Photo used for an Anti-trafficking poster.

Photo used for an Anti-trafficking poster.

Villa near Brussels, Belgium, October 1974


The children push me through the hallway of the spacious villa to a small hidden room , no window, converted to a torture chamber. I am eleven years old. I am made to lie down on on an enormous old butcher’s block with shoelaces nailed into the wood, chapped and scratched and black with dried blood. Though I am naked, Jean - sometimes called Jean-Michel - orders me to spread out my arms and legs, and orders the four children, three girls and one boy, between twelve and fourteen, to help him tie me down. They timidly retreat towards the door.


“Come closer, come closer,” Jean calls out abstractedly. “We all have to learn.”


Barely paying attention to the children, his gaze is absent, downcast. This is the most relaxed I’ve ever seen Jean. The various parts of the pasty, nondescript businessman have integrated into what looks like a real person, with thick dark brown hair, alabaster skin, upper eyelids dropped and greenish-brown eyes at rest, without his mandatory jokes and sleazy smile trying to please the big shots, without his sour reactions to my defiance. The children do as they are told and carefully approach.

Jean rummages through a crate he pulled out from under the butcher’s table.


“Let’s see what we’ve got here,” he mumbles.


Under my gaze, over my body