"I Choose to Live" is a very apt title for this book by Sabine Dardenne about her 80 days as a twelve year old held captive by Marc Dutroux, Belgium's notorious paedophile. Sabine describes her ordeal at Dutroux's hands pretty graphically, though understandably holds back on the worst of what happened to her. The conditions she describes being held in are almost unbelievable, and would not be believed if written in fiction. Sabine describes the events she was forced to go through with tremendous courage and really opens your eyes as to just what horrors some people are capable of.
Her perspective is almost unique, from the point of view that very few girls survive this sort of ordeal, and so you really get a sense of what it is like to be the victim in such a crime. Too often books focus on the perpetraitor, but here Sabine speaks for all victims of sex crimes and this makes the piece very moving.
Equally interesting is the events that happened after her rescue - how she dealt with her ordeal, the break up of her family, her treatment by the media and those whose daughters were killed by Dutroux, her friendship with her fellow cative Laetitia Dehlez and the trial. All these are described in detail and merely add to the respect you already feel for a person who has come through all this trauma sane. It is fascinating to see the differences between the Belgian legal system and our own. Sabine also gives her opinion on the idea Dutroux was merely a middle man in a large paedophile ring which are also fascinating to read.
I can't say I enjoyed this book, as the subject matter is horrendous. I also think it lost a little of it's power in translation and at times the chronlogy is a bit muddled and hard to follow. However, this is still an important and worthwile read, and I have a hgue admiration for it's tremendously brave author.
on 15 May 2005
This is a dignified account of the horrendous kidnapping and abuse 12 year old Sabine Dardenne suffered for 80 days in 1996 and the subsequent trial in 2004 of her kidnapper and rapist. The strength of a young girl to come through such a horrendous ordeal unbroken and unbowed is incredible and I salute her.
The book itself is not enjoyable due to the nature of it. At times I forgot that this was a real life account, so unbelievable and awful were the things Sabine and the other girls endured. However, despite the nature of it I found it hard to put down. It was captivating and I was constantly amazed how a 12 year old girl survived such a traumatic event.
on 7 February 2006
This book spares you the details of 'little Sabine's' abuse, but you fully understand how she learned to live and fight against her captor and abuser. The book leaves alot to the imagination, but boy, it doesn't take much to gather what was going on. Sabine writes from the heart, and I just couldn;t put it down.
on 5 May 2005
I pounced on this book after reading an interview with Sabine Dardenne in the "Guardian." Naturally there was my morbid curiosity about her experiences at the hands of a serial killer, but something about the feisty, engaging clear-headed voice of this young woman made me want to hear more from her. This book completely satisfies. Much more than a victim's statement, it is a testament of a normal young life and how it's been lived, during and after a failed attempt to subjugate and destroy it.
Sabine sets forth her experiences here honestly and perceptively (leaving out the details of what Marc Dutroux did to her sexually--sorry, thrill-seekers) but perceptively analyzing exactly how this not very bright psychopath was able to get away with doing what he did to her and his other victims, with a little help from his wife, a few friends, and a criminal justice system that enabled this pedophile/sadist/rapist to carry on his long and destructive career with a minimum of incarceration and apparently no follow-up afterwards.
As we learn more about sex criminals, particularly sadists and pedophiles, it's becoming clearer that such individuals cannot be rehabilitated, nor can they be trusted to live among the public at large. The solution Sabine poses, to either institutionalize them for life or keep them electronically tethered or otherwise under constant control and observation, would have spared her her 80 days as a tortured captive. But to do this would take a revolution in our way of thinking of sexual crimes against women and children--to see them as a serious threat to our community, rather than as an extension of male privilege. The same sense of male privilege that caused Dutroux to dare use Sabine the way he did.
on 4 May 2005
I really was not sure what to expect from this book. Would it be too horrific to read I wondered?
What I found was an extremely courageous woman that told her story with heart and determination.
She should hold her head up high and walk with a sure step in society, she has been through enough. This book will tell you all, it is emotional, sad and at times fill you with the anger I am sure she felt. High kudo's for this book, I hope it will be a top 10 seller.
