For 80 days during 1996, 12-year-old Sabine Dardenne was chained in
the Belgian cellar of Marc Dutroux, a psychopathic child rapist and
murderer. He said her parents had abandoned her. In her letters to
her mother, which Dutroux kept, Sabine, heartbreakingly, blames
herself for her plight and begs forgiveness.
Now, aged 21, she has written an international best seller, I
Choose to Live, “in order to stop the questions”.
In interviews Sabine emerges as a young woman with the kind of
extraordinary resilience, spirit and perceptiveness that provides
lessons for us all .
At Dutroux’s trial last year, the sores, infection and haemorrhages
caused by his constant sexual assaults were detailed. At the end of
calmly giving evidence, Sabine confronted him and asked why he
hadn’t “liquidated” her, as he had four other girls . He mumbled
that he had grown attached to her.
Sabine says: “He was tiny. He was abject. He couldn’t tell the
truth, not even once in his life. He didn’t frighten me in the
least. He made me laugh.”
She refused to see psychiatrists or seek confidants, not even her
mother with whom she had had a difficult relationship before her
kidnapping and to whom she became estranged in her teens and who
died recently. Her refusal to “let it all out” seems to have
steered her safely to an apparently tranquil harbour. She works in
an office, lives with her boyfriend and impresses interviewers with
her calm manner.
“I understood that if I wasn’t careful I would go mad – not with
what had happened but with all the whys and wherefores afterwards”,
she says. “My head’s screwed on straightÉ You live with it.
You move on.”
During captivity she dealt with Dutroux by refusing to be cowed.
She demanded a companion. As a result, he kidnapped Laetitia
Delhez, at which point he was spotted. Six days later, both girls
Vocabulary was part of her resistance. The media called Dutroux,
“The Monster of Belgium”. Sabine refuses to give him the status of
a legend. Instead, she refers to him pejoratively, as a “stupid
She says: “It’s a strategy of a kind. You have to detach yourself
in order to move onÉ You can’t always live in the past.”
Of course, Sabine’s story is far from over Her core strength
appears to be that, even as a child, she had confidence in herself.
As a result, the odds are that if the nightmares return, she’ll
know what to do.