Monday, May 09, 2005


Catholic Herald 21 April 2005
Home Front by Sarah Johnson
Kept captive in a cellar for 80 days, subjected to hideous physical and mental torture - and all at the age of 12. The whole of Europe is in awe of Sabine Dardenne, one of the victims of Belgian murderer and rapist Marc Dutroux.
Now 21, Sabine has just published her story - “I choose to Live” - a great title, because she does just that: she chooses to live. Everyone is astonished by her refusal to embrace “victimhood“ or to fall into the modern image of a permanently damaged person.
After her rescue from the filthy cubby-hole in which Dutroux kept her for three months - sick, bleeding as a result of repeated rape and close to starvation - Sabine was naturally sent to a psychiatrist:
“This woman showed me splotches of ink, asked me what they were. I said, splotches of ink. She showed me a picture of a little girl with flowers, asked me what it was. I said, a little girl with flowers. She said is that all? I said, of course it is! That’s the day I understood that if I wasn’t careful I really would go mad - not with what had happened, but with all the whys and wherefores afterwards.”
She wrote her book to express her desire to live a normal life, to have a boyfriend and smoke too much like any other Euroteen. Inevitably, we feel we must label her as “brave little Sabine”, because she doesn’t mind walking down the street where she was abducted by Dutroux: “I’d have to be really unlucky, wouldn’t I, to be snatched twice in the same way?“ she snaps back with down to earth and unassailable logic
Sabine does not believe in God. She thinks that “it’s not for God to save us, it’s for us to save ourselves” and concludes from this that God does not exist. Her mother died recently: “If there is a God and He’s meant to be looking after us, then why have I lost my mother?” she blurted out, almost in tears, to one interviewer.
Yet, during her incarceration, she christened the room, which Dutroux used for his worst attacks, the “Calvary” room. It was from the religion she now rejects that she drew the language she needed to deal with this horror; it was from the Catholic mysteries and stories that she unearthed the discourse of suffering that has helped her become the tough, resilient lassie she now is.
I don’t know what kind of religious teaching Sabine had, but I would imagine it was on similar lines to that which most Christian children receive nowadays: lots of emphasis on self-esteem, “Thank You Lord for Making Me Me! Me! Me!” The RE advisors, who warned teachers in Norfolk recently that speaking of the “Holy Ghost” and referring too boldly to the body and blood of Christ might “frighten” children, were only doing their job: we now try to make religion as nice and jolly as possible.
In her hour of need, Sabine, with the clear-sightedness which anyone within five miles of an intelligent 12 year old will instantly recognise, turned to those aspects of her taught religion which her teachers had - I’m guessing, but I’ll bet it’s a good guess - been at pains to play down. The suffering, the sorrow and - yes - the horror.
In the end, the “If I were a fuzzy wuzzy bear, I’d thank you Lord, for giving me hair” - or whatever it is that Belgian children sing instead - let Sabine down badly, and gave her no succour. Instead, it was the hidden, mystical part of her religion - the knowledge, however deeply buried, that once upon a time Christ shared her suffering and was sharing it still - which helped this remarkable young woman to pull through.
I am always interested in the nearly-there holy people, the ones who skirt round God and then charge off in the opposite direction; we can learn so much from their reasons for not believing. It would be impertinent of me to suggest that Sabine Dardenne will one day believe in God. Yet God clearly believes very much in Sabine Dardenne, and, much as it would annoy her for anyone to say so, He is waiting for her still.

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