions of being wrong. Or negative repercussions of someone being angry or not liking you. The world needs to read two books both by Gavin De Becker. The
    Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift. Suspicion is the product of our concious picking up clues too subtle to be fully formed observations. Listen… Please someones life may depend on it, maybe your own.

    Portland OR

  35. 35 Kwabena by email
    April 29, 2008 at 17:47

    The reason this appalling act could happen in a developed country is what i call the “each one for himself lifestyle”. people are concerned about themselves and care less about anyone else. Such an act could be impossible in a typical african society and most muslim societies.
    Didn’t the then 18 year old have friend, teacher and neighbours who realised her sudden removal from society? What did the mother do for the past 24 years to know her daughters whereabout? No one wil’ get away with this for long in my society in Ghana

  36. 36 Lee by email
    April 29, 2008 at 17:48

    Good question that. I live in an area where the quality of people has declined since I was young. For instance the new yuppies have moved in around us with their nice new cars and little kiddies harrassing all and basically done what they wanted who look down on the rest of us. Yet I notice them, blatantly breaking the law doing as they please, yet if I were to say something I am sure I would be made to feel more of an outcast and I probably wouldn’t be believed, or worse still an accusation made against me for something as this is the way now. But I think for right minded people who are decent and honest, if you dont put out a perception (utterly false) image of being “right” whatever that means, you will be viewed not only with skepticism, but with suspicion. On my earlier example, if I told one lot of neighbours those wonderful people they have round as good friends all the time, but who look down on me and my family, if I told them they entrusted the safety of their children to regular and constant drug users… what would their reaction be, no doubt call the police on me for some reason. I can see that one day something will go wrong, I have noted their dogs almost attacking others etc etc, but talk to them.. tell the authorities and you are viewed as a nutter, a busy body or worse. So these days.. why bother. Just let them microwave the neighbours kids when babysitting, or the dogs bite some innocent’s face off. Is less of a problem for me, I can always tell the police when they come around… I told you so but you werent interested.



  37. 37 Arnaud by email
    April 29, 2008 at 17:49

    It is not surprising to hear such a story in Europe…people there don’t care for their neighbors…what we see here in Africa as good lifestyle to imitate…because Africans for instance over mind people’s business…also what makes life difficult and miserable…an African would mind what you ate last night, when you came back home, who entered your house etc. what kind of life? I don’t need to mind my neighbors’
    life and I don’t need them to mind my own


  38. 38 Chawezi by email
    April 29, 2008 at 17:52

    I have lived in many different locations in Malawi and Zambia, and have lived amidst many different people in the neighbourhoods. And I have not much bothered to keep checks and balances among the people, we have neighboured.

    In this modern age life has changed and people do what matters most to themselves and they don’t care what other people are doing next door.

    Very few people have reported cases to the authorities if they suspect someone in the neighbourehood but the majority of the people do seem to take their own destiny.

    How can you know that your neighbour is a good man or not if people don’t even greet each other or their kindergatten children do not even play bingo together at school? This society is slowly loosing the “NEIGHBOUR PRINCIPLE.”

    Fences among houses has also been a contributing factor. You cannot know what kind of activities happen at your neighbour’s house at night. People live under key-and-lock life.

    The African society is not very different from one society to the other, and much more, we are a lot gossipers and therefore, if at a certain point or level of the other society has done something fishy, gossip-mongers have a space to breadth and the other neighbourhood will be in know as well. So our African society is not a look-away society when it comes to adultery issues, theft and other mischief issues.

    Chawezi PHIRI

  39. 39 Jon by email
    April 29, 2008 at 17:53

    If you look at society as a whole, the world is a look away society. Look to Rwanda, Cambodia, Somalia, Darfur, Burma, etc. The world looked away. But then, when other nations, most frequently the U.S., get involved, they are criticized for meddling. As a whole, we are willing to look away.

    On an individual scale, look at how many crimes are committed with witnesses. Nobody says or does anything. They say if you are being raped, yell fire. If you yell rape, nobody will help because they aren’t willing to endanger themselves. I was jumped by 3 guys when I was a teenager. It was on a major road, numerous cars drove by while I was being attacked. Did anyone even call the police? Of course not. I ended up with a broken nose and chipped tooth. It could have been worse. I had to go to 2 places to get someone to call the police. The first establishment wouldn’t even let me use their bathroom to wash off the blood. I went to another establishment that did help and did call the police.

    I, as a rule, always offer myself if I am a witness to something. It is my moral and civic duty. It is not necessary to try to take a beating to help someone, calling the police is sometimes the best option.

    I am fortunate these to have neighbors that I think would call the police if they saw something out of place. One neighbor used to report anything my wife or her sister did in my absence that he did not think I would approve of (No, no strange men visiting, just things like the dogs getting out). That is a little excessive, but I prefer that over someone that would watch someone load my belongings into a truck.


  40. 40 Diepiriye by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:15

    I live in New Delhi and feel like we know way to little about one another. People stare at foreigners in public, but the staring is really directed at anyone different, and there seems a great social distance between people. No surprise that people constantly complain of how different this aspect is in urban vs rural life here, and knowing neighbors is just an extension of this social distance.
    India’s saving grace is that there are just so many people, and each household has numerous people who are somewhat interdependent so something like this 20 year kidnapping in Austria could never happen
    here- but again that’s only on account of each household being so busy, not that so-called strangers look out for one another.
    Interestingly, that’s my biggest fear in living so far from one’s own country.

    -Diepiriye (dee-ep-pre-yeay),
    A Black-American in India

  41. April 29, 2008 at 18:15

    Throughout all of history it hasn’t been uncommon for kings and leaders to take hundreds of concubine wives and many ended up continuing to take concubines from the children. But the responsible leaders it seems would have had those children killed. Anyone in societies for all time who deliberately sought out to reproduce counter to evolution with their children would have been found out and killed and that is what should happen here. The only difference now is the lack of transparency in society, in previous centuries this couldn’t have happened. So therefore yes we don’t look at the obvious around us by majority.

  42. 42 Justin by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:16

    Even though I really don’t care about what my neighbors are doing, most times some suspicious behaviors may trigger suspicion. It is sad this went on and no one saw it. This is sick and I hope it doesn’t happen again.
    Justin, Seattle, WA.

  43. 43 Andrew by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:16

    On the other hand, do you want malicious neighbours with nothing better to do justifying spying on you or interfering in your privacy with an excuse of public interest?

    Besides which, if you are constantly watching others and reporting goings on to authorities, here in Australia you will inevitably be labelled a crank or get a bad reputation despite wanting to do the right thing. More often than not, authorities simply aren’t interested with reports from the public.


  44. 44 Ari by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:18

    I would like if this discussion was followed by a talk of personal privacy. I would guess that everyone who cry so loudly about knowing whats happing in thier neighbors homes would rally just as heavily about how what happens in their homes is for them to know.

    Ari Grey

  45. 45 Angela from Washington D.C.
    April 29, 2008 at 18:19

    I live outside D.C. and I try to mind my own business. My neighbor yells and screams at her kids everyday I don’t say anything and it keeps me up sometimes at night. I don’t know or care what my neighbors do. If something bad occurred or if I heard screams I would call the police, but otherwise I mind my own business. I won’t even complain about my neighbor because I don’t want her to say anything to me.

  46. 46 selena
    April 29, 2008 at 18:20

    Omunyaruguru, you are right, we are not so dependent on each other. The society we have created for ourselves permits a lonely existence.

    Is this why we are always looking for something to verify our existence?

    I know my neighbors but I do not have any idea what they do. My husband and I are quite happy and do not seek company unless there is a social reason.

    That illustrates your point, methinks. There is not so much need for social engagement.

  47. 47 Eric by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:24

    I live in the mountains of Colorado and we find it very important to know and look out for our neighbors.

    I lived in LoS Angeles for a while where houses are within an arm’s reach of each other. I introduced two of my neighbors who had never met before and lived next to each other for over 20 years!!

    I find it strange that people in Cities often don’t take the time to connect to those who live right around them.

    Kind of Sad.

    I respect people’s privacy and hope that others do as well but you should always be paying attention to what’s happening around you.



