Surviving the worst kind of treachery

Dione M. Coumbe LL.B(Hons.)

Editor and Reviewer for DoverWeb.co.uk
Managing Director of Book Publicity Ltd. UK
Dover, England

Rating 9.5/10


Anyone who has regard for the future can only view the destruction of a child’s innocence as one of the most heinous crimes in the human lexicon of brutality. When this occurs in the family home and is perpetrated by a parent with an obvious duty of care, the betrayal and it’s consequences are immeasurable.

Daniel and Jeannette D’Haene emigrated to Canada from Belgium in 1957 where they settled in a rural area and had four children. Ronny the eldest was followed by Donald, the author of this book, then Marina and Erik followed. On arrival in Canada both Daniel and Jeannette were Roman Catholics, she more devout than he. Daniel felt constrained by a diktat by the church in Belgium the faithful should not read the ‘Bible’ which would confuse them. This must be peculiar to the clergy at that time and place, since the same was not true then in UK. Daniel was attracted by the Jehovah Witnesses who actively encouraged religious study and became a pillar of the local community group. Eventually he persuaded his wife with a mixture of rhetoric and beatings she should change her faith too.

Whatever the expectations and demands of the Witnesses, Daniel believed in his own home he was the master, and his wife and children, his property. They were expected to be obedient to every whim and caprice. At the age of four Donald was introduced to ‘The Game’. This involved masturbating his father and was merely the beginning of ten years of prolonged abuse, during which more serious assaults occurred. In time the children would pool their knowledge and learn each of them were initiates in ‘The Game’. Daniel informed his elder sons he would expect them when they were older to perform incestuously with their sister, after he finished with her. Each child was intimidated into silence and their innocence of moral certitudes exploited. When they learned what was happening to them was wrong, their father foisted the illusion of mutual culpability upon them. It was only when Erik, aged five, told his mother what his father had insisted on doing she became aware of the abuse. Daniel promised to get help, but continued molesting his children.

In 1973 Jeanette and her children approached the Elders of the Witnesses to gain protection for themselves. Their reaction was to ‘excommunicate’ Daniel without telling his family he had also confessed to bestiality. When the situation at home deteriorated still further, Ronny and Donald persuaded their mother to leave with all the children. Daniel, meanwhile, joined the Baptists and after a divorce, remarried and once again became a pillar of his community.

Without exception all four children suffered immense psychological damage. Ronny, temporarily became a ‘control freak’ like his father and left home before worse effects would be felt. Donald, by chance, reading a newspaper article discovered his father had actually committed a crime for which he could be charged. By then, at least thirty people in authority, knew the family’s story and none had advised them of their legal position or alternatively to seek legal advice. Finally getting this from a policeman from Ontario, Donald instigated criminal proceedings against Daniel and obtained therapy for himself, Marina and Erik.

When Daniel came to trial, it was a complete travesty informed by incompetence, ignorance and plea-bargaining. He was sent down for two years in a reformatory, having sentenced his family to years of miserable flashbacks and psychological trauma. The severity of damage is evidenced in that it took twenty years before Donald could face his memories and write this detailed account of his childhood. To many fellow victims it will appear to be classical in the methods used by Daniel to control his family and the secrecy and shame they endured. It also highlights the confusion of sexual identity which often results exacerbated by the normal raging hormones of adolescence.

There is very little literature on the subject of father/son sexual abuse which is still for some a taboo subject. This well written and fluent book should be required reading for all engaged in the protection of children and the victims of today. These may care to know Donald more than survived his past and is today a successful art journalist, actor and TV presenter. Lawyers should also view the last chapters of the book as a textbook summary of how not to prosecute a case and judges can gain a refresher course on what poor administrative services can do to ‘justice’. In this instance, Donald and his family were the victims of secondary rape by the very system which allegedly should have redressed their wrongs and protected them. Although this matter came to trial in the early 1980’s in Canada, whilst there is a better understanding of the evils of sexual abuse today, there are still errors of judgement by social workers and laxity in prosecution on both sides of the Atlantic.