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Dutch father abused his children due to 'bad spirits'

January 21, 2020

A Dutch court has detained a man accused of beating his children as punishment for being "unclean." Judges have ordered the father and a suspected Austrian accomplice to remain in custody as investigations continue.

Farmhouse in Ruinerwold
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Bijzitter

A Dutch father held his children in captivity for almost a decade in an isolated farmhouse in Ruinerwold, two hours northeast of Amsterdam. They were cut off from the rest of the world and were physically and mentally abused, prosecutors told a court on Tuesday.

Gerrit Jan van Dorsten, 67, is charged with unlawful detention, child abuse and money laundering. The court ordered him and a suspected accomplice to be detained for another three months while further investigations are carried out.

He had held six of his nine children captive and beat them to drive out "bad spirits," prosecutors said. He also told his children that the spirits would enter their bodies if they talked to outsiders and subjected them to "very serious physical punishment" if they were what he considered to be "unclean."

Prosecutors said the man deprived the children of their liberty from 2007 to 2019, as well as "punching, kicking and denying food and drink" to the six children. Dorsten is also charged with sexually abusing two of the older three children.

"All the children report physical punishment if they were deemed to be under the influence of spirits. This happened from a very young age, with children as young as four or five years old," prosecutor Diana Roggen told the judges.

Prosecutors said the youngest six of Dorsten's nine children "lived in seclusion from birth, were kept indoors and had to be quiet so that no one would notice that they existed."

The youngsters were not registered with Dutch authorities and had never been to school, prosecutors said.

Read more: Opinion: Catholic Church has a duty to migrants, abuse victims

Absent from pre-trial

Dorsten did not attend the opening of the preliminary court hearing in the northeastern Dutch city of Assen. Due to a brain hemorrhage, he is no longer able to talk and is currently in a prison hospital in The Hague, according to Dutch broadcaster NOS.

Prosecutors depicted Dorsten as a religious man who saw his family as "chosen by God" and did everything in his power, including physical beatings, to keep them away from what he believed to be evil external influences.

"The punishments would consist of beatings, sometimes with a stick or other objects, pulling of their hair, sometimes making them sit in a cold bath for hours. Sometimes they were chocked to the point where they became unconscious," Roggen said.

Farmhouse in Ruinerwold
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Bijzitter

Prosecutors also said one child was tied up by his hands and feet as punishment, while another child was forced to spend an entire summer in a doghouse at the farm in northern Drenthe province.

Austrian accomplice

The family was first discovered in October last year when the eldest son, who was still living on the farm, went into a local bar in a confused state, sparking concern about the welfare of his siblings.

Police raided the farm and arrested Dorsten and a 58-year-old Austrian man, Josef Brunner.

Brunner, who appeared in court Tuesday, is accused of complicity and charged with depriving the children of their liberty. He had rented the farmhouse in Ruinerwold to the father, brought the family food and helped with the farm's vegetable garden.

"Without the suspect ...  this situation could not have happened," prosecutors said.

"I feel like this is a witch hunt," Brunner told the court. "I have a clear conscience ... I have not robbed anyone of their freedom."

Defense lawyers will also question the children behind closed doors.

Prosecutors said the three oldest children were not permitted to talk about the existence of their brothers and sisters.

mvb/ng (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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