Victim Impact Statement
André R. Lavoie
[Andre was sexually abused by Roman Catholic High School teacher Robert Sabourin. Sabourin was a friend of Bishop Adolphe Proulx and photographer for the Diocese of Alexandria Cornwall)]
[theinquiry.ca note: portions of the statement which might serve only to titillate sexual predators/paedophiles have been removed. This non-confidential statement was under an “interim” publication ban. The ban has now been lifted.]
For the past three years, I have been receiving medical and psychological help in order to deal with the events that occurred during my youth. I assumed that I could deal with the trauma of the abuse. Unfortunately I ended up in denial and suffered the consequences of that trauma. Low self-esteem, personal loathing, denial of affection and emotional integrity, professional sabotage and perpetual suicidal thoughts characterized my state of being for over 30 years.
Three years ago I suffered a massive nasal hemorrhage following maxilo-facial surgery. I finally faced death and had a choice – attempt to survive or drown in my own blood. I chose to survive. But then came the responsibility. In order to survive and continue with my life, I would need to learn one quality that I had neglected in the past: Integrity. Integrity of mind and body, an acceptance of myself as a victim and hope for the future through therapy. My integrity was lost at the age of 15, taken by someone who – by design and deception, entered my life and proceeded to tear away at me. In the process, I lost all desire to love myself, and could not accept the love of others.
1967 – 1998
How can I articulate the impact on me personally of events that transpired years ago? The horrors of those times were buried in the farthest reaches of my mind – yet they would haunt every moment – every day of my life. Ambitions were crushed; I had no right to fulfill my dreams. I was not worthy of love or success. I have been punishing myself for letting the abuse happen – blaming myself for letting the abuser into my life. How can I measure the impact on my relationships with others – my family, my friends and my wife?
Previously, I existed and survived by cloaking my past experience in denial. Denial served me well. It would numb the pain I suffered in my youth. Denial permitted me some semblance of a ‘normal’ life. Denial only perpetuated the silence and the lie. Suicide seemed like the only alternative to a life of self-imposed misery and torment. Every morning would leave me wondering why – why was I still alive and breathing? To what purpose? Finally, I am attempting to reconcile the past and move on to the future.
It is now autumn 1998 – thirty years since I was plunged in a world of deceit and sexual decrepitude. Thirty years of shame, silence and anger. Thirty years of loneliness, of living what can only be described as emotional solitary confinement. I survived by creating the conditions that would assist in protecting the damage inflicted upon me – conditions that I must do away with today. I created survival skills that can only be appreciated by someone who has spent too many years in solitary confinement. Finally released from the shackles of a mediocre psychological existence, I have been getting help from professionals and will require continuous therapy for as long as it takes to heal.
Psychologists, psychiatrists, my family doctor, group therapy with other sexually abused men and medication have become regular features in my life. Depression – a persistent, paralyzing condition, defines every waking moment. I can only dream about a normal future. It may take years, but I am determined to undo the damage suffered at the hands of an unscrupulous adult.
I have suffered through years of sexual abuse at the hands of a premeditating, callous scavenger. I was one of his many victims. This is my version of the events that took place from 1967 to 1975.
I will attempt to write this statement by drawing a picture of particular assaults: where they took place, my feelings at the time and their repercussions on my life. These were not a few isolated incidents. Throughout my high school years, I was assaulted hundreds of times at the rate of two – three times weekly by this abuser. His trap stretched far into the school, my family and my friends.
Life before the abuse:
My family life had been somewhat difficult. My father was an alcoholic. He was generally silent and mournful. He was illiterate yet intelligent. Other than working he would sit in the cellar and drink beer until he reached a state of stupor. He was non-violent but also non-communicative. In other words, I did not know my father for many, many years. He never played with us, never gave me a hug or showed any sign of affection other than reminding us that there was always food in the fridge.
My parents had seven children of which I am a middle child. Born in 1952, 1 was raised in a rooming house where my mother would cater to 12 to 18 boarders. It was a frenzied household but also a fascinating environment. People came from all sorts of backgrounds to live with us. Aboriginal people, refugees from Hungary, farmers looking for a better life in the city. As children, we were drawn to their stories and personal lives. We would often share rooms with two, three, four of these men. Hundreds of men from dozens of nationalities resided in our large house. They taught me the value of one basic tenet: trust. I was never sexually assaulted by anyone during those many years.