  48. 48 Paula by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:24

    I walk my dogs through my neighborhood twice day. i know many of my neighbors on a casual (hello how are you?) basis. However I also keep an eye on every ones property, I will place a pile of newspapers over a fence if it looks like no one is home, I know who the elderly people are and keep an eye out to keep them safe. If a gate is left open wide and there is no one around i will close the gate. There are quite few homeless in our town and it happens that they might wander into a yard, to go through the garbage etc. I will definitely call the police if i hear a child being beaten by a parent or a neighbor being beaten by a spouse or intruder, and have done so both in NYC and San Francisco. I believe that the world is one big community and I treat it as such, I don’t care if others think I’m minding their business.when it comes to their or any ones safety. This is my world, my community. I do all this without being rude or putting others out. My neighbors know i do will close their gate or put their mail inside their gate etc, because Ive told them i do and they are glad I am paying attention to their safety.

  49. 49 Omunyaruguru
    April 29, 2008 at 18:24

    Ros, Am listening in Uganda. If you feel there is something not right about what your neighbour is doing but you are afraid to offend them, then tell the police what you think.

  50. 50 Charlotte by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:25

    I certainly notice my neighbours and their habits, and we greet each other and talk and help each other sometimes. but if i would notice something ‘unusual’ i wouldn’t imagine dark and dangerous things to be going on, and i think it would be impossible to live with that kind of imagination. it would create too much fear.


  51. 51 Steve by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:26

    I grew up in Rockville, Maryland, and lived with my parents from birth until 18 years of age. We had the same neighbors the entire time, and did not speak ONCE during those 18 years. I remember used to trying to say hello and they would just ignore. I asked my parents recently if that was still them next door, and it still is and they still have never spoken. Oh another thing, in the late 1970s, the police raided their house to arrest their son, who was apparently involved in drugs. I also don’t care that I don’t know anything about them or never have spoken with them. They aren’t friendly. Other neighbors are friendlier, though you don’t really get to know these people well, especially since I don’t live there, but they come over whenever I visit my parents.

    Austria sounds a lot like the mid atlantic of the US. People just aren’t very friendly, hence you’re not going to know them that well, and it sucks that crimes like this will happen and continue as a result, buthonestly, we have no duty to act. Would reporting extra groceries to someone constitute a crime? Maybe he was having a bbq? I would never even think of thinking about the amount of groceries my neighbors have.
    I mean, how silly could this get? Where I live now, in an apartment building, I live across from a woman who’s probably in her 50s, yet lives in an apartment, Every morning she leaves with a roller suitcase, but returns every evening. She’s not going on a trip, she’s going to work with a suitcase. Should I be suspicious? Is it any of my business?


  52. 52 Sujan by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:27

    I was very disturbed after knowing about this tragic incident. I, a citizen of nepal, think that citizen of developed nations arenot giving much emphasis to their relatives and neighbours.


  53. April 29, 2008 at 18:27

    There are ways of finding out information from neighbors without being so blunt. You can joke or make sarcastic comments. The fact that you would go to the police if you are concerned says allot about the cultures in developed nations.

  54. 54 Stephen by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:28

    In this day and age of the world going mad it would serve us all to see what is going on with those next door but not to make it to obviouse.

    We are all living in a world and even countries where things are getting a danger,i do keep a close eye on things but in stealth mode.

    Stephen, Cambridge, UK

  55. April 29, 2008 at 18:28

    Of course we are today a “look the other way society.” in some ways those of us with European decent have been that way for a long time when it comes to raising out children. It is too dangerous for us to get involved these days. If we are wrong we can get sued, if we are right, everybody has an armed jealous family member.

    In reference to a connection between this story and one from last week. If her children, or her children’s children grow up dysfunctional and end up committing a crime that lands them in prison, “whose fault is it?”

  56. 56 Imma Lou by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:29

    While I think neighbors should definitely look out for unusual activities and get involved when criminal activities are suspected (especially issues of abuse of women and children), I feel the thrust of this program is misguided.

    Clearly Fritzl went above and beyond in order to victimize his daughter and grandchildren. No neighbor can be held accountable for so cunning a mind. What I think is more worthy of attention is the penalties Fritzl faces for his crimes. I saw on the BBC site today that he possibly faces 15 years imprisonment. (!!!) Stealing 24 years of his daughter’s life, as well as the damage to her psyche, health, and those of her children should merit harsher punishment than 15 measly years.

    Imma Lou here from Portland, Oregon, US

  57. 57 Bob by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:30

    I live in Northern California and I wish I knew less about my neighbors. Everyone in my neighborhood seems completely willing to let their noise and their dogs and their lives spill out into the neighborhood.

    As for this case it just reminds me of the serial killers in the U.S. where the neighbors always end up saying “he seemed like a nice guy.” It’s a one in a billion case and just because one freak does something outrageous doesn’t give everyone the right to start nosing around in everyone else’s business.

    Frankly I understand that this is a sensational story but I fail to see how it is “newsworthy.”



  58. 58 steve
    April 29, 2008 at 18:32

    Some of the suggestions I”m hearing on air are rather silly. The chances of you misunderstanding what you are observing are high. The groceries thing is just preposterous. HOw would the amount of groceries raise supicion? Maybe the person eats a lot? Maybe they bring food to work? Why didn’t you look at how many times they flushed the toilet too? Was their water bill high? Should the water utility have realized there were more people there than stated? See how silly this is?

    And say what if what you think is domestic abuse really just loud sex? Come on.. You’re only going to embarass yourself if you confront someone about things like this. I’m pretty sure, despite how messed up so many people are, that things like this are rare.

  59. April 29, 2008 at 18:33

    Hello bbc,

    the crime that has been committed is so outrageous, that even a close neighbor could not have imagined of such a crime. It doesn t surprise me that such a crime has been committed, for people have become so reticent, anti-social and afraid to get involved in anybody’s private business. In todays world, privacy i.e. hedonistic of one self, is so prevalent all over the “industrialized” world that this crime has occurred.

    kim, ilyong
    south korea

  60. 60 Toni by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:34

    This crime is unimaginable to the average person. I cannot conceive of treating a fellow human being in this way, and I don’t think most people could even think of committing this crime. How could they have
    imagined this was happening?

    The only person who was in a position to notice in his behavior was his wife. How could she have been so unaware?

    Was the neighbor who noticed a surplus of groceries supposed to go to police? And say what?


  61. 61 John by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:35

    Self-styled sleuthing by nosy neighbors is the first step toward vigilantiism. My own suspicions about others are almost always unjustified. Better to risk the unthinkable than think ill of others.

  62. 62 Kerri by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:35

    The thing is that what this man did is so awful that I would never in my wildest imagination have thought that a neighbor or anyone could be up to something so terrible. What would the police say if you called them and said “my neighbor unloaded an unusual amount of groceries at night?” I can think of several legitimate reasons why a neighbor might be doing that so there would be no reason to confront your neighbor about it. The real question is what was going on w/in the family or the community just letting this girl disappear.

    Kerri in Portland, OR

  63. 63 Allan by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:36

    I guess it depends on your nature. Our media instills fear, based on what is entertaining news. As a result, you can either treat your environment like the worst place in the world, or like a normal living establishment. If your neighbor seems down to earth and open up to them. If they are more reserve understand why.

    Allan, Ohio

  64. 64 John in Salem
    April 29, 2008 at 18:36

    At some point today the world’s population will hit 6,666,666,666


    Someone out there in the world is doing something horrible and someone else could probably do something to stop them.
    It might be one of us that could make the difference.

    Or not.

  65. 65 Nicola by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:37

    As blogged, words cannot decribe my anger, horror, frustration-most of all my pain in reading about Elisabeth Fritzl, her captivity, abuse sexually, psychologically, morally, inflicted by her own father upon her for almost quarter of a century. Most disturbing is the fact that not a single person in the community of Amstetten was aware of this gruesome crime.

    How does this woman go forward a reconstruct a life worth living and what of the 6 remaining children, the soul of the incinerated infant – how can they ever live a life without this nightmare playing over and over like a stuck movie..?

    Communities today seem to be concerned only with their individual needs and have no understanding of what the word ‘community’ truly means hence live in cocoons of denial.

    We must all be mothers & fathers of humanity offering a protective hand and heart to those who need it…The tears are streaming down my face as I write this and my heart pains at the fact that I am too far away to stretch out my hands to Elisabeth and save her..I ask the world to open your eyes and see all that is happening around you and be courageous and right whatever wrongs possible.