Other reads I have found of late that are emotional as well- Nightmares Echo, Little Prisoner and Glass Castle. All superb writing
on 9 March 2006
Despite being harrowing read, this is a well written and thought provoking book. The amazing resilience of Sabine's character shines through and prevents this from being the customary "victim" book. This is an extremely good translation so that Sabine's voice comes through in a natural and unstilted way, flowing smoothly and making this book an extremely good and worthwhile read.
Belgium became the focus of international attention in the nineties because of one psychopath's notorious crimes against children. The book is not about his life, crimes and trial in general (look elsewhere for such a book), but it is the personal story of one victim who somehow survived his kidnap and abuse.
Sabine Dardenne spent eighty days in his captivity and has had to live with the consequent public and media attention in the years since. Sabine's book explains some things that other books could not cover, since only she and the psychopath knew the facts. Even things that can be explained elsewhere come from a different perspective. While much here is deeply disturbing, Sabine's survival and return to something like a normal life should act as an inspiration to us all.
Sabine wrote the book partly in the hope that people would stop giving her strange looks or asking her questions about the case. Even more important to Sabine, she wrote the book in the hope that politicians, lawyers and judges would tighten their policies on psychopaths and paedophiles, especially when considering early release from prison. Sabine's captor already had a long criminal record and he'd been given early release for good behavior prior to his series of kidnaps. Whether this book achieves any or all of those objectives, only time will tell. Nevertheless, Sabine is determined to put the past behind her and lead as normal a life as possible.
Sabine tells us the harrowing story of her time in captivity and the abuse she suffered. A novelist might go into graphic detail to dramatize the events, but while Sabine makes it very clear what took place, she avoids any more detail than is absolutely necessary. Sabine wanted no drama, the detail being too painful and too personal.
Aged twelve, Sabine was cycling to school one day when she was kidnapped and taken to a filthy house where she was held captive in truly disgusting conditions. Nobody had witnessed Sabine's disappearance, nor has any trace ever been found of the bicycle, so there were no clues for the police to go on. At the time, Sabine assumed that she was the psychopath's only victim and eventually started pestering him to allow her to have some company. The psychopath decided to kidnap somebody else (Laetitia Delhez) and this ultimately proved his undoing, as there were witnesses to that kidnap who told the police. When the police came a few days later to rescue Laetitia, they were pleasantly surprised to find Sabine as well.
The public and media attention would have been bad enough to deal with, especially in a small country without a history of previous cases (Belgians thought that this sort of thing happened in Britain and America, but not their little country), but there were other issues to confront. Sabine survived but four of the psychopath's other captives (Julie Lejeunne, Melissa Russo, An Marchal, Eefje Lambrecks) hadn't, so whenever Sabine and the parents of those victims were in the same room, it was uncomfortable. As Sabine points out, she can't keep apologizing for being alive. Sabine also felt guilty about Laetitia, having pestered the psychopath for a companion, although Laetitia never at any stage blamed Sabine.
Another problem was that everybody was keen that Sabine should see a psychiatrist. Sabine wasn't interested, preferring to work out her problems for herself. She reluctantly made one visit but vowed never to do so again, that visit being a complete waste of time. On the other hand, several members of the Dardenne family needed and got psychiatric help. Those same people couldn't understand why Sabine didn't. As if all these problems were not enough, Sabine's relationship with her mother had never been great, so Sabine didn't discuss the details of her captivity with her family, causing further tensions. While nothing else in Sabine's life could be as bad as those eighty captive days, the aftermath was difficult and remained so for several years.
The trial only finally happened eight years after the crime. Sabine presented herself in a very dignified manner, much to the consternation of those who, incredible as it may seem, wanted to prevent her giving evidence at all. Sabine's optimism and determination helped her through her darkest days and will surely keep her going well into the future. I wish Sabine luck in whatever she does. For the rest of us, the story shows that however bad things are, we should always retain some hope.
