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The Psychology Behind The House Of Horrors And Child Torture

The Psychology Behind The House Of Horrors And Child Torture
The Psychology Behind The House Of Horrors And Child Torture

A husband and wife imprisoned and brutally tortured 12 of their 13 children in a home now described as a house of horrors in California.

David Turpin, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, were each charged with 12 counts of torture, 6 counts of child abuse, 7 counts of abuse of a dependent adult, 12 counts of false imprisonment, and 1 count of a lewd act on a child (David Turpin.) They both have pleaded not guilty on all charges.

The siblings are ages 2-29; six are minors.

Why didn’t the children escape sooner and what is the psychology of child torture; why did the parents torture their children?

The 13 tortured children stayed the way that abused wives stay – fear, submission, and dehumanization.

“Torture is intended to inflict pain and suffering to result in submission and dehumanization – to break one’s spirit,” says human behavior expert Dr. Patrick Wanis.

“There is a psychological process and phenomenon that leads abused victims (including battered wives) to become sympathetic, side with or fall in love with the abuser and/or become psychologically and physically dependent on the abuser for survival in all forms. This is referred to as Stockholm Syndrome. The physiological arousal created by the fear and abuse creates a deep emotional bond”, says Dr. Patrick Wanis.

“This is just one of the reasons the 13 children imprisoned in their home in California did not escape sooner and could not escape sooner.”

Summary of the Torture Committed in the House of Horrors in California

  • The District Attorney stated that what started out as neglect, became severe, prolonged child abuse and torture
  • Everyone stayed up all night and then slept all day (this also helped the Turpins to hide their children, isolate them and hide their crimes)
  • They were punished by being tied up, chained or padlocked and confined to rooms; washing hands above the wrist area was punished
  • The torture included beatings and strangulation
  • When police arrived they found that one of the children was 22 and chained to the bed
  • Children were not released from their chains to go the bathroom – sometimes for months at a time
  • They were allowed to eat only one rationed meal a day and shower just once a year; the 2-year old appears to have been properly fed
  • They suffered from severe malnourishment, muscle wasting, stunted growth, nerve damage, and cognitive impairment as a result of “extreme and prolonged” physical abuse.
  • The 29 year old female victim weighs 82 pounds
  • The 13 children have never seen a dentist
  • They never had toys (there were new toys still in their packages)
  • They were taunted with food: the parents bought food such as apple pie and placed it on the table but never allowed the children to eat; the parents themselves ate well
  • The children lacked basic knowledge of life (some didn’t know what pills or medication is)
  • They were allowed to write in journals and police are sifting through them for more evidence

Talking Points

  • This horrific story of torture is not simply explained by accusing the husband of wife of being psychopaths; their behavior was depraved but it was not simply motivated by a desire to hurt
  • Two sisters escaped from the house to contact police, but one immediately ran back home because she was too frightened; why? (Police could not explain the trigger to escape now)
  • Fear, submission, isolation, loss of identity, dehumanization and total dependence on the abuser/perpetrator paralyze the victim; Stockholm Syndrome
  • Child abuse is often the result of anger and loss of self-control; torture is designed to create complete control and domination of the child and to break her spirits
  • Social isolation is a key component and element of torture; isolation is often accompanied by an escalation of physically abusive events
  • ‘Homeschooling’ can often be a ruse designed to further isolate the child (David Turpin registered his home as a school)
  • The District Attorney could not say who played a larger role in the torture – David or Louise Turpin (investigation has just begun)
  • A 2014 study of 28 cases of child torture reveals that in every case, a female adult was involved in the torture; 20 males out of 28 cases were also involved in the abuse; all adults in the home knew what was going on; most partially confessed their crimes but minimized or rationalized their involvement by blaming the victim for the abusive behavior; “some perpetrators saw it as a religious duty to discipline their children harshly”; the torture went on for 8 years in one case. (See further below for the study on child torture.)

Study: “Child Torture as a Form of Child Abuse”
The study of 28 cases, published in 2014 in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma found that 36 percent of the children died as a result of their abuse, and the torture could last from three and a half months to eight years:

“All of the children were victims of psychological maltreatment; 75 % were terrorized through threats of harm or death to themselves or loved ones and 54 % were degraded and/or rejected by caregivers. Nearly all children were medically neglected. Half had a history of prior referrals to CPS. The children in this case series were physically abused, isolated, deprived of basic necessities, terrorized, and neglected. We define child torture as a longitudinal experience characterized by at least two physical assaults or one extended assault, two or more forms of psychological maltreatment, and neglect resulting in prolonged suffering, permanent disfigurement or dysfunction, or death.”
Barbara L. Knox, Suzanne P. Starling, Kenneth W. Feldman, Nancy D. Kellogg, Lori D. Frasier, and Suzanna L. Tiapula, “Child Torture as a Form of Child Abuse” in Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma 7, (2014): 37-49.

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