Charges Dropped Against Man Who Kept Family Isolated

Prosecutors say the father of nine is too ill after a stroke to be tried on charges that included sexually abusing two of his children.

The district court building in The Hague, Netherlands. (Photo via De Rechtspraak)

ASSEN, The Netherlands (CN) — After a rare request from the public prosecution service, a Dutch court has dismissed the criminal case against a man accused of holding his children hostage for nearly a decade. 

“The suspect has such physical and cognitive limitations that he is unable to follow the court proceeding,” Presiding Judge Elly Läkamp said during Thursday’s hearing before the Assen District Court.

Gerrit Jan van Dorsten, 68, suffered a stroke in 2016 that left him partially paralyzed and unable to speak. In requesting the charges be dropped, the public prosecution service cited the fair trial requirement of the European Convention of Human Rights, saying medical experts have determined that he is physically and mentally unable to stand trial because he cannot assist in his own defense.

Van Dorsten was arrested in 2019 and later identified by the cult known as the Moonies as a former member.

The Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s controversial Unification church says Van Dorsten left the organization in 1987. Van Dorsten’s wife reportedly died in 2004, and six years later he moved the family to a farmhouse in Ruinerwold, a remote village in the east of the Netherlands.

Police raided the dwelling after the oldest of six adult children living on the farm escaped to a nearby bar and asked for help. The son, then 25, reportedly led authorities to a small room hidden behind a cupboard where the family had been living with the ailing Van Dorsten.

Ruinerwold Mayor Roger de Groot told reporters at the time that he “had never seen anything like this.” 

When the eldest of the children on the farm managed to escape in 2019, he walked to a nearby bar and attempted to order a beer. Appearing confused and unkempt, he returned two more times before finally telling bar staff he was worried about his family’s living conditions.

Police later found a diary kept by Van Dorsten that backed up what the children told them: that they were beaten, deprived of food and water, and prevented from getting medical care. The public prosecution service says Van Dorsten also sexually abused two of his daughters. 

Their mother died in 2004. On the farm, the family maintained a vegetable patch and kept goats, but had little to no contact with the outside world. Van Dorsten had nine children in total, the oldest of whom cut ties with him over his abusive behavior. Because the births of the youngest six children were never registered, authorities had no reason to suspect they were living there.

With the youngest of the children found on the farm now aged 19, most stood opposed to their father’s prosecution. Only the three eldest siblings supported Van Dorsten’s prosecution, as did the sibling who escaped.

During a hearing two weeks ago about their father’s mental fitness, the oldest child, whose name has not been disclosed, spoke on behalf of his pro-prosecution siblings. “We would be very sorry if this lawsuit was extinguished. We have made very difficult statements about the hostage situation.” 

Defense lawyer Robert Snorn meanwhile told local broadcaster RTV Drenthe: “The youngest five children are very happy.”

Prosecutors released a statement last month that, having been freed from their father’s control, the children can still opt for lives of isolation.

“In the past 18 months, the children have got to know our society, have been able to participate in it and have received spiritual and medical care,” prosecutors said in a statement. “If, now that they have been able to taste the alternative, they nevertheless choose to want to live in seclusion with their father again, to exercise their faith … that is their choice.”

While it is not clear what will happen to the stroke-addled Van Dorsten, prosecutors still aim to try another man on charges that he helped keep the children hostage. Josef Brunner, originally from Austria, rented another building on the property and acted as a handyman, bringing bringing the family food.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the Ruinerworld farmhouse as belonging to Unification Church. Courthouse News regrets the error.

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