  66. 66 Angela by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:38

    My heart goes out to all those impacted in the horrendous 24-year long Amstetten crime. I hope this will encourage the police there to modify their procedures when looking for a missing person. It is often family or people known by the victim that perpetrate crimes, so it is logical to include the family home in any search as well as the homes of neighbors and acquaintances – leave no stone unturned!

  67. 67 Jonathan by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:39

    Last week no one would have really thought anything about someone buying more food then they seem to need over a period of many years. Yet, just like Richard Reid and his shoe bombs this may be something that everyone will be looking for in the future and the question of approaching your neighbor in regards to this question will be left up to the police and not you.

    Portland, OR

  68. 68 brenda tracchia
    April 29, 2008 at 18:39

    I have lived in a variety of neighborhoods and have noticed that it truly depends on the type of person you are and what you want to present i.e. if you are open or not. In some cases, I may have been in a point of my life where I did not want to be as open and felt my home was my own place and I did not want to be bothered by “friends” always being able to look into my business and be judged by them. At other times, I felt that I may want to connect slightly and stepped out to say hello. I may not necessarily knock on my neighbors door because he was bringing a ton of groceries in late at night but if I felt irked enough I may begin to initiate a slight connection so that I could learn more and investigate.

  69. 69 Stafford by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:40

    I am extremely lucky to be living in a small building of 6 units, where all neighbors know each other so well that we often have dinner and cocktail parties together, help each other, celebrate holidays together and go to social events together. Yes, we have had our disagreements, yet we’ve been able to support each other in times of personal difficulty as well. And we know how and when to respect each other’s privacy.

    If you want to have good relations with your neighbors, you have to be willing to open yourself to those around you. Perhaps this is a phenomenon specific to San Francisco, but I doubt it. I had good relations with my neighbors in Washington DC as well, where I grew up.

    Yet perhaps this is a cultural issue: after living in Finland, Austria, and Germany for periods between 6 months to 2 years, I find that North Americans (at least those who live in cities) are much more likely to have cordial relations with their neighbors than those residents of major European cities.

    San Francisco

  70. 70 Bryan by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:40

    I’m Bryan from Oregon

    I live in an apartment and don’t know any of my neighbors and I like it that way, I want a choice in frends and they are NOT who I live next to.

    Do you really expect someone to call the police for seeing a man unloading an excess amount of food from a car? Here in the US the police would laugh you out of the station.

    I need to ask myself how I would feel if someone called the police because I did a lot of grocery shopping? I would be so angry at both the police for wasting public money on grocery shopping and at my neighbors for taking such an interest in my food buying habits.

  71. 71 mick wiggins
    April 29, 2008 at 18:40

    My question is: 24 years and the mother or any of the children never went into
    the basement?

  72. 72 Margie by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:41

    *I believe it is important to know your neighbors — at least their names & phone numbers & a few basic facts about them.* I know it was a very pleasant and helpful experience, on the whole, when I lived in a neighborhood where we had that kind of relationship with many of the people on the block. (That was only about 1 mile away from where we live now, but it’s an entirely different dynamic on this block.)

    *Society may not naturally be that way anymore, but it’s important to try to reverse that trend*.

    Portland, Oregon

  73. 73 Jane Popp
    April 29, 2008 at 18:42

    What about the wife? If he started molesting his daughter when she was 11 years old…the wife knew what was going on. There is no way that she didn’t know!! She is just as culpable of this horrific crime as her husband!!

  74. 74 Alan by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:42

    I always make it a habit to know something about my neighbors. In Arizona, people watch for drug houses, illegal immigrant houses that store 20 – 30 people as they move north, or homes that have 4 – 6 families living illegally.

    Alan in Arizona

  75. 75 Steff by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:43

    Just wondering if someone might comment on the role of social networking in younger peoples lives and how that may affect how they interact with immediate neighbors.

    I am in San Francisco, where there are a large amount of younger urban dwellers, who spend a lot of time online and meeting up with others of common interests, but many can’t name more than 3 people in their own building.

    are we removing our local social interaction with virtual interaction?



  76. 76 evi
    April 29, 2008 at 18:43

    my question is: why didn’t the man’s WIFE notice anything? she was the girl’s mother, and she seems to have taken a lot of bizarre developments in her family without batting an eye.

    i live in portland oregon and i find it to be the friendliest place i’ve ever lived. i know many of my neighbors and am glad of it.

    opb, portland, or, usa

  77. 77 Scott Millar
    April 29, 2008 at 18:44

    + It is clearly being inferred that societies lack of neighborliness could help stop crimes, this is unfounded and overreaching. Plenty of serial killers and criminals live in seclusion in the countryside so in many cases there are no neighbors close enough to notice anything. The proposed friendliness could possibly spur more crimes rather then less.

    + We can’t all be Miss Marple—she is a fictional character after-all!

    – Portland, Oregon

  78. 78 Samirah by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:44

    I think acting strange and action suspicious have a difference. People may act strange for various reasons, being drunk, not feeling well etc etc. but suspicious is when u do something away from ordinary human expectation and that is when the question need to be asked. if not by the person in subject directly, atleast should be reported to the authorities.

    i live in UAE, a country where life is very fast, very busy, hardly know who lives next door yet being right in the middle of the arab world i reckon people in this region are more aware of the difference between strange and suspicious. i believe is more got to do with being aware and responsible, its a habit within.

    this case has too many coincidences which is not normal, daughter suddenly lost, grandsons suddenly popping in (the wife strangely was so understanding about this, i mean i could have asked a million question about the background of these children), excessive grocery coming in, and then suddenly another child comes in. i think atleast the wife, if at all she claims to be innocent should have reported to the local authorites if for nothing just to find where the girl is and to help her atleast. Had this happened here, the authorities themself would have been there long ago.

    like i said its more got to do with being aware and in todays era of highly exposed media and information, when so much is happening around you and u know it, i dont understand a reason as to why was someone like this unnoticed for 24 years.


  79. 79 Jared by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:45

    Regardless of where you live in the world there will always be crazy/deranged people like in Austria who can secretly do these horrible things. The answer is not to invade everyone’s privacy but to have a true community sense in our societies. This could have happened in Los Angeles, Kansas City, Virginia or anywhere else in the US or the world. Smaller poorer communities in the world have an easier time knowing their neighbors, they have less places to hide things and need each other more.
    It is actually nice to know that the US is not the only messed up place in the world and that a highly regarded country like Austria can have horrors too.

    Jared B.
    San Francisco, CA, USA

  80. 80 Jessica-NYC & Mexico
    April 29, 2008 at 18:45

    I am commenting on the current radio discussion:

    Re the groceries, the neighbors should have asked. We need to listen to our gut more. We can confront these situations in a tactful and non-confrontational manner. My sentiment is better safe than sorry. I have on numerous occasions “knocked” on my neighbors door and inquire if he/she needed help. My concern is for the victims and not the perpetrator. For god’s sake, we should be worried about the helpless person not what the a legit perpetrator thinks. In one of the occasions I interfered, I called the cops and let them handle it. When my neighbor questioned me and demanded I mind my own business, I told him it was my business. In another occasion interfered I lost a friend. She was indeed being abused and was not ready to face it. So I did back off, I offered my hand and she did not want it.

    In Mexico: If this happen any where it is common and expected that people would help or defend the victim.

    A show that might be of interest for WHYS listeners is ABC 20/20 new’s John Quinones had done several segments of apathetic “neighbor” who willing pass people who are begging for help albeit in the street of living next door. The news show put a child (boy and girl) on the street who asked people passing by for help that she has lost her parents. To my horror most people ignored the children.

  81. 81 Denise by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:46

    I agree with your San Francisco spokesperson, that just having friendly relations with your neighbor would be helpful without being intrusive. It is surprising what you can learn by just having a casual relationship. For instance on the matter of the man having excess groceries, one could inquire “Are you planning a party” and maybe jokingly you could ask to be invited.

    San Francisco

  82. 82 sandra
    April 29, 2008 at 18:47

    We’ve lived in the UK, Germany and Canada. We’ve not really socialized with our neighbours but we have exchanged pleasantries such as hellos and smiles etc and I really do think it makes a difference.

    When we take the time to do even the little things it makes a difference. Things like this story might be happening because people believe no one will notice… no one is looking… everyone is minding their own business. If folks took the time to say hello etc people may feel someone is looking and taking notice and possibly think twice.