We were pretty much left on our own. We soon learned at home that it was better not to ask for anything. My mother was too busy looking after the household to offer much in compassion and upbringing. I guess that made us become somewhat independent at an early age – free to explore the woods in the area, free to make choices, free to dream and hope for the future. I was not made of the same cloth as the blue-collar workers in my environment. I knew at an early age that my passions were nourished by literature, music and films. There was but one way to escape the lack of privacy at home, and that was to indulge in any one of those pleasures. Dreams nourished me during those early years – dreams to become a musician and a film-maker.
We were culturally and effectively deprived in our home. My parents did not – could not – understand my yearning for the arts or my need for affection. They did not understand the necessity to play with their children – to hug their children. Then again, this environment seemed normal enough to a young boy growing up in a modest neighborhood.
1967 – High School
A year of optimism. I am 15 years of age. My first year in a co-ed environment. Estrogen’s float in the hallways – so many different perfumes. I discover my fondness for girls and a profound desire to learn, to indulge in my passion for the arts.
A French teacher takes an interest in my curiosity for music and photography. He hovers around me, asks so many questions about my wants and needs. This is all new to me. He becomes some sort of mentor. He eventually invites me to his basement apartment to listen to his “wonderful’ stereo equipment and he gives me access to 35mm photographic equipment. I am taken by his singular interest in me and soon, evening sessions become more regular. My parents have confidence in this person and delegate their role of nurturers to this ‘trusted’ friend. He had qualities that facilitated his entry into family environments. He was married and had a child (in Montreal), his intellect matched with his wit made for entertaining conversations, he projected an aura of trust and authority (former military background).
Weeks of friendly meetings would be held in that basement apartment. I would learn how to use a 35mm camera and an assortment of lenses. I trusted and enjoyed the particular attention brought to me by this ‘mentor’. He would assist my passion for the arts and I trusted him completely – the future looks bright.
Within a few months, relaxation techniques were introduced. It is explained to me that I will become a more efficient student.
The lights go down. I am told to lie down on the small bed.
‘Lie down on my bed – breathe slowly – let me give you a massage – remove your shirt – undo your belt – there that is better isn’t it – relax – let me pull your pants down – you would feel better if you removed all your clothing …
I feel warm breathing on my crotch. Then one December evening he demands: “do you want me to put your penis in my mouth?” He repeats “do you want me to put your penis in my mouth?” Until I finally reply: “yes”.
I thought it was all a mistake; that it would end there. My approval that first time still echoes in my mind. But I hear myself screaming with rage. To this day I can still picture my body on that small bed – naked and confused. At the age of 15, 1 lost my innocence, lost any right to a normal life, lost the privilege of defining my own persona. I became an accomplice to a deranged individual. Until recently I felt like a whore who had compromised his ambitions to satisfy the hunger of vulture. I returned to the abuse so not to lose the privilege of access to film making – access to my dreams and ambitions.
In my mind to this day, a 15-year-old child screams in agony and solitary pain and defeat. It is the cadaver of my 15 year old self – the tortured, haunting, stinking cadaver of a youth that was killed. I am haunted by the remains of a youth whose life and ambitions were denied, whose potential was blocked, a youth who would spend the rest of his life in shame. The silence and the lies would protect my abuser for so many years. As such I believed that I was it’s accomplice and thus guilty of participating in it’s horrific crimes.
How could I let this happen? How could I sacrifice my body for some sort of ideal? How could I let this being manipulate my every day existence? I thought that I could deal with the abuse. It became the price to pay to access the world of film. He was my ticket out. Instead, he introduced me to a profound torment that would haunt me to this day. This would be the beginning of a downward spiral that would take me to the edge of madness.
