Is there a torturer living next door to you?
When their neighbors, David and Louise Turpin, were arrested for allegedly committing the most heinous crimes of 2018, the community of Perris, California began struggling with “the banality of evil.” How could they have been living next door to a house of torture?
Louise and David Turpin are accused of inflicting long-term cruelty on their 13 children whom they starved and imprisoned, denied access to basic hygiene and health care and sometimes kept shackled to their beds. The children were deprived of nutrition, freedom, social contact and even sunshine. When freed by the police, they emerged unnaturally white and so severely malnourished that they looked years younger than their chronological ages.
The house of horrors was an ordinary house, on an ordinary street in an ordinary exurb in Southern California.
How is that possible?
Isolation is how. Ironically, at the same time that our nation worries about the wholesale loss of privacy - to Internet intrusion, security surveillance, and cameras everywhere – we are also more isolated from one another than ever before. Consider for a moment … how well do you know your neighbors?
It’s so easy to be isolated in our culture. These children were home-schooled, registered in a system that totally lacks monitoring. Unlike most home-schooling parents who provide their kids with opportunities to socialize, the Turpins avoided outside contact. The children did not play in the neighborhood playground, they didn’t join the Scouts, or bike around the neighborhood, or join the swim club, or even attend church services and Sunday school. The family accepted no invitations and welcomed no one to their home.
That’s the way evil can live next door.
The Turpin family’s heartbreaking story is unique and extreme, but, sadly, child abuse is all too common in America. The U.S. has one of the worst records of child maltreatment among industrialized nations.
There is a hidden epidemic of child neglect and abuse in every community. Every 10 seconds a report of child abuse is made to child protection agencies, and 3.6 million referrals are made to those agencies annually, involving 6.6 million children (one referral can include multiple children).
Between 4 and 7 children every day die as a result of child abuse and neglect. The actual number is probably even higher. Studies indicate significant undercounting of child maltreatment fatalities by state agencies — by 50 percent or more.
The Turpins were never reported. Neighbors noted they seemed “strange” and “odd,” extended family members were told not to visit, but apparently no one ever thought the family’s peculiar lifestyle might be a cover for torture.
What can you do to help the next child in an abusive family? For starters, try to get to know your neighbors. That doesn’t mean being nosy and intrusive, but rather taking the time to be interested, to reach out and to offer neighborly help.
Sometimes people are reluctant to report their concerns for fear of conflict or retaliation. Many states recognize this obstacle to child safety, and therefore allow anonymous reporting to child protection agencies and protect the identity of the person who calls in their concerns.
For information on how to file a report of suspected child abuse and neglect call the Childhelp® National Child Abuse Hotline. Childhelp® can be reached 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, at its toll-free number, 1.800.4-A-CHILD® (1.800.422.4453).
A child’s life may depend on you.