Things That Matter

A 5-Year-Old Girl Was Abandoned By Her Parents And Found Chained To Her Bed In Mexico

More often than we might like, headlines tend to describe literal, living nightmares—and the recent story about a 5-year-old girl abandoned by her parents in Mexico is no exception. On January 3, a young girl was found in an empty house in San Luis Potosi, tethered to her bed by a rusty chain. Neighbors had heard cries for help coming from the house and notified the local police. When authorities arrived on the scene, they discovered that the girl was living in terrible conditions: not only was she alone, but she was surrounded by piles of trash and filth. Mexican newspaper Excelsior reported that investigators also found a small bucket near the bed, which the child was forced to use as a toilet. She had bruises on her leg and ankle from the metal cuff. After noting her injuries, police transferred her to a local hospital where and she was found to be in stable condition. As of now, the state prosecutor’s office is collaborating with child protective services and police in an attempt to locate the child’s parents.

Not much is yet known about this child (her name is not being released), and no arrests have yet been made. But what we do know is that her situation is not unique.

When searching for information about this story, countless results recounting nearly identical situations appeared, with headlines like “Girl, 6, Was Chained to Bed for 5 Years in Norco Home;” and “‘They’re Chained Up to Their Bed’: Hear 911 Call From Girl Who Escaped Captivity, Saved Her 12 Siblings.” Although each case offers its own twisted nuances, we can’t help but wonder: How is it possible that this horror story of captivity, abuse, and neglect is so common?

The tale that garnered the most media attention in recent years—mentioned in the above headline about a girl who escaped to save her 12 siblings—chronicles the experience of the Turpin children, all of whom were held captive by their parents over the course of almost three decades.

The torture and abuse enacted upon the Turpin children started as neglect, according to officials. In the beginning, the children’s parents would tie them to their beds as a form of punishment, using rope before later graduating to padlocks and chains. At first, the children would only be confined for short periods; but over time, these stints began to stretch longer and longer, sometimes spanning days or weeks, and the siblings—aged 2 to 29—would not be allowed to use the bathroom.

When the siblings were discovered by police in January 2018, almost all of them were severely malnourished. Evidently, when they were not chained up, they were fed very little food according to a strict regimen. Sometimes, the Turpin parents would buy food and place it in plain sight, taunting the children by prohibiting them from tasting it. According to Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin, at the time the siblings were rescued, one 12-year-old weighed what an average 7-year-old might weigh, and the female 29-year-old clocked in at a mere 82 pounds. The family dogs, on the other hand, appeared to be in good spirits and overall good health.

In spite of her emaciated physical condition, the 17-year-old managed to escape by climbing out a window and dialing 911 on a deactivated cell phone (federal law requires that all cell phones be capable of contacting emergency services, even those that are not operational). According to Hestrin, she and some of her siblings had been devising an escape plan for over two years.

So, statistically, how many victims of domestic captivity are able to share successful stories of escape? It’s tough to say, as there is no definitive number of children in domestic captivity, and it’s ultimately impossible to compare the numbers of known cases with unknown, still-active cases.

Plus, experts say that the potential consequences of attempting to escape often deter victims from even trying. Fear of violence and/or punishment—paired with psychological conditions like Stockholm Syndrome, which occurs when captives become emotionally attached to their captors—is often a major reason that captives don’t try to flee. Long periods of abuse can also lead to a loss of perspective in victims, causing them to feel grateful for any sort of lull in abuse and potentially falling into complacency or acceptance when the abuse is paused or slowed.  

Although the children mentioned above were held captive by their own parents, human trafficking—and especially the trafficking of young children—continues to be a pervasive global issue. According to the latest global estimates, 25 million adults and children are currently being exploited for forced labor, and that is not a comprehensive metric. The statistics surrounding the breadth of human exploitation are staggering, and if you suspect that someone is a victim of trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline is the best resource. Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888: Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take any and all reports of potential cases.

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