  83. 83 Ben by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:47

    Hind-sight is 20/20. Whenever a terrible crime is committed, too many people focus too much time looking for anyone to blame. The man’s wife didn’t even know, so how can a neighbor be expected to suspect anything? For some reason people aren’t satified with the idea of one man just being crazy.

    Rollag, MN

  84. 84 Kimberly Culbertson
    April 29, 2008 at 18:49

    I live in Hillsboro Oregon, and while I occasionally run into neighbors who don’t appreciate the attention that I pay to all of my neighbors, I’ve found that they tend to have the most to hide. I have also found that those folks are the first ones to ask me for help when they stop hiding. Being a good neighbor is having an open ear AND an open mind.

    I must tell you, I have helped to gather evidence against Methanphetamine producers in the neighborhood, mostly because their neighbors complained to me. It was uncomfortable, but it was better to do something about it rather than suffer in silence and worry.

    Most people know what is happening in their neighborhood, but they make the mistake of hiding and hoping any problems will magically disappear.

    My neighbors and I look out for each other, but first we discuss the issues at hand and compare our perceptions. This is how I get a reality check and winnow out idle gossip. If something is actionable, we ALL call the authorities about it. That way, it isn’t just one person being the town informant.

  85. 85 Thea Winter - Indianapolis
    April 29, 2008 at 18:50

    I live in a twonhome complex which is small. I know my neighbors in my complex and in the ones close by. We see eachother and wave to eachother. We take walks and sometime have dinner. If someone wants to hide they can. Most people do not have the time to snoop on their neighbors.

  86. 86 Elsa
    April 29, 2008 at 18:50

    As we all know, the U.S. encourages a culture of individuality and autonomy. We live in a society where most people are mainly concerned with their individual lives. When you live in a world that is so fast paced and so many things clawing at your attention, it becomes more difficult to take interest in the lives of your neighbors.

    Philadelphia, PA

  87. 87 Steve by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:51

    And my other neighbors were the opposite, my family knew just way too much about them. Maybe when I was 11 they moved in, the father was a former NFL player, had two daughters and a son. I was friendly with their son. Years go by, the daughters were the stereotypical Kelly Bundy type from married with children types… Didn’t really see them that much, but one summer, while I was in college and was at home, I was having a party and my friends were over, and we were drinking. She hears the music, so she comes stumbling over, knocks on the door, and comes in. She sees me and says “wow, when did you become cute?”and I was thinking this was going to be a good evening, but then she went into how she goes to a methadone clinic and immediately I knew my life was too precious to risk on that. But you can find out too much information from your neighbors too. One neighbor, didn’t speak to us at all, and the other neighbor is propositioning me for sex while telling me she’s trying to get off heroin. Which would you prefer? Ugh..


  88. 88 Margie Bird-Buendia
    April 29, 2008 at 18:52

    I believe it is important to know your neighbors — at least their names and a few basic facts about them, and preferably their phone numbers also. I know it was a very pleasant and helpful experience, on the whole, when I lived in a neighborhood where we had that kind of relationship with many of the people on the block. (That was only about 1 mile away from where we live now, but it’s an entirely different dynamic on this block.)

    Society may not naturally be that way anymore, but it’s important to try to reverse that trend.

    Portland, Oregon

  89. 89 Alison by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:53

    So far no one has considered the realilty of the results of the Cold War and the results communist based governments had upon the people in Europe as a whole. People conditioned themselves to “look away” in order to remain alive and/or unimprisoned.

    During World War II it was vital that people “looked away” for the same reasons. So we are a generation of people worldwide living with what was taken as a general course of “action” (inaction really). Austrians are not alone in choosing this behaviour.

    We are fotunate that many other people during World War II chose to involve themselves rescuing Jewish people, underground members and countless others.

    Regarding this topic, it behooves us to keep a sharp lookout within our environments for a few reasons: terrorist activity, activity as vile as this, kidnappings, etc.

    What shocks me the most in this horrible situation is that one baby was thrown into an incinerator. Yes, it is reported that it was dead. Still: how monstrous and consciousless (pardon the grammatical faux pas) does this show this man to be that he made that choice?


  90. 90 Rick in Portland Oregon
    April 29, 2008 at 18:53

    This situation is the fulfillment of the Bible prophecy at Matthew 24:12, which states: “because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off.”
    This is one aspect of Jesus answer to his disciples when they asked him the question stated at Matthew 24:3.


  91. 91 David by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:54

    While the man’s neighbours may not have noticed anything suspicious, someone actually built this quite sophisticated underground prison in the first place. Didn’t they wonder at the time what it was for? Or was the offender himself a plumber and builder as well as being an electrician? And even if he did build it himself, single-handed, could he have done so without anyone else – even his wife – noticing what was going on, and wondering, and then knowing that it had been there for 24 years, without asking a single question?

    David, Epsom, Auckland, New Zealand

  92. 92 L. Walker
    April 29, 2008 at 18:54

    it doesn’t matter how well you know your neighbors or how much you snoop on them, things like this will happen.

    what i feel from the comments and conversation is that people want to find someone to blame and figure out a scheme to keep this from happening, but in the end you can’t stop it. it’s not about the community or communications, no one could have known, if he wanted to do it he was going to go ahead with his plans.

    there’s nothing you can do to prevent it.
    disconcerting hm?

  93. 93 Amy
    April 29, 2008 at 18:54

    Part of the isolationist society we are a part of today is due to the age of technology we live in. We are more likely to call a family member or turn to the Internet when we need help or are seeking advice, rather than ask a neighbor. When we are away from people we know we are talking on a cell phone to them, rather than speaking to strangers around us. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” has almost become obsolete due to the Internet, email and cell phones.

  94. 94 Jane Popp
    April 29, 2008 at 18:55

    I object to Ibrahim generalizing that all Western society has a “look away” policy! Not True! It is based on the individuals and how they were raised! I care about my neighbors, talk to them on a regular basis and yes, I get nosy when things are different and they change their routine.

  95. 95 Peter by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:55

    i think a lot of the people don’t socialize as much as they used to , is due to TV.

    people in the old days (70 years ago), in the west came outside on the street with their chairs and talked to each other.

    No people come home ,switch on TV and like to see what’s going on 3000 miles instead of to know what’s going on next door.

    Peter, New York

  96. 96 Pratima by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:56

    I live in Portland Oregon. People call mine a ‘UN’ neighborhood. We have a very mixed and wonderful neighbourhood (Caucasians, Black American, East Indian, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Japanese ). We not only know each other well but get together often for Father’s day, going back to school day etc. besides July 4th block party. We look out for each other’s plants and pets when somebody is gone for a vacation. We discuss each other’s family problems and problems that the children are having.

    It all started when I lost an infant in the NICU. My neighbours came to express their condolences. My Mom was in the states (from India). She offered them her hospitality by making tea and other food. She does not know any English. But she kind of broke the ice. After that we are on a roll.

    Nobody wants to move away from here. People who can afford are getting their houses renovated. And I am thankful to be in this place.


  97. 97 Kishore by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:56

    The tragic event in Austria is primarily due to failure of the police: 1) A search dog could have sniffed out the missing daughter years ago and 2) Family members are always treated as suspects in the event of missing person. It is outrageous that even now the police or any government employee will be held accountable for this lapse. It may be a good idea to have all cellars reviewed and inspected by cities in Austria– building inspectors do this in the US. This effort may provide a degree of comfort.

    California, USA

  98. 98 Andres by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:57

    The community’s failure was NOT in noticing something wrong with groceries or absence/presence of children and grandchildren.

    The failure was 24 years ago when his friends, family, and acquaintances did not notice his potential for such a crime. Society failed in identifying him before the fact. After the fact, he was polishing his methods and stories. Obviously, it was only random happenstance that allowed his apprehension now.

  99. 99 Mayra
    April 29, 2008 at 18:57

    I am a Cuban born who grew up in New Jersey in the US. Although it was 30 years ago, everyone in the neighborhood watched out for each other. I was disciplined by the dry cleaner or grocer and I respected them.

    In 1988, I moved to Miami and I tried to reprimand a neighbor’s child who had the music on quite loud when I was sick and the mother insulted me in front of the child.

