Will we allow Marli van Breda to live a private life?


Celebrities have always been in the limelight. Whatever your opinion about their right to privacy, as people of interest, their tragedies are recorded more than ever by an ever-watchful internet.

The meteoric demise of Amanda Bynes in 2012 and the scrutiny of Bobbi Kristina Brown's life and then death last year (especially after her own mother Whitney was found dead) attest to this fact.

But do we also pursue the details of ordinary citizens who are cast as 'famous personalities' after surviving a terrible trauma or crime?

Marli van Breda, is the only survivor of the brutal axe murders committed by her recently convicted brother, Henri van Breda in Stellenbosch in 2015. She obtained retrograde amnesia due to the severity of the injuries.

According to News24, she has been living with Louise Buikman who was appointed by the court three years ago to be her caretaker. Despite Marli being over 18 now, Buikman could be granted further care of her in court, which will allow her to be “authorised to continue to act on behalf of Marli and to assist her in legal proceedings as well as all ‘major decisions”, according to the same article.  

Image: Supplied by family after Marli was released from hospital after the attack.

READ MORE: Love in the time of murder and trials: Why do we find it difficult to stomach Danielle standing by Henri?  

Like many other survivors of horrific crimes, and especially when they are underage, they are hidden from the media to protect them. No post-trauma pictures, no interviews, no communication with media whatsoever. 

To me the interesting question is whether we would have wanted to read stories of and by survivors who are minors. Do we have an innate regard for children who have experienced trauma? Does this extend to adults?

Joburg-based clinical psychologist, Giada Del Fabbro says, “I think we offer pseudo-respect, because that is the socially empathic and acceptable thing to do. But I think that deep down we are fascinated with the gruesome details in the same way that we would enjoy reading about the killer/abuser.” 

Let’s consider Elizabeth Fritzl, now 52, held captive in an underground cellar in Amstetten, Austria for 24 years by her father, Josef. She now lives in a house in an area which the Austrian media refers to as ‘Village X’. 

The house, under constant CCTV surveillance according to The Independent, says that inhabitants of the village have formed a sort of protective army, keeping any journalists out and working alongside police to protect Elizabeth and her children’s privacy.

She has been so well ‘hidden’ that the last picture anyone has seen of her in the media is one where she was 16 years old.

Then there's the case of Natascha Kampusch who was kidnapped at age 10 and held captive for 10 years by Wolfgang Priklopil. Yet The Mirror reported in 2016 that the story didn't end when she escaped.

Despite Kampusch's insistence that she only had one kidnapper, police and the media kept looking into a witness's statement. Ischtar Akcan, aged 12 at the time of her kidnapping, was adamant that she was taken by two men. She vehemently denied this throughout. 

In 2014 she announced that she was going to cut herself off from people and all social media. Even though she said she found people sympathetic, she was also stalked and "the attention... made her wary of relationships", according to The Telegraph.

Cape Town-based clinical psychologist Samuel Waumsley says, “I think we intuitively understand the major boundaries like this in relationships that exist. Research shows we are very good neuropsychologically in terms of ascertaining fairness - there is a brain area devoted to it, evolutionarily it's very important to us. The public understands this is not the survivor's crime and that she’s entitled to her privacy.”

Along with being protected by her community, we hope that the public will follow suit and offer Marli the same courtesy - whether out of pseudo or complete respect. 

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