After a pattern of abuse that for some in the Turpin family could have gone on for more than two decades, the 13 California siblings found starving and living in miserable conditions are now free. But even as they heal from some of the physical effects of malnutrition, the recovery process from years of alleged psychological abuse could take far longer than many people would expect.
57-year-old David Allen Turpin and 49-year-old Louise Anna Turpin are facing numerous charges of child abuse, abuse of dependent adults, false imprisonment, and torture. David was also hit with a charge of lewd conduct with a child under the age of 14.
During a court hearing on Thursday, the parents both pleaded not guilty. More charges could be brought to bear as the investigation continues. If found guilty of all the existing accusations, they could be sentenced to 94 years to life in prison.
Evidence and victim testimonies have told an account of starvation, beatings, psychological manipulations, and almost complete isolation from society, imposed on the six kids and seven young adults by their own biological parents. Reportedly, the siblings were even subjected to weeks and months of being chained up without access to a bathroom for committing infractions in the extremely strict household.
Whatever the extent of the abuse was, it all ended when one of the siblings, a 17-year-old girl, escaped the house on Sunday and called for help. Now the kids are being treated together at one pediatrics hospital while the adults are being treated together at another medical facility.
Authorities were shocked to discover that many of the siblings didn’t even have a concept of what a police officer, pills, or medication was, according to Fox News.
"To not even know something like that really speaks to how incredibly controlled their environment was. They're going to experience a culture shock even apart from the trauma they have undergone," explained mental health therapy expert Patricia Costales, who deals with these types of cases.
Her words match up with those of kidnapping-victim-turned-activist Elizabeth Smart, who said that the psychological chains holding her back from escaping during her 9 months in captivity were far more powerful than any physical ones.
The adult siblings appear to be stunted in growth, evidence of years of insufficient nutrition. The road to physical and psychological recovery will probably be much longer for them than their younger siblings.
With the minors, Costales explained, "Their brains are still adapting, they're still forming, they're still developing their understanding of the world. But someone who has experienced these things for 20-some years of their life will have a lot of learning to do about what relationships are like, what the world is like, how they're supposed to be treated."
Although the siblings have been described as being “relieved” to be out of their previous situation, clinical psychologist Jessica Borelli warned that the drive to be back with their parents could be strong in spite of how horrific the abuse seems to have been.
Borelli explained, "When we come into this world, our attachment figures are our primary sources of safety and security, no matter how abusive they are. That impulse or that draw to be back with the people who are supposed to keep you safe is incredibly strong, and that is what has to be overridden to get out of an abusive situation."
She does believe that the 17-year-old who escaped is different from the ones who did not, and that difference could make her a help to her siblings.
"To me, that is a sign she has something inside of her that is really healthy. One of the things that happens with really prolonged abuse like this is the instincts about self-protection and the desire to protect oneself are totally disrupted — but she has it. So, I think she might be someone who can help," Borelli theorized.
Clinical psychologist Abbey Kanzer added, "The hope for treatment is to find a way so the trauma becomes a contained part of what happened to them. It becomes part of their story, but not their complete story."
Please pray for the hope and healing that comes from above, too, as these precious children and young adults grapple with how to navigate in a whole new world. In related news, prosecutor Mike Hestrin has revealed more details about their lives to ABC News and has tremendous praise for the 17-year-old escapee.