That one word set off a chain of events that would forever damage my life. On that snowy December evening I lost my youth, my right to explore my own sexual life, gave up any chance to a normal future. I had just begun puberty. My body had just begun to change – the vulture fed on my first drop of semen. That first event would lead to repeated assaults. Throughout high school, my life would be turned upside down by the premeditated control of someone who would make me swear allegiance and silence. I was threatened that breaking the silence would result in severe consequences for myself and the abuser. Thus began my personal hell.
I have been sworn to secrecy. Revealing this secret to anyone would result in my demise. If things went wrong it would be MY fault. After all, I did say “yes” so many years ago. That makes me an accomplice.
There is no one to go to. Afraid to cry for help, the abuse continues for years. He befriended my family and my friends. He is perceived in school as an innovator. Why do other teachers not recognize the abuser’s need to be constantly surrounded by young boys? Rumors circulate – some adults see through the facade. But no one intervenes. Even after the abuser is evicted from the school, no one ever attempts to locate and help the victims. Persons in authority in the school knew of the rumors; knew of the abuse. They chose to protect their reputation and let the victims suffer.
He conquers territory with every move, using each victim to expand his range for scavenging. He seeks those in need of understanding, those in need of a mentor; those whose family life did not provide an emotionally secure environment. I was not it’s only victim, there were many – many others.
There was an unwritten code where the victims would recognize each other, but none would come forward, confide and seek help. We were manipulated by a premeditating, calculating, intelligent scavenger – who would stop at nothing to satisfy his perverted hunger for the semen and touch of pubescent boys. How many lives have been sacrificed to the perverted pleasure of one whose power would destroy so many? Why do they keep silent? How many victims are there? What are their names?
I felt responsible for the attacks perpetrated by a ruthless monster on my brothers, my nephews and other kids in school.
I felt trapped.
Every move was calculated. Who could I turn to? Every one around me had been duped into thinking I was being mentored by a compassionate mentor. I was being used and abused by a deranged, premeditating beast. How does one describe a scavenger – an animal that attacks the weakest victims, that tears into the flesh in order to satisfy it’s hunger for pubescent boys?
How did I survive the repeated attacks – I was under his control – I was alone – solitude, emotional pain, physical and psychic death accompany each and every session of physical abuse. To continue living I sacrifice my body to the nightmare and hope to save my mind in some fantasy world. I am the walking dead.
How do I survive this torment – I have no desire to be here – I did not choose this. My body – that body on the floor – I detach myself from any responsibility from that body. It is no longer mine. In the years to come I will feel only contempt for my body. It is only a shell and I am determined to neglect it for the indiscretion suffered at the hands of this perverted being. For all I care, my body is dead – caught in the need to experience some sort of sexual pleasure – which I will deny myself forever after. I can only hope to save my mind, my dreams. But even these are now bonded to the lessons taught by a mentor who has transcended his responsibility. My future will be scattered with the remnants of shattered dreams, of self-inflicted acts of professional sabotage, of dashed hopes for success. He can have my body – I hope to save my mind. I want to scream:
“I am just a kid”
This is surreal. I can not stop the abuse. I write a note describing my despair and my pain. I hand the note to the abuser. The next day in school – in the classroom full of students – he wears dark eyeglasses. He hovers around me, approaches. He explains that the dark glasses hide his tears. He tells me that he suffers that he is sad at my request to stop the abuse. He claims that he is desperate – asks why I would cause him so much pain – says that he loves me – says that I have put a dagger in his heart.
I am numb. I just want to be left alone. Stop the abuse – the abuser is relentless and the abuse starts all over again.
There are many guns in our house. My brothers and I often go hunting. I insert a shell into the 12 gauge shotgun’s chamber and release the safety. I stare at the shotgun and run the barrel against my nose. The smell of gun blue – a mixture of oil and chemicals permeates the air. Inserting the barrel into my mouth is like having the creature’s penis. My thumb feels the contour of the trigger. It could be over in a second – ‘hell I won’t feel a thing’. I remember my shooting lessons – the instructor repeating: “Do not pull on the trigger – rather you should squeeze gently”. ‘Dying is easy but living is hell’.
I must be an eternal optimist. I truly believe that the finality of death will cheat me out of some sort of living experience that will forever change my life. Maybe in the next second someone will enter my room – prevent my death – help me through this hell and get me away from the insanity. By taking my own life the abuser would have won. I put the gun down and cry – despair – frustration – so close to death – yet …
Timmins – a hotel lobby.
