“Father’s Touch” recalls harrowing story of abuse
The Aylmer Express
By Rob Perry - July 10, 2002

Donald D’Haene of London and formerly of Aylmer has written “Father’s Touch,” a book recalling the childhood sexual and emotional abuse he experienced, and survived. He started writing the book five years ago, after “having to tell my story for 20 years.” He felt a need to go public with his story. The process transformed him. “I went from a mouse to a mouse that roared.” Despite news coverage of his father’s trial, “People don’t understand.” He wanted to tell the full, true story. His siblings wanted him to write his book even more than he did. He found the process frustrating, and at one point took a year off.

As a child, he had dealt with abuse by refusing to think about it. He detached himself from the abuse, and viewed it as an outsider rather than a participant. Writing about what happened forced him to acknowledge those acts had been committed on him, not another Donald who was a victim. He wanted to let other abuse survivors know they were not alone, and that their feelings and reaction to what they went through was normal. “Being a survivor means learning how to live with your past. In my case, thank God for therapy.” Psychiatric therapy was one of three reasons he was still alive and enjoying a good life these days, he said. The others were “My mother’s unconditional love,” and her convincing him that God loved him.

Church response

The book tells how his family’s church elders tried to cope with the situation after learning of the abuse. Unfortunately, he said, they dealt with the abuse as a sin. “It’s a crime, and religion should get out of crime-solving.”The church’s reaction to the abuse tainted not just the father, but his whole family. It further isolated Donald’s mother and his siblings, rather than supporting them. He didn’t condemn churches or religion as a result, he said. “Monsters use religion. Religion doesn’t create monsters.” His father used their church, with its closeknit society and strict rules, as an excuse for having absolute authority over his family.  “We lived fanatical lives,” he said. Donald no longer belongs to a church, but still has great respect for every faith, even though God was introduced to him in fanatical terms. He believed that was a great achievement in dealing with his abuse, and a tribute to his mother’s intrinsic faith in God’s love. Churches did have a role to play in responding to abuse. However, no one who was not specially trained should try to treat abuse survivors. They were emotionally and psychologically fragile, and would-be therapists could easily say or do the wrong thing.

Why abuse?

His father, after pleading guilty to some abuse charges in a plea-bargain, received a reformatory sentence of two years less a day.He now resides in the Philippines with his fifth wife.

“Why do abusers abuse?” Donald said. “Because they can.”

Molesting children was about a feeling of power for the abuser, not sexual orientation. Most abusers were heterosexual, whether they victimized male or female children, he said. His brother told a physician when he was young about his abuse. The doctor responded that he was likely to end up as a homosexual. That remark, and similar comments by others, complicated Donald’s later life, when he began to realize he was gay. Accepting his sexual orientation, difficult in a society biased against homosexuals, was that much harder because he associated it with molestation because of that one remark. It took time to realize he was gay because he was gay, not because of what his father did to him. His transition into adult sexuality was made more difficult because he had been introduced to sexual acts before adolescence.

In fact, “There is no area of life it doesn’t affect.”

Any personal contact and intimacy, sexual or not, was haunted by nightmarish memories of his childhood. He came to understand that paedophilia wasn’t about sexuality, but control. His father sought absolute power over his family, including his wife and children. Molesters didn’t see their victims as male or female. It was their vulnerability. Donald’s book tells the story of how his father attempted to intimidate his wife and children, even after they left him.

It’s a crime

After they left, Donald learned that child sexual abuse was a crime through an Ann Lander’s column. He said having to learn that way, instead of one of the authority figures he dealt with in person, was ironic. Authorities had learned of his father’s conduct during his childhood, but never acted. That was why the news that a molester could be charged came as a bolt out of the blue to Donald.

Being a male victim carried a great stigma 20 years ago. Victims were somehow viewed as participants in a sin, rather than victims of a crime. That stigma continued today, and stopped many male victims from going public. He urged anyone abused by a molester to do so. “Paedophiles are career paedophiles, and must be stopped,” he said. His father repeatedly claimed he would change his ways, but never did. Had the case been taken to police and the courts earlier, he said, Donald and his siblings would have been saved much anguish.“ Silence only protects one person—the molester.”

Is the situation better today than 20 years ago? “I think trash-talk TV has trivialized abuse,” he said. Victims were portrayed as “whiny little brats.” He hoped others weren’t frightened away from laying charges. He continued to have to justify what happened to him, even after 20 years. “The onus is always on the victim.”

His father never had to explain himself, he said.

Father’s Touch can be ordered at Wendell Holmes Bookstores in London.

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