    Today I live in Orlando and we need a car to go everywhere and I worry that if someone would try to hurt my children, would my retired neighbors see anything and would they help, call for help or just look away.

  100. 100 Ana
    April 29, 2008 at 18:58

    I believe that in times past, your neighbors would have been the first people you befriend. Now, with both people in the household leaving the home for work, your neighbors don’t play such a big role. It is in times of transition, like these times, that standards change. I also believe that community doesn’t necessarily have to do with neighbors, but in our times have a more individualistic tone. Outraged people defend a person in distress, without necessarily knowing each other or the victim. The outrage is born from the fact, that the victim could be you.

  101. 101 Clair by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:58

    The Fritzl case is exactly why I left Germany for London. I have lived all over London and have always had several neighbours’ house keys, dined with a number of them and known the names of virtually everyone on my block.

    In Germany, a criminal impersonated me to rob our neighbour and it worked as she had hardly noticed me.

    Clair, London.

  102. 102 Jason by email
    April 29, 2008 at 18:59

    Here in the States at least, one runs the risk of putting themselves in danger of retaliation or physical harm when directly confronting strange/suspicious behavior by the offending party in order to keep that secret safe. This leads to more direct reports of this kind of activity to the authorities, especially in suspected child abuse cases. However, this does sometimes lead to unnecessary intervention by the police/gov’t agencies due to no first hand knowledge of reporting neighbors who are nervous about talking face to face about their suspicions. Does the rest of the world feel this way?


  103. April 29, 2008 at 18:59

    Regardless of where you live in the world there will always be crazy/deranged people like in Austria who can secretly do these horrible things. The answer is not to invade everyone’s privacy but to have a true community sense in our societies. This could have happened in Los Angeles, Kansas City, Virginia or anywhere else in the US or the world. Smaller poorer communities in the world have an easier time knowing their neighbors, they have less places to hide things and need each other more.
    It is actually nice to know that the US is not the only messed up place in the world and that a highly regarded country like Austria can have horrors too.

    San Francisco, CA, USA

  104. 104 CJ by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:00

    From CJ in Oregon:

    It amazes me how people who observe clearly illegal and inhumane acts seem to think that it’s not their duty to report such acts to the police, as if someone else will somehow magically step in and fix the situation. People need to take personal responsibility to protect those who cannot speak up for themselves — including animals. In Oregon, you can report anonymously that a dog, for example, does not have shelter, food, or potable water. It’s the only way these animals will ever have their basic needs provided for.

  105. 105 Raine
    April 29, 2008 at 19:00

    I live in a small community that the people care but respect each other.
    One thing that hasn’t been addressed is why people are disconnected from each other. I believe that media holds much of the responsiblity as people all over the world send the time in front of the TV verses exchanges with real people.
    Also the balance seems to be this one case vs the million of us that are doing a excellent job.

  106. April 29, 2008 at 19:00

    In many societes privacy is paramount. You may see and meet friendly neighbors but what goes on in their lives may shock you.

    To get friendly may seem like you are intruding you may mean well but….. your friendly neighbour may not like it … because you may find out …….

  107. 107 Amy by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:01

    I’m a transplant from the southern U.S. now living in Portland, Oregon. And although I would say that the South is “friendlier” in many ways, I do know my neighbors and socialize with them; particularly my next door neighbors. I’m in a single family home in the Northeast part of Portland. I walk my dog several times daily too, so I’m very aware of what’s going on around me, both good and bad. We have neighborhood parties and I’m planning to have a block party this summer. I have on occasion confronted people directly when I have concerns. I am looking out not only for my own safety, but for my neighbors as well. The results have so far been positive.


  108. 108 Kristin by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:02

    You asked what you could do if something worried you, that you were afraid someone were hurt.

    In Norway we have Barnevernet, which is a governmental institution to protect children. Yo can call in a message of concern. You will remain your anonymity , to the ones concerned.

    As for domestic violense, the police are establishing a special section to take care of this, so you can call the police. They will have trained people that will talk and see if they can assist. Again the caller will keep their anonymity.

    Our former prime minister, Gro Harlem Bruntland, urged us to be nabokjerringa – the curious/caring neighbour, encouraging people to dare to care more. As it may matter so much.

    sincerely Kristin

  109. 109 Shirley by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:03

    air-conditioning took us indoors from outdoors, where we used to socialise with our neighbours – it led us to become distant from each other
    Shirley, Chicago

  110. 110 Jonathan by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:06

    Here in San Francisco, “unusual behavior” and even the occasional dungeons are not especially remarkable or alarming, provided of course that it’s all consensual. We have a saying: “Do whatever you like, just don’t do it in the street and scare the horses.”

    Modern urban life is somewhat isolating, and it’s strange to think that one doesn’t know a neighbor on the other side of an apartment wall. I meet students living here for a year from other countries, and they often remark on feeling isolated. But the U.S., and San Francisco especially, has a tradition of individualism, at the cost of community, at least in major cities.

    It’s easy enough to be friendly and have a passing acquaintance with one’s neighbors, though, and it’s the decent thing to do. I prefer to have the choice of how involved to be.

    This subject is a bit of a stretch from the situation in Austria though. That man was a monster, and a careful one. His neighbors would have had to be almost impossibly intrusive in order to detect his crimes.

    San Francisco

  111. 111 Kathleen by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:06

    In regards to the man who held his daughter captive for two decades, I believe it is difficult in a Western Society, meaning a beaurocracy, to actually do something about any problems you are aware of. In San Diego, California I lived in an apartment above a man who was physically and mentally abusing his two daughters, to what extent I am not sure. I reported this to the Child Welfare Department and they did come out to visit the house and then immediately came to my door to tell me there was nothing they could do without more proof. So, not only did he know that someone had reported him, but he knew who. It was very uncomfortable to live near him after that. Where he used to ht his children openly and in front of me outside the building or in the parking lot. He turned to staring me down and dragging the children inside the apartment to hit them. Because of the beaurocratic nature of the Child Welfare system, there was nothing I could do and there was nothing child service could do. This really complicates things and I believe it is exactly the situation I was in that people fear. So, people may know what is going on and not being able to do anything about it.

  112. 112 Omunyaruguru
    April 29, 2008 at 19:08

    Selena, let me share my sad experience. I live inbetween two worlds; the new world that is going western with its lifestyle, high costs, and individualism that is staedily becoming more extreme, and the old world that is very communal, love for/from evrybody, sharing all things, etc. it gives me two identity challenges.
    1. I see the disadvantages of communalismand how it may hinder competitiveness in todays global economy and feel like I should not identify with it

    2. On the other hand I see the breakdown of social networks in my community and the results of psychosocial stress with no mental health assistance in view, and I wish the communalism were as strong as it used to be.

    I don’t fully belong to either world resulting in an identity problem.

  113. 113 Kathleen by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:08

    In regards to the man who held his daughter captive for two decades, I believe it is difficult in a Western Society, meaning a beaurocracy, to actually do something about any problems you are aware of. In San Diego, California I lived in an apartment above a man who was physically and mentally abusing his two daughters, to what extent I am not sure. I reported this to the Child Welfare Department and they did come out to visit the house and then immediately came to my door to tell me there was nothing they could do without more proof. So, not only did he know that someone had reported him, but he knew who. It was very uncomfortable to live near him after that. Where he used to ht his children openly and in front of me outside the building or in the parking lot. He turned to staring me down and dragging the children inside the apartment to hit them. Because of the beaurocratic nature of the Child Welfare system, there was nothing I could do and there was nothing child service could do. This really complicates things and I believe it is exactly the situation I was in that people fear. So, people may know what is going on and not being able to do anything about it.

  114. April 29, 2008 at 19:08

    i think people should develope an interest in other people’s lives. some interest is nice , but not too much to avoid being nosy. and with the consent of the neighbour we should share with him / her information about ourselves.trust prevailing such information can be very useful one day who knows.
    western societies have become too personalized to the point that neighbours can be neighbour for years without exchanging a good morning . unfortunately our arab societies is becoming more and more pesonalized to a point very close from westerners.
    if a neighbour seems too distant from all approaches we have a duty to find out why. may be he / she needs help and is too proud to ask for it. .
    increasing human relations between neighbours is not only human but also nice.