The abuser is furious – expecting a room with a double bed. There are only singles available. I want to die – I want to disappear – will someone please see this monster for what it is? More shrieks and abusive language towards the hotel attendant – back in the car – a cheap motel on the outskirts of town. It offers double beds.
He removes a bottle of rye from it’s velour pouch. Pours me a drink – I take a few shots – he pours a bath. It is going to be a long evening.
Drive back into Timmins to attend a teacher’s conference. I enter the main dining room for breakfast. I recognize a few teachers from our school. Can’t they see? Why does no one suspect what is happening here and put a stop to it? Are they all blind? He gets into his routine, fluttering around other teachers, laughing and cajoling them using his particular sense of humor to amuse the other teachers.
I want out. My mind is reeling from the insanity of this situation. I am the only young person who accompanies a male teacher. My school principal is there. She commands respect and I can only hope that she can see through this masquerade. Why does no one intervene – are they all blind to this hypocrisy?
I hide in the motel room – sipping rye, watching TV. The cleaning lady enters abruptly – she is surprised to see me lying on the double bed – with a glass of whisky. I can feel that she suspects something. She asks too many questions. I get into the car and drive around for a while.
I cannot stand it any more –
I tell the abuser that I am going to hitch-hike to Toronto – to Yorkville – to get lost. Pocket the 20 bucks he gives me and leave.
Get to North Bay on the first day.
Spend the night lying in a ditch along the highway. Smell the damp earth and gasoline fumes from the big rigs that rush by. I am invisible. I am alone. I am incognito. Feel safe for the first time.
Toronto – Yorkville
I meet a lad my age who comes from Alexandria – my mother’s home town. We get along. We pan handle for a while and purchase some LSD. The flower beds in the park seem to bleed their colors into the streets. We get into a stranger’s van. The side door is open and a group of us are sitting in the back. Crossing a bridge I admire the lights and the water reflections off the river. The entire horizon seems like one vast ocean. The van is moving slowly because of the traffic. I climb out of the van and attempt to jump over the bridge, into this comforting vision. I know I can fly. A pair of hands jerks me back into the vehicle. My vomit stains the floor of the van.
High school: grade 11
I am in an upstairs bedroom alone, at home – despair floods through me – drowns me in a sea of sorrow. I am paralyzed in the fear that the he will attempt to reach me this evening. The phone rings downstairs – my mother answers and calls for me – “your teacher wants to talk to you” – I remain silent but she knows I am upstairs. ” Andre, it’s Mr. Sabourin – he wants to talk to you” she insists. There is no escaping – what excuse can I invent? I slowly make my way to the phone. He wants to see me – now.
Winter – snow is falling on this nauseating winter evening. I walk aimlessly around the city – hoping to freeze to death. They say that freezing to death is a painless way to die. My body is dead – this macabre, stinking form which carries my thoughts means nothing to me. Insanity or death seem like my only refuge.
The abuser gains confidence in his powers and becomes more aggressive in integrating himself into my family environment. He takes up residence in my family home. My parents claim they were unaware of what was going on. They agree that I would occasionally share the same bedroom with the abuser. For months on end I have had to endure abuse in our own home. The nightmare would not end soon.
The abuse – the control – the pain – the complicity of silence – the masquerade – the physical – emotional split is permanent – I am the living dead.
The abuse isolated me from my family, my friends and most of all, any girlfriend I may have had. I am emotionally withdrawn. Emotions are the source of pain and anguish. So I shut down emotionally. If I have no feelings then I cannot get hurt. Do not feel and you become invisible. Do not feel and you might survive for another day. I feel as though I am not worthy of affection, pleasure, companionship, trust. I cannot give or receive affection and emotions. I have no needs. I have no wants. Desires are for other people. I am not worthy. I am trapped in a prison of my own making. For my indiscretion, I am sentenced to thirty years of emotional solitary confinement.
