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A horrific case of child abuse has gripped the nation, after a 17-year-old girl escaped from her parents’ California home, dialed 911, and informed the police that she, along with 12 of her siblings, was being held as a prisoner.
Thirteen children between the ages of 2 and 29 were soon pulled from the house, People reports. These survivors, all children of David Turpin, 57, and his wife Louise, police say, were found shackled and emaciated in the suburban home.
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Arrested on January 14, 2018, the Turpins are now charged with torture and child abuse. Law enforcement officials say the children were forced to live in “horrific” conditions, surrounded by waste and filth, some tied to their own beds with thick cords of rope.
Their parents, police reports continue, would use starvation as a punishment for “bad” behavior. One of the children, now 29-years-old, is so malnourished that authorities initially thought she was 15.
Routine beatings left several of the children with permanent nerve damage and cognitive impairments, prosecutors allege. Today, the parents, David and Louise Turpin, face nearly 30 criminal charges, from torture to false imprisonment.
In addition, David Turpin is accused of committing a lewd act on a child under 14 and, while the alleged crime is likely sexual in nature, prosecutors haven’t expanded on its factual basis.
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Much of what went on inside the California home is still unknown, but more details will probably be forthcoming. “About the only thing the children were allowed to do while chained up or in their rooms,” says Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin, “was to write in journals. We now have recovered those journals – hundreds of them – and we are combing through them for evidence.”
If convicted, the couple will be sentenced to between 94 years and life in prison. And, on January 24, Judge Emma Smith of the Riverside County District Court ordered the Turpins not to contact their children for 3 years. The couple’s attorney did not oppose the order. The children are now recovering in the hospital.
Police sources say the Turpin children were abused and imprisoned for years. Their mistreatment was “severe, pervasive [and] prolonged,” authorities say. Why did it take so long for anyone to notice?
In point of fact, no one noticed. It was only through the extraordinary courage of a 17-year-old, who had been planning an escape with her siblings for 2 years, that the Turpins’ 13 children are now free. But it’s still puzzling, and troubling, that a family allegedly guilty of such awful crimes could evade capture.
District Attorney Hestrin, a California sexual abuse lawyer who is leading the criminal case, says that, as the family moved from Texas to Murrieta, California and, ultimately, the nearby town of Perris where the children were rescued, their mistreatment escalated, from neglect to outright physical and emotional abuse. Yet “it appears no one noticed what was happening,” Hestrin says.
The family’s odd living habits are something of an explanation; the couple and their children, police report, were effectively nocturnal, sleeping through the day and staying up “all through the night.”
And they were also, at least nominally, homeschooled, although the children seemed to “lack[…] a basic knowledge of life” when speaking to police. The 17-year-old girl who escaped and called the authorities didn’t know what medication or pills are. The last time any of them saw a doctor was over 4 years ago.
Homeschooling is an empowering choice for many families, one that can provide an individualized education for children who are poorly served by the public school system. The vast majority of people who homeschool are caring, loving parents who simply want the best for their children. And the vast majority of children who are abused are enrolled in public or private schools outside of the home.
But for obvious reasons, homeschooling can, in extreme cases, also serve as a cover for abusive parents. There is no better way, Rachel Coleman and Kathryn Brightbill note in the LA Times, to utterly control the life of a child than to withdraw them from the outside world. Not all of the Turpins, though, were completely cut off. One of the older sons was enrolled and attending classes at a local community college, but was always shepherded to and from lessons by his mother.