Sabine Dardenne's Story: Surviving Marc Dutroux

Marc Dutroux is one of the most notorious killers Europe has ever seen. During a spree of terror in the 1990s, he kidnapped, raped and killed four young girls in Belgium. But two of his victims survived and later testified in his trial. In a new book, survivor Sabine Dardenne tells her story for the first time.

For 80 days, Sabine Dardenne was repeatedly raped, abused and forced to live in a small cellar. Eight years later, after Dutroux's trial, she is trying to lead a normal life in Paris.
AFP

For 80 days, Sabine Dardenne was repeatedly raped, abused and forced to live in a small cellar. Eight years later, after Dutroux's trial, she is trying to lead a normal life in Paris.

She returned and felt the looks of those who felt sorry for her, who just wanted to hug her, but also those of other people who "imagined things" that might have happened to a 12-year-old girl in Marc Dutroux's dungeon. She says that she always tried to ignore their looks, "even when they looked at me as if I were from Mars."

She smokes quickly and nervously. It's early on an October evening, and there's a flickering sunset over Paris.

She returned from a basement in the Belgian town of Marcinelle. Her name was Sabine Dardenne, and she was a victim of child-molester Dutroux, who locked up and molested her for 80 days. But she says that the looks people gave her, "they were the worst, afterwards."

Now, eight years later, she faces the same looks. Since the Dutroux trial this spring, people recognize her adult face, and it will soon become even more recognizable when it appears on book covers in France, Belgium, Germany and in a total of almost 30 countries. It's her book, and she wanted it this way. Mademoiselle Dardenne, slim, her eyes framed with eye-liner, wearing a tiny jewel in her nose; a 21-year-old who, oddly enough, doesn't seem older than 21. Sabine Dardenne, surrounded by bookshelves in an office on the 49th floor, high above Paris, in the offices of her publisher, Oh! Editions in the Montparnasse Tower. In French, her book is called: I was 12 when I got on my bicycle and headed for school.

It's the story of a girl who returns, a story that confronts the lingering fears of the families of missing children: Will she still be my daughter when she returns? What will she be like?

Eighty Days in the Worst Imaginable Hell

Sabine Dardenne endured 80 days of abuse, filth, and mortal agony, 80 days smelling the foul breath of this man she calls "the pig," and who told her: "You are my new wife." This man who forced her to spend nights in his double bed, who tied her foot to his foot, who didn't care about her pain, and who told her not to make such a fuss, that it just happens to hurt a little the first time.

At the time, she couldn't know that at least four other girls hadn't survived their encounters with Dutroux. Their names were An, Eefje, Julie and Melissa. Sabine was freed on August 15, 1996, together with Laetitia, with whom she had shared her captivity for six days. And then what happened? How does one live as someone who survived?

Laetitia Delhez received visitors, spoke with friends and, within a week of her return, was sitting in her mother's living room, apparently enjoying the attention she was getting from German journalists. She sat there beaming, excited, hectic, barely able to catch her breath among the flowers and letters and gifts, as if she had not yet truly understood what happened during those six days in Dutroux's basement.

Sabine Dardenne, on the other hand, didn't talk about her story for eight years.

"It was my problem, mine. I had to deal with it on my own."

A Need for Normalcy

Darkness descends on Paris. She pulls her thick, light-blue wool scarf more tightly around her neck, and says: "Everyone expected me to descend into self-pity. But that's not the way I am."

A 12-year-old who experienced things that her family doesn't dare imagine. A girl whose family suddenly wants to do whatever it can to protect her, a girl who withdraws to her room in the attic just to get away: "You're not helping me by suffocating me." She rides her bike to school in the morning. "Normal," she says.

"Normal" has become a big, important word.

In June, a Belgian court sentenced Dutroux to life imprisonment for the kidnapping and murder of the girls.
AFP

In June, a Belgian court sentenced Dutroux to life imprisonment for the kidnapping and murder of the girls.

She's not allowed to watch TV with her family on those days when every program is about Dutroux. Dutroux, Dutroux, Dutroux. She watches TV surreptitiously.

What about her girlfriends? They're 12, truly 12, but she's only nominally 12-years-old. She thinks to herself, "I've grown older; maybe they think that I'm putting on airs," but she still prefers their company over that of adults. These 12-year-olds don't imagine things. "If only you knew," she sometimes thinks to herself. Thank God they don't know.

She refused to tell her parents anything. She said to her mother: "It's happened and it can't be changed. You'll only feel ten times as bad if you know what happened."

She doesn't want psychotherapy. She has willed herself to be normal, and normal people don't need therapists.

Once, just once, she gives in and agrees to meet with a therapist, who asks her to interpret inkblots. She thinks to herself, no one can help me -- except me.

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