I'm glad that I read this book, but it was an emotionally draining experience. I see that my local bookstores have plenty of shelf space allocated to books about tragic lives, but having read Sabine's story, I don't think I'll be reading too many similar books.
on 18 June 2007
Sabine Dardenne tells the story of her abduction in 1996, at the age of 12, and her subsequent 80-day incarceration in a purpose-build 'hidey-hole', measuring just 6ft by 3ft. Only 12-years-old, but even at that age Sabine exhibited great courage and a remarkable strength of mind whilst facing the horrors she was subjected to. (Which are left to our imagination). The paedophile who abducted her had already received a prison sentence of 13 years for previous paedophilic activities, but was released for 'good behaviour' after serving only 3 years of his sentence. As a young woman Sabine has continued to display great strength and has shown this by telling us her story in a down to earth and objective way, and raising the awareness of the seeming ineptitude with which the law deals with child abusers. Not a comfortable read, but one that raises awareness.
on 16 July 2005
This book is an account of having been kidnapped and held by a paedophile for 80 days. Written by the poor woman who suffered this fate it is a remarkable account of a remarkable person and how she coped with the ordeal which faced her.
Anyone who pays reasonably close attention to the news will have read about the trial of Marc Dutroux and specifially the remarkable performance of Miss Dardenne in court helping to ensure the conviction.
Reading about what she suffered is difficult at times (though the worst of what happened was skillfully alluded to without providing details). How Miss Dardenne found the strength to write this is beyond me and I would defy anybody to read this and not have the greatest of respect for her. It is humbling to read what someone has been forced to endure and how dignified they have remained.
It is of course not possible to recommend this to everyone - for some it will be too upsetting but if you can face the subject matter it is an inspiring read.
on 15 July 2007
While reading this, and afterward, I just wanted to say to Sabine - Forgive Yourself! You are not the author of anyone elses fate. In now way were the author of anyone elses fate - Laetitia was not Kidnapped because of what you said. Dutroux was a horrendous excuse for a human being and did what he wanted with no reference to anyone elses needs. Your 12 year old terror and loneliness was just another excuse to weave a tale of guilt around you!
This is the bare and honest story of Sabine Dardenne, one of two survivors of Belgian paedophile, Marc Dutroux. She spent 80 days in his captivity, and while the details are (thankfully) not given in detail, the sheer horror of being a 12 year old child and subjected to the physical and emotional torment she suffered is enough to horrify.
Sabine was snatched off the street by Dutroux, the Slug as she later calls him, and his wife. That a woman with children could be complicit in this appalls me but she was responsible for at least two earlier deaths of young children kidnapped by Dutroux when she failed to feed them. But Sabine was not aware of this.
Taken by Dutroux she was forced to live in a small cell and basement, eat horrendous food, and assaulted by him. She was not allowed to wash often nor was her cell or environment kept clean so she gradually became more and more unkempt. Once when Dutroux went away there was a power cut, trapped in her stinking cell, 6 feet by 3 feet wide and not tall enough for a short 12 year old to stand up in. She panicked, her only light and ventilation failed - a 12 year old girl alone. Luckily it came on again shortly afterwards.
In her loneliness and desparation she wrote long letters to her mother. Dutroux had told her that He was holding her safe from a gang of terrible men, torturers who would take pleasure in killing her in terrible ways, and that she should never call out and onlyrespond to his voice. She believed these stories, she also believed him when he said her parents weren't cooperating with them over paying a ransom, they couldn't afford it and other disgusting lies which made her desparate.
In her loneliness she asked Dutroux for a friend, an idle suggestion, but one be must have been already considering and enjoying. Soon afterwards he turned up with another child, Laetitia kidnapped from another Belgian town. She was to be directly the author of his downfall. IN his stupidity he was seen, along with his van and other details. He was tracked down and 6 days later the girls were rescued.
The brain washing of Sabine was so complete she could not comprehend that Laetitia had seen missing posters of her in her town. Nor really understand that her family, in fact teh whole of Belgium was desperate to find her.
Painfully Sabine catalogues the post kidnap years. The troubled home life which followed, the typical teenage behaviour, the struggle for acceptance which would probably have happened with her family whether or not she had been kidnapped. She also talks about the inability to control what was being talked about in the press, the lies which were perpetrated and her anger at Dutroux and his lies which were constant and inventive.
The final part is the court case, which was all about discovery - and her continuing her life.
Sabine, you are a survivor. Thank you for righting this book, you are an extraodinary person.