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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 June, 2004, 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK
Profile: The Dutroux survivors
Sabine Dardenne in court in Arlon
Sabine was encouraged to write letters which were never sent
Sabine Dardenne was 12 when her 80-day rape ordeal in the house of Belgian paedophile and murderer Marc Dutroux began.

Laetitia Delhez was 14 when she was abducted, to be imprisoned in the same cellar as Sabine while Dutroux abused her in turn.

They were not the first victims of Dutroux but what was different about these two girls was that, unlike four others, they lived to tell their story - and impressed a nation with their courage as witnesses.

Sabine's testimony in court this April proved particularly damning in the eyes of the Belgian press.

"Speechless as if paralysed by the force of the speech from the person whom he kidnapped, tortured, raped and deceived for three months while she was only a child, Dutroux received more punches in one hour than he had taken since the beginning of the trial," wrote La Libre Belgique.

You are the symbolic little sisters of every person of good heart and sense in this country
Comment posted on Belgian website Comites blancs

During her imprisonment, Sabine was encouraged by Dutroux to write to her family.

The letters from the "agony room", as she called her jail, were never posted but were later discovered by investigators.

At one point in the hushed courtroom, Sabine simply asked Dutroux: "Why did you not kill me?"

Correspondents were impressed by the composure and maturity of Sabine, now 20, as she answered questions clearly and unambiguously.

Confronting demons

Laetitia's ordeal was shorter - six days - but in that time Dutroux chained her to a bed and raped her, she said in her testimony.

Laetitia Delhez outside the court in Arlon
Laetitia said in court she still felt "hate and fear"
She insisted on returning to the dungeon-like cellar in the Dutroux home in Marcinelle along with Sabine and court officials in April to help her "come to terms" with what had happened there.

"I'm all right for the moment, I am very calm," she said as her mother was taken ill and had to be carried to an ambulance.

Now a woman of 22, Laetitia recalled for the court how Dutroux had appeared to revel in the abuse he was inflicting.

"He would ask [if it hurt] while smiling, as if it made him laugh," she said.

The courage of the two women seems all the more remarkable given that Dutroux had apparently brainwashed them both into believing that he was their protector by the time police finally came to rescue them on 15 August 1996.

Jean-Marc Connerotte, who led the initial investigation, testified in court that the girls had kissed Dutroux as police freed them.

"They thanked Dutroux," he said. "It was absolutely terrible. They kissed him. That shows how much he had conditioned them."

'Example to all'

The determination of Sabine and Laetitia to bear witness to the crimes of Dutroux has earned them widespread admiration in Belgium and beyond.

An internet forum published by the website of Belgian anti-paedophile group Comites blancs reflects the feeling with such comments as:

  • "My admiration and respect for her [Sabine] know no bounds"

  • "Please know that you [Sabine and Laetitia] have the admiration, love and support of masses of people... you are an example to us all"

  • "You are the symbolic little sisters of every person of good heart and sense in this country"

  • "I admire your courage. You defend the decency of all young girls. Many older adults like myself would not have had the courage of your reactions, Miss Dardenne... Bravo again..."

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