I am untouchable – I am relegated to the deepest confines of purgatory. I must make amends for my involvement with the abuser. So I shut down the passions that stir within me. Pleasure becomes an emotion to be feared. Success is rewarded by punishment. Ambition is checked. Dreams and hopes fade into oblivion. My silence protects the abuser – a silence bought by the threat of punishment and accusations. For my complicity of silence I will find whatever means possible to deny myself any form of success.
Sleep becomes one method of escape. I isolate myself from other people. My personal feelings become a private matter that I will not share with anyone. I consume drugs and alcohol. Solitude means survival. I am not worthy of anyone’s attention – especially of anyone’s caring. I attempt to become invisible – thus invincible. I distance myself from anyone who might want to become intimate with me.
Although I become sexually active with other women, they will never have access to my feelings, my emotions, my cry for help, the inner pain that will just not go away. Every relationship I have with women is doomed to failure from the start since I have no right to give or to receive happiness. How can I care for others if I do not care for myself. My relationships with women are destined to fail. They self- destruct because I cannot invest myself emotionally. I am the victim of emotional death at the hands of a predator. Self-esteem zero.
I do not know the vocabulary of emotions. I have no desires, no ambitions, no right to happiness, to laughter, to innocent discovery. My life has been permanently altered by the premeditated and constant attacks reaching to the very core of my existence.
Algonquin college, 1973.
Year one in radio and television arts.
Two weeks before the end of the school year I abandon the program. I was one of the better students. My success in the program would have to be shared by the abuser – after all he encouraged me to chase that dream. Failure has it’s own rewards. ]Punishment for the indiscretions that have marked my youth. That is a fair trade for my indiscretion – for having let myself be trapped in the horror. I escape from college and disappear into the music world. Cheap bars, drugs, hopelessness, distance from the abuse.
I have sabotaged my personal and professional life so many times that I do not care to count. To succeed would have been to provide some sort of validation to it’s influence. I have no right to happiness – no right to succeed, no right to self-determination. There is no room for growth.
Any success on my part would only add to his credibility – as if he could point to me as an example of his good mentoring. I would certainly not give him that pleasure – ever.
Escape – escape – where can I go – where can I run to? Music offers some relief. The saxophone becomes a way of communicating my anguish. But the sound is always muffled, stuck in my throat. My heart wants to express the unspeakable horror that I experienced time and again. The sound of the instrument is the expression of my inner pain – I wish to disappear – to become invisible – to be accountable to no one – to influence no one – to deny myself pleasure – to sabotage my personal and professional life.
The musician in me halfheartedly steps on stage and expresses music that is suffocated, timid, broken. The saxophone chokes with every note. It speaks of anger and shame. The instrument shall never be my friend. It leaves me vulnerable at times and I fear my sadness overwhelms my desire to please.
Music – a dream so near to my heart in my youth becomes an excuse for running – I run constantly from town to town hoping to escape my thoughts. My mind is in a vice. Learning becomes a struggle. The singular beauty of gaining knowledge is tied to some form of punishment. Accomplishments are not to be celebrated – but are limits that I must not transcend. I do not deserve to get better at anything. I will spend two years in a semi-comatose state, playing music in cheap hotels and bars.
My singular pain will not go away. Day after day I feel that my world has come to an end. Playing music for ridiculous wages is my way of making penance.
1976-1980 the University of Ottawa
I still wonder how I got this far. Four years of playing in bars while studying – four years of running from out of town music jobs, to the university, on a daily dose of whatever drug might be available. During my final year I gathered a group of students from the University and Algonquin college. I wanted to make my first documentary film. We worked together on the proposal and submitted it to a committee for approval and funding. To my surprise, my abuser sits on the committee. I follow through for the sake of the other students but the pain of the abuse and the presence of the abuser is almost too much to bear.
The abuser has a fondness for pubescent boys – my ordeal ended only when I became an adult – in other words – when I became too old for it’s appetite. He feeds on youth, devouring that which nourishes the ambitions and dreams of youth – and leaves on the cold, waxen floors of the school closet, the remains of innocence. There have been many – far too many victims at the hands of this creature.
Who are those who aided and facilitated the arrival of this abuser in our midst?