  115. 115 Lon Hull
    April 29, 2008 at 19:09

    I have a few friends and many acquaintances of various races and backgrounds, including my immediate neighbors. However, it is not my responsibility to police their activities. What happened in Austria is a tragedy, but giving up further civil liberties of millions of people who expect a right to privacy in order to prevent this happening in my country and neighborhood is not an option. We’ve lost enough already.

  116. 116 Lee in Canada
    April 29, 2008 at 19:09

    I think what makes this so hard is that while I do believe that we should report suspicious behavior, I also don’t want to think that my neighbors are watching me drive home from work everyday and watching me every time I enter/leave my home. Also, what qualifies as suspicious behavior? What might seem strange to one person may not seem odd to another.



  117. 117 Paula by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:09

    I live in a small apartment building (about 18 families) in a very religious, middle class community in Jerusalem, Israel. Most of us speak English and Hebrew.

    We certainly do greet our “neighbors” and this includes greeting people we may not know personally when we walk by each other on the street. In fact, our religious training instructs us to “be the “first” to greet the other person.

    My neighbors are extraordinarily respectful of each family’s privacy but also extraordinarily generous and helpful. Even tho’ my rent goes higher and higher each year nevertheless I stay in this apartment largely because of these extraordinary neighbors–many of whom are by now good friends. are We support each other thru times of illness, life crises, death and mourning. The ladies say prayers together on Saturday. I have entrusted one of our neighbor families with all of the keys to my apartment and to my car. And other families in the building do the same.. We invite eachother to holy day meals. We help each other in any way we can. but without being intrusive. Many of us volunteer and also contribute money to community organizations that offer food and other assistance to needy families, while still maintaining their privacy. I would not want to live anywhere else!

    PS Almost 40 years ago I lived in a small walk-up apartment building ion a lower to middle class neighborhood in Manhattan, New York City. New residents quickly acclimated to the friendly neighbors, socialized together, attended/threw parties for eachother, and even soot-bathed on the roof together (when there’s more soot from furnaces than sun for tanning). My immediate neighbors on the fifth floor were a gay female couple – unfortunately they often had horrendous fights. I called the police to come and intervene on many occasions…

    Paula in Jerusalem, Israel

  118. 118 Lamii in Liberia
    April 29, 2008 at 19:10


    In my country it is almost the norm for people to actively get involved in other people’s business, as disgusting and reprehensible as this may be at times. While it is difficult to decide whether or not it is acceptable or at what point it is acceptable for other people’s business to be someone else’s, it is worth noting that in a case like the Austrian man people should have been more inquisitive.

    As a matter of personal taste, I normally keep my distance from other people’s personal affairs so long as it remains within the confines of the law.

    I recently spent 3 weeks in New York’s Brooklyn neighborhood, and for all the time I was there I met the neighbor who lived in the upstairs apartment only once. And even that one time was just a chance encounter. I guess everyone has their own stuffs to be bothered with.

  119. 119 Bryan by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:10

    Here in the U.S. it seems that the more space available, such as rural areas the more people are likely to be involved with their neighbors. The physical space provides privacy. Living in an apartment building with many other people does not provide that space and privacy. With a lack of physical space, social space needs to compensate. This also seems true in Europe and japan.

    This can even be seen on the ocean, sailors are much more more helpful due to the space.

    Bryan from Oregon

  120. 120 Miljan by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:11

    i used to live in serbia and was in close communication with my neighbours, we visited each other without calling first. now i live in belgium and have less contact with neighbours. but if someone would have a group of people hidden in the cellar, in the east or west, they would probably take care to hide it well, and even if i would visit their house often i wouldn’t find out.


  121. 121 Beth by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:11

    lived in Missoula, Montana, a small city/mountain town/college town, and I found that I knew my neighbors better than anywhere else I’ve ever been. We regularly had block parties, and combined thanksgiving celebrations. The whole time I lived there I was aware of how fortunate I was to live in a place where people cared so much about their neighbors. Unlike many of the callers who have been attributing their communities to old connections, this community was one where there was a wide variety of permanence, some houses were rentals with tennants staying for a year or less, and some houses were new families buying their first homes. In this community we felt secure enough to leave our doors unlocked all the time, I believe that this significantly increased my quality of life.

    Portland, OR

  122. 122 John in Salem
    April 29, 2008 at 19:11

    It takes a village to molest a child.

  123. 123 Scott by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:12

    Sense of community keeps being mentioned as if it were intrinsically a good thing. Well it isn’t, plenty of people with a sense of community pilfer the world and commit genocide.

    Scott, Portland, Oregon

  124. 124 Imma Lou by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:13

    Imma Lou in Portland, Oregon

    East/West is really more of a North/South reality. Let’s not forget the effects of climate in uniting and dividing neighbors. I’ve lived in Wisconsin, Montana and New Hampshire, where cold weather keeps people separated until a disaster strikes. In the American South, hot weather drives people outdoors in the evenings which encourages public discourse. Regional differences in weather create very different neighbor relations

  125. 125 Joe by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:13

    I think it is important to bring up the role of capitalism in this discussion. It must be considered, when discussing the degradation, or reaffirmation, of community to discuss the role that the economic system plays. It can be argued that capitalism alienates individuals from one another, profits off our fears of each other and promotes the lack of community. I am amazed that in all of these discussions broadcast on NPR and the BBC, discussions about political, economic and social dillemmas, that the pervasive economic philosophy under which we all live is never considered as a factor in what ails us. Perhaps on the next “world have your say” you could hold an honest conversation about capitalism, it’s pros and cons, societal effects and possible alternatives.

    Joe in Oregon

  126. 126 Mallory by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:14

    Here where I live in Portland, Oregon, there is a large movement towards community building; getting to know the people around you, taking back your streets and intersections, visiting local businesses. I think even in large cities there are ways and means to become closer to your neighbours and the people around you, even as the cities we live in become larger and more diverse. These movements are gaining momentum, and I think they can make all of us safer and more supported.

  127. 127 LindaSue by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:20

    What about a wife who takes three different babies dropped on their doorstep three different times and raises them as her own?
    There was a lot of looking away in that family and neighborhood. Perhaps my community is just nosy, I prefer interested, but we usually notice when someone is pregnant and notice when new babies arrive. Three different orphans ending up at the same place would have gotten the police, child services and countless other protective services investigating.

    LindaSue, Ravenna,Ohio,USA

  128. 128 Andrew by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:23

    Here, in Ghana, each person knows about almost everybody who lives about a radius of 500m. We are each others keeper. Its our responsibility to know about each other.

  129. 129 SJ
    April 29, 2008 at 19:29

    I do live in a look-away society!! And I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Streets are safer when people don’t mind their own business, and by that, I don’t mean snooping into people’s homes, but rather, if there’s some argument happening on the street and it looks like it could get violent, interfering. Or if you suspect domestic violence next door, asking the abused what she/he wants you to do if you hear it again – call police? Knock? If you never get a chance to ask her/him, then calling police (sometimes, police just make it far worse). Or if you see someone passed out on the street, making sure they’re gonna be ok, etc. And yes, getting to know your neighbors – introducing yourself, yes, allowing yourself to be “bothered” occasionally for the sake of community! I feel like it’s 1984-ish how much American society (in cities, at least) have been taught to look away. “mind your own business” I think most of us are scared of confrontation, so we’re afraid of the “what if’s” if we do interfere.

    Portland Oregon

  130. April 29, 2008 at 19:30

    I live in in Nairobi and people here hardly know each other. But it happened in Kamiti Maximum Prison where a father had a child with his own daughter. The father is a choir leader in a local church and when he was arrested all his family including his wife changed and were fighting for him to be released and the daughter laater chased her mother and is now living with her dad as a wife.

    +254 726 034 530

  131. 131 Vince by email
    April 29, 2008 at 19:31

    It would seem from the few comments I was able to hear while at lunch that many prefer the ‘look away society’. Several said words to the effect that they’d be offended if someone asked them about their activity. Hard to fathom how far we have slipped in the western world. It wasn’t long ago – a generation
    maybe two – that a neighbor would ask such a question in an effort to be ‘neighborly’. We would help each other. Someone had a new mouth to feed, their neighbors would help out with food or assistance with tasks. No one asked, you just did it.

    We feel for the people of the developing world that live on the edge of poverty and starvation but we should envy their sense of community. To some they only see this looking into the actions of others as self-serving but it by helping one another, we help ourselves and for many unfortunately, that’s all that seems to matter.

