Never again?

On the recommendation of a friend, I recently bought “I Choose to Live” by Sabine Dardenne. In 1995, Sabine was 12 years old when she was kidnapped and then repeatedly raped by Marc Dutroux and accomplices during her 80 day imprisonment in the basement of Dutroux’s house. She and Laetitia Delhez, 14, who endured the same fate over a six day period, are the only girls to survive Dutroux’s indulgence of his indescribably sadistic, paedophiliac fantasies.

The bodies of An Marchal, 17, and Eefje Lambrecks, 19, were found in 1996 in the garden of a house in the suburbs of the city of Charleroi owned by Dutroux. Post-mortem reports showed they had been raped and beaten before being drugged and buried alive.

The discovery came shortly after the bodies of two eight-year-olds, Melissa Russo and Julie Lejeune, were found in the garden of another property belonging to Dutroux. They had been repeatedly raped before dying of starvation, post-mortem reports showed.

In her book, Sabine writes:

‘I need to write this book for three reasons: so that people stop giving me strange looks and treating me like a curiosity; so that no one asks me any more questions ever again; and so that the judicial system never again frees a paedophile for “good behaviour”.’

This is a direct reference to Dutroux’s earlier conviction for the kidnapping and rape of 5 girls in the mid-80s, for which he was sentenced to 13 years in 1989, being released on parole a mere 3 years later.

Wind forward 14 years to today’s BBC report:

Belgian police have charged a man with kidnapping two schoolgirls, who are still missing after disappearing on Friday night.

The two stepsisters, aged seven and 10, vanished at 0130 in the morning during a street party in Liege.

The suspect, Abdellah Ait Oud, 39, turned himself in to police after the authorities had publicised his details, but has denied any involvement.

In 1995 Abdellah Ait Oud was sentenced to five years in jail, including one suspended, for the rape of his 14-year-old niece, Belgian media report.

In April 2001 he was rearrested for the rape and kidnap while on parole of another 14-year-old girl, the Belgian RTBF news website reports.

He was declared mentally unstable and detained, but last December he was released, as the authorities were satisfied that he had been “cured”.

“Last December” being 9 months after “I Choose to Live”, complete with Sabine Dardenne’s explained motivation for writing the book, was published.

I remain a firm believer in the ability of the prison system, when run competently, to rehabilitate as well as punish. A civilized society does not throw car criminals on the scrapheap at 18. But how many chances should a child rapist get? What does society owe someone who, even just once, forces their sexual will on a child?

Abdelah Ait Oud is, of course, innocent until proven guilty. But if, God forbid, our worst fears about the missing girls are confirmed and he is convicted, Sabine Dardenne’s book will have been in vain.

At which point, no doubt, a few important people will stand up and say “never again”. Meanwhile, somewhere far away from the cameras and news conferences, there plays a child whose future will expose this most obscene of lies.