The dystopian future depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale has nothing on the dystopian present described this past week in Room 410 of the Bucks County Courthouse.
That’s where the trial of Lee Kaplan has unfolded in repulsive detail. Kaplan, 52, is the Feasterville monster who was given six young sisters (“gifted,” it was called) by their parents, Savilla and Daniel Stoltzfus.
His mission: To teach them the ways of the world, as shared with him by God himself.
That’s where the Hulu megahit tale of handmaid slaves easily intersects with the real-life tale of six sisters who were allegedly reduced to sperm vessels by Kaplan, with hearty approval of their mother and father.
Kaplan’s world was one where females exist as man’s chattel and bedmates, no matter how young. The Stoltzfus girls did not attend school, had never been to doctors, and were forbidden to play with children outside their family.
Their lives mattered so little, their very existence was never even established with birth certificates.
How chillingly convenient. If a girl is off the books and out of sight, you can do what you want to her.
Which is exactly what happened until June 2016, when a suspicious passerby, a nurse, saw the girls playing in Kaplan's yard and thought things didn't look right. She called 911 and hell, long overdue, broke loose.
As if we needed another reason to love nurses.
Kaplan is accused of raping or sexually assaulting all six sisters and impregnating the oldest one twice. The abuse began when the girls were between the ages of 7 and 11, and persisted for years before the girls started moving into his house in 2012. One little girl was anally raped at 9.
Don’t even try to wrap your head around that. It’s impossible. I’ve tried.
But feel free to place the Stoltzfus sisters on the long list of girls who are traded, borrowed or sold to those who believe a female's only purpose is to pleasure her man and whelp his young’uns, even if she’s practically a baby herself.
Like the 230 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped in 2014 by the terrorist group Boko Haram, whose leader claimed the girls should be getting married, not educated. Many of the girls who managed to return to their families – by escape or negotiated release – had borne their kidnappers’ children.
But at least they made it home. The majority of the girls remain unaccounted for.
And remember the 437 children removed by authorities in 2008 from the Eldorado, Texas, compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? The residents believed in polygamous marriage involving underage girls, whom they groomed for sex with older males.
Like the Stoltzfus sisters, they didn’t attend school either. Kept ignorant, they tended babies, gardens, and old men’s perversions. After the raid, some girls protested the intrusion of authorities, insisting they had chosen the lives they lived.
But if it’s the only life presented, is it really a choice?
On Friday, detectives who investigated the Kaplan case told the Doylestown jury it was harrowing for the Stoltzfus girls to describe to them the intimate details of their sexual relationships with Kaplan, who considered them his “wives.”
“It was very painful for them to talk openly about very personal sexual matters," said Bucks County Detective David Hanks. One sister in particular “had a very hard time; even describing certain acts was very troubling for her and for us. There were some questions she did not want to answer, and we didn’t force her to answer.”
That poor child and her sisters were on the witness stand Thursday, as reported by my colleague Justine McDaniel. They had to share publicly what had been grueling enough to share in a small interrogation room with sensitive law enforcement interviewers.
I know a person is innocent until proven guilty. I know we’re all entitled to a defense when accused of a crime.
Blah, blah, blah.
If Kaplan has a heart, he would have pleaded guilty and spared his youthful “wives” the torment of confirming publicly the intimate details of their abuse.
It wouldn’t erase the horrors these handmaids endured. But it would indicate, maybe for the first time ever, that a grown-up considered the girls' needs before their own.