    Vince, New York, USA

  132. 132 JustAGirl
    April 29, 2008 at 19:37

    Yes we do live in a “look away” society – look at the situation in Austria and the pedophile polygamist ranch in Texas.

  133. 133 Sukanya
    April 29, 2008 at 19:42

    Actually, the fact is that most of us care about what happens in someone else’s house, specially our neighbors. Otherwise, none of us would gossip around with friends. How many of us sit with our families or friends during a party and discuss about ourselves? and how many of us GOSSIP about others? Most of us spend time in a party or talk on the phone about others, right? In my opinion, the neighbors were just least bothered about the happenings in their neighborhood. The other possibility can be that the criminal was clever and shrewd enough to be able to hide such kind of a thing for 24 years. Its not that we dont want to know our neighbors or we don’t care about them. Its just that at times we are unable to guess the characters of certain types of neighbors. Or at times we are too busy in ourselves that we don’t think of others. But if that was the case with the majority then there would be nothing such as “gossiping”. Either the culprit never revealed himself or no one bothered but as I said that can be a really rare situation that no one just gives it a damn that something so fishy is going on in the neighborhood.
    Someone must have felt something unusual!!!!

  134. 134 Syed Hasan Turab
    April 29, 2008 at 19:59

    Why Austrian man sex story is catching public attention:-
    (A) Violation of religion.
    (B) Violation of Law.
    (C) Violation of family principals.
    (D) Unhealthy impact on family life.
    (E) Unhuman behaviour with loved ones.
    (F) Bad news for entire humanity.
    (G) worst human behaviour.
    Now certain question arises in this regard:-
    (1) How come his crimes never been exposed to law enforcement agancies as twenty four years is a long time?
    (2) How come his crimes never been exposed to neighbours, relations, friends & other members of society?
    To me answer is free & socalled modern society based on Mr. Burtend Russel theories.
    This case may provide an evendance of systematic failour of free & modern society too. The way we are considering this a serious crime & unhuman act produce us an evidence that religion is still alive in our blood & society.
    We may eleminate isolation from our daily life by way of queting from ” Mind your own business” & nonenosy behaviour living in society.

  135. 135 Philip Lees
    April 29, 2008 at 20:04

    What the hell is this? I come to the BBC news website and at first I think I’ve made a mistake and hit the News of the World by mistake. But no, it really is the BBC. Why is the BBC obsessing so over one Austrian pervert? Surely there are more important things going on in the world … purrrleease!! Move this story to the back page where it belongs and let’s have a focus on things that are not just a two-day wonder.

    Or is the BBC’s “new look” news coverage aiming at the tabloid market? If so, this reader will be saying “bye, bye.”

  136. 136 Pat
    April 29, 2008 at 20:56

    I don’t think the neighbors would’ve known anyway. I mean, if the guy’s WIFE didn’t know, how much better would anyone have known him?

    Personally, in the US I think there’s certainly a category of people who have nothing better to do than snoop on and gossip about neighbors, but at least we’ll be rid of the President from that class of people soon.

  137. 137 Shakhoor Rehman
    April 29, 2008 at 22:39

    Whether you are look away or neighbour conscious, you still have to convince the police……

  138. 138 Alissa
    April 29, 2008 at 23:37

    I live in a condo community and I can say that I don’t know any of my neighbors, not even one. However, when I lived in a house, I knew my neighbors well because we would bump into one another as we were each tending to our lawns and gardens. I think that living in a house, rather than an apartment building is more conducive to getting to know your neighbors. Also, in a western country, such as the US, people are hesitant to say to each other…I guess it’s weird to make small talk with someone that you don’t know…

  139. April 30, 2008 at 04:56

    I am not my brother’s keeper, but CHILDREN ARE SACRED in my book. And in today’s world FEW are truly safe. Aiding and protecting the young and the weak from abuse IS A DUTY. Once upon a time, children’s safety was everyone’s responsibility. Still is. Even as we deny it. In our over-crowded world, corruption, greed, abuse and insanities are growing at an alarming rate – EVERYWHERE. If we are not willing to remain alert, to be watchful, to come to others’ aid or call for help when something is amiss; if we are not willing to risk denial, rejection, derision, even danger, then we ourselves will not remain safe. For we do depend on one another in a world gone nuts! In the US, most states have protective services one can call and they do check, discretely. In other countries, help is not always available nor trustworthy. The child-brothels of SE Asia are owned by corrupt wealth from the cities–government officials, bankers, businessmen, entrepeneurs finance their set up and buy police protection in many places. They exist for the pleasure of western politicians, CEO’s and others who travel worldwide on company expense accounts. The ‘service providers’ are children stolen or bought from the poor in remote villages and small towns, kidnapped from crowded city slums or simply taken from among the homeless in the big cities. I met some of these children. In Bangkok, in Kathmandu, in Delhi, in Jakarta and Calcutta. And walked in remote villages in the golden triangle where no teens are left. In Thailand, I met a young girl who had been abducted and held captive in Bangkok. She escaped and was found lost in the streets by a matron who owned a small restaurant. The child had lost one eye, was incoherent, had no knowledge of her parents whereabouts, where her village was or who had brought her to Bangkok. She remembered her younger siblings, the farm and fields where she had lived, the long train ride. And the factory where she had been kept prisoner and made to work. The woman who found her took her in, looked after her, employed her and gave her a home. A one-in-a-million case. Most are not so fortunate, as I learned in Asia. In an overcrowded corrupt world, children are easy prey. So are women. And, yes, WE ARE each other’s guardian angels. All of us over all of us.

  140. April 30, 2008 at 05:39

    At age 10, at 15, later in college, even later in my 30’s, 40’s and on, it has never been possible for me to look upon abuse or need and remain uninvolved, do nothing. I mind my business. I don’t go looking into other people’s affairs. But there have been times when the affairs of others are thrust upon my path and I must act. When the man killed-over on the sidewalk just ahead of us, my companion shouted to stay back. Drug addicts and drunks often played such tricks, then mugged and robbed you. But I ran to his side, then ran into Collins Avenue in Miami Beach to stop a taxi. The taxi man called an ambulance. No trick. Heart trouble. When the two little girls in the cottage next to mine grew paler and more listless by the day, I called protective services. The mother and boyfriend were drugging the children, wanting to be free to enjoy themselves! And when that huge cop at the railroad station in Ahmdhabad, India, raised the stick over a rascally beggar with a fake wooden leg, I found my body suddenly between beggar and cop, my hand on the raised stick. The beggar ran off, the cop ranted and raved but wouldn’t dare touch a tourist! Safe or not, when we come upon it, abuse has to be stopped on its tracks. I’ve found there’s no thought involved in such cases, the body seems to obey the mind’s intention and do what is needed. So far, I’m grateful to say, with impunity. I feel the spontaneous unthinking thrust to protect or help others backfires and we are protected as well!

  141. April 30, 2008 at 06:47

    ~Most people and even countries governments will look away. A media might allow someone like me to print something happening but never follow suit. A crime so horrible it is absolutely numbing to the conscious mind, allowing them to become ignored and then conveniently unbelieved. That doesn’t make them go away, it only allows them to escalate.. Instead of a few victims, thousands, millions and it may one day engulf a entire civilization if it doesn’t already, without any caring awareness.

  142. 142 Dennis Cote
    April 30, 2008 at 07:35

    When i was growing up, we lived on a rural road, about 3 miles long.
    We knew everyone that lived on the same road as we did, and roads off it.
    We didn’t snoop on each other, we just knew, socialized, and visited on occasion.
    Various people had CB radios, (before the “Smokey and the Bandit” craze) and we’d get on and discuss the general going ons of the day, plan get togethers, and such.
    I now live in a rural area that no none knows the neighbor, or cares to, more than a nod or quick low wave.
    That’s transpired, by my best estimate, from people demanding privacy.
    Ask anyone about their matters at home, and you’ll offend their sense of privacy.
    Ask anyone about their children, and you’re a letch.
    People don’t want you to know about them, UNLESS they need help.
    Once the crisis is over, things go back to the way they were before.

  143. 143 umoh, amos (from NIGERIA)
    April 30, 2008 at 09:47

    The following thoughts have kept crossing my mind over the night (infact I couldn’t sleep well) over this Austrian issue:

    1. The reinforced steel door that lead to the basement was electronic (am told) and had a secret opening code. This code was known only to Josef Fritzl.

    Now what if in the cause of his day’s work, he was killed in an auto crash, etc, what would have happened to those inside that cellar?? (I need and answer pls)

    They would remain in there FOREVER. When ever their food stock, etc was exhausted, they will pass out one after the other. As each of them dies, such strong foul smell will over power the Dungeon and God help mercy…

    Am still at a lost as to WHAT AND WHY this very event did occur?

  144. April 30, 2008 at 12:26

    Congratulations to WHYS for the medium of the World. Where else do you get such diversity of comment. Shame on you critics. Go somewhere else. To some of the questions. He had to be rich enough to be so private from his neighbors. We mostly live more cheek to jowl with each other. To the food issue, he built under the separate garage with a separate car entrance. He went from store to car and car to garage. No one could know what he was buying/consuming. He built and extended it all himself and had those skills. He must have spent hours and hours doing so. He was no where near other inhabited buildings. It was separate from the house. No one would have cause to go to his garages. It was a one off situation. He had it planned well. No one can be blamed but him. He will not get a long sentence but will no doubt die in jail. He is an old man now.

    In Pensacola in Condos there was more contact between people than here in Jacksonville Fl. When the hurricane flattened everything and fences came down and people were without water and electricity they became less suspicious and more helpful. Neighbors spoke for the first time in years due to no fences. They shared their water and their food that would waste. They could not go to work so they cleared each others yards. Businesses drove the streets giving away supplies that would waste. There were lines for water so people interacted. Now I expect they are back to, house to car, car to work, work to store, store to home. It can be too hot to go out. In my home in England we typically walked to town at weekends and the town center thronged with people meeting together and fellowship was magnificent. I do not hear this WHYS program but only read it online. Nice to have a world conversation. Keep up the good work. Patrick

  145. 145 mike lee USA
    April 30, 2008 at 13:33

    I will intervene before risking a police encounter
    Courts often act unjustly
    Buying too much food is not a crime
    Homes should be sacred private places

    I do look away if it concerns drugs or vices, it’s not my job to police them. However if someone is being harmed or threatened I will intervene, armed if need be. If I can’t resolve it I’ll call the police. But in America anymore it’s not safe to call the police. (you may end up arrested) Not only that sentences are so severe in this country I know longer feel like anything close to justice is being served.

    In this case I don’t believe the neighbor should have called the police because of the volume of his groceries. Maybe he gives food to the needy, or shops for elderly or the handicapped. Since buying too much food isn’t a crime I doubt the police would have done anything.

    In order for us to function we need a place in the world that is private and secure. When we are not safe from prying eyes in our private residences then society is finished.

  146. 146 steve
    April 30, 2008 at 15:20

    What exactly would a non look away society be, a society that doesn’t believe in privacy and freedoms? Should we live in a society where kids turn in their parents for defeatist comments or disloyal comments, like the nazis had the Hitler Youth do? Should we have our next door neighbors snoop and report you because they feel something is suspicious (ie you buy more groceries than they think you need??).. This is scary, especially given that at least freaks like that Austrian man are at least rare.

    April 30, 2008 at 15:55

    You know time is money and with the economic hardships of today people in the west are busy trying to take care of their own. Its not that they care less but time is just not on their side but in AFRICA people seem to have all the time in the world. You should see the way we patronise our weddings and how we talk to every stranger we meet. We take care of each other.

  148. 148 Will Jones
    April 30, 2008 at 17:39

    This story is a terrible one, but was it caused by people “looking away”?

    Secondly – I think this particular case is almost unique – but the question of abuse of children by parents seems to be a growing phenomenom which needs to be tackled.

    If it takes this kind of event to bring that awareness around – I am all for it. What I am afraid is that once the media exposure has died down, this will all be sweeped under the carpet again, and the cries of the countless number of children abused each year will continue unheard

  149. 149 steve
    April 30, 2008 at 17:39

    Why is nobody bringing up the culpability of Fritzl’s wife?? Is she getting a pass because she’s female?

    Do you remember the case in the US of the woman staying on a toilet for 2 years? Her boyfriend was actually arrested for not forcing her out, so he got to go to jail for his girlfriend’s decision to not leave a toilet seat for two years. If we hold him responsible for his girlfriend’s decisions, should we not hold the wife responsible for her husband’s crimes that she obviously must have known about?

  150. April 30, 2008 at 17:54

    If the American voters are so dense as to deny themselves a legitimate candidate, a competent candidate because of something as insignificant to performance in office as skin colour then they will only be cheating themselves and deserve the consequences of that decision. But as is so often the case, aspects which have little to do with competency and ability often decide such popularity contests to the detriment of good governance.


  151. 151 steve
    April 30, 2008 at 18:13

    @ Andrew. I realize how America bashing is all the trend right now, but what does this have to do with the Fritzl case of Austria? Why haven’t you had a black Prime Minister, are Australians all racist too like you implicate americans as being?

  152. 152 viola anderson
    April 30, 2008 at 19:32

    I think I live in a society that expects the agencies that are supposed to deal with such issues to do so. The responsibility for the welfare of neighbors has been passed off to government agencies, much the same as responsibility for dealing with criminals has been awarded to the police and the rest of the justice system.

    Here in British Columbia, a disturbed father killed his three children, even though the family had in the past come to the attention of “the authorities.” Naturally, people are asking how this could have happened. Just as they ask why the police and courts are unable to prevent crime or even keep criminals segregated from the law-abiding majority.

  153. 153 cynic
    April 30, 2008 at 20:31

    Yeah, in Africa you really take care of each other. Millions of people killed in Rwanda, Congo, Zimbabwe, etc. No better than any other society.

  154. 154 selena
    April 30, 2008 at 21:15


    Battered women do as they are told, no questions asked. It is easy for us to think that the mother should have known and it is entirely possible that she did have an inkling. Doing something about it is another matter.

    The picture emerging is that this man is a typical abuser. Butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths on the outisde but those who live with them are terriied.

    Please try to walk in an abused woman’s shoes before bashing.

  155. 155 Louisa Arndt
    May 1, 2008 at 00:53

    In my own community (Marin County, California), and in much of U.S. suburbia, families live in fenced-in isolation. Houses are large by most standards, enclosed by fences, equipped with TVs, DVDs, computers, music systems, people all have cell phones, and their family life is mostly inner-directed. It’s not easy to see what’s happening “out there.” There’s very little “dropping in,” and in fact it’s considered impolite not to call first. Two years ago everyone was shocked to find in our midst a household consisting of one man, three “wives,” and several children who were rarely seen and, it was discovered, were leading hellish lives of harsh and frequent punishment for the slightest infraction. This had been going on for a couple of years – so yes, it would seem that it can happen anywhere. We need more community, more caring, more conversation with our neighbors, more smiles and nods of acknowledgment, more paying attention, more helpfulness, more good will. The one presidential candidate who holds out hope of such a coming together in our communities has, sadly, garnered a great deal of criticism and abuse.

  156. 156 steve
    May 1, 2008 at 12:16

    @ selena

    being “battered” if that was even the case, doesn’t absolve one of their duties as a parent. Does being battered make them less intelligent? Makes them tolerate locking their kids up in the basement and having hubbie have sex with daughter? I think you need to stop making excuses and call out the horrific behavior of both parents.

  157. 157 viola anderson
    May 1, 2008 at 17:25

    The horrific behavior of both parents must first be established before calling it out. It should not be assumed.

  158. 158 Partha from India
    May 1, 2008 at 18:09

    The incident that happened in Austria has shaken us to our core. What I think of this is that it marks a total faliure in the system of civilization that we are proud of. The fact that a father could stoop so low as to make his daughter his sex slave is unthinkable.

  159. 159 rose from seychelles
    May 2, 2008 at 10:13

    Its disgusting and degrading, the babies must have cried at some point, to think that no one heared their cries is just unthinkable. That father must be a monster and should be given the most severe punishment.

  160. 160 Dennis Young, Jr.
    May 7, 2008 at 07:46

    It is a disgusting to see what happended to his daughter and her kids [which he conceived]….

    he is a monster and society should required him to be punished
    harshly for his crimes against his daughter and her daughter.

    ~Dennis from Madrid, United States of America

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