He was teaching in Laval Quebec in the early sixties – married with one son, he had to leave Montreal for unspecified reasons – I have my theory -1 he would swear me to silence time and time again should anyone ask questions. He persistently demanded that I do not betray him. That would spell my demise as well as his.
Who facilitated his hiring in Cornwall? Was there no background check made to verify competency? Were there no complaints registered by other students to the school authorities? Is anyone responsible for protecting this predator in the school system and why would they sacrifice so many for the sake of saving face? Why was nothing done to locate the victims – I was constantly in his presence, had unlimited access to his car on the school grounds, yet no one tried to contact me. No one in authority took the matter seriously. Victims were expendable. Anyone in authority who knowingly kept the silence on this affair is an accomplice to the monstrous suffering of so many young persons. They should stand co-accused of aiding this predator.
He was finally removed from the school by accusations brought about by his wife – at least I believe this to be true. She knew of the abuse. In my case there were many times when she would arrive at their home while I was being assaulted in one of the rooms. I would have to dress quickly and make believe nothing had happened.
I had given up on integrity a long time ago – from the very first time the abuse started. I gave up on my body to free my mind. My thoughts are incarcerated in a sort of cell where I must make penance for the rest of my life. I sabotage any chance of success in love, friendship and professional pursuit. My passion is filmmaking. Yet for the past thirty years, my success would be synonymous to recognition of the mentor’s influence. I would not grant it that satisfaction.
How could the abuse continue for so long? How could I let it happen time and time again? Until recently I have tried to push that question to the farthest recesses of my mind. I shall now attempt to explain. I had a desire to learn everything that I could about photography and film. Here, for the first time, was an adult who enhanced my experience by providing cameras, trips to the National Film Board in Montreal, access to film making equipment. In some way, these became rewards for subjecting myself to the abuse. He fed my creativity, passions and ambitions while destroying my right to succeed. I assumed that I could survive this situation without any consequences.
I have purposely denied myself entry into the film world because of the abuse. I have made a few films – three to be exact. In the process of making the first two films, I delegated most creative responsibility to others, becoming less of a player in the process. I would tend to shy away from any confrontation. How could I assume myself when I did not have any confidence in my abilities? I did not deserve the right to find success, nor have the right to assert my intentions. Now, depression has taken over.
Only recently, with the help of professional therapists have I been able to distance myself from those self-inflicted barriers. Yet I still have a long way to go. Thirty years of emotional solitary confinement has taught me survival skills that can only apply in the confines of a dark cage. There are no references to a ‘normal’ existence. I have embarked upon a journey – I search for that most basic quality: integrity.
Thirty years of emotional solitary confinement – thirty years of living a monastic life where pain and suffering are the price to pay for my indiscretions. These events have shaped my sense of self and especially my relationships with others both male and female. I am immune to the outside world. I observe but do not participate in fun.
I am presently being treated for severe depression. For the last three years, depression has increasingly strangled my ability to work in my profession and to maintain personal contacts with friends and family. I am withdrawn, experience low self-esteem, have difficulty to concentrate, feel suicidal on occasion.
I have been diagnosed with Post -Traumatic Stress Syndrome. This condition can manifest itself suddenly and without warning. Some of the symptoms include profound depression, an inability to concentrate on the simplest tasks, intellectual paralysis and an overwhelming lack of interest. I have been on permanent disability since December 1997. It is impossible at this time to predict when I shall be able to return to work.
My relationships are still in chaos. Emotional and affective dysfunction best describe my present state of mind. I feel trapped – paralyzed in the fear of collapsing from the weight of the past I have described. The burden of the abuse still affects my everyday life. I sincerely hope for a better future for myself and for my wife. She has shown tremendous understanding and caring through the years. We do not have children. How could I care for others if I did not care for myse1f. How could I invest in others while spending years abusing drugs and alcohol? How could I share when I would deny myself the simplest pleasures of life? I have finally been released from emotional solitary confinement – released from the cage that protected the silence and the abuser.
I hope to heal the wounds that have so far determined my thoughts and behavior. Like so many victims, I hope to someday stop punishing myself and honor the ambitions of a 15 year old boy who imagined that the world was full of magic, discovery and pleasure.