Eight missing years

Dateline: 30 August 2006

In 1998, Bill Clinton was President and his wife was the unemployed member of the family. It was the year she coined the phrase ‘vast right wing conspiracy’. Paula Jones accused the President of sexual harassment and we heard of Monica Lewinsky for the first time. Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. Sonny Bono and Lloyd Bridges died; the Spice Girls were the biggest band in the world, though Geri (Ginger Spice) quit part way through the year. Yahoo! and AltaVista were the major internet search engines, though in California a couple of Stanford doctoral students founded Google.

In Austria, a ten-year old girl, Natascha Kampusch went missing. Her distraught family heard nothing until she escaped from her kidnapper last week.

The brief look at the changes in the world over the last eight years tell us that 1998 was a long time ago. But the changes in the world are as nothing to the changes in one person’s life. What happened to you between the ages of ten and eighteen? Your first kiss? Your first date? Perhaps you went further than kissing? You probably learnt to drive. If there was an election when you turned 18 you could vote in it. Perhaps you got married, or met the person you would later marry.

How did yourview of the world change? At ten did you know the President’s name? It is likely that, looking back on 1998, Natascha recalls a great deal more about the Spice Girls than about Bill Clinton.

How did your relationships change? With your parents? With your siblings? You learnt to speak with adults on a fairly equal basis. They started to listen to your opinions.

In those eight years, despite all her physical changes, Natascha only met one adult. He didn’t listen to her at all. He made her call him ‘master’.*

Austria is a fairly small country. Its population is about the same as Georgia’s, meaning eight US States are larger. Landlocked since the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled in 1918 the country speaks a strongly accented type of German. It is a fairly wealthy and peaceable country and young Natascha’s kidnapping in Vienna, the capital city, was newsworthy at the time. But as the investigation wore on, the story dropped out of the news.

For her family, of course, nothing changed. Every day they kept hoping would be the day, when they would finally hear news of Natascha. Looking back, they say they never gave up hope, but there must have been many days when they feared the worst. When children go missing – a thankfully very rare event – those that are not found within a few days are rarely found alive.

Yet this one girl was alive the whole time. Locked in a dungeon, not terribly far from her family home. As time wore on her kidnapper grew more lax in attending to security. He probably believed she had given up hope of ever escaping. But she never did. And one day, he got too lax, and she escaped. When he found out what had happened he cheated justice by committing suicide.

But what will happen now to a girl whose formative years were stolen?

*Though widely reported at the time, Natascha has since said that she never called her kidnapper 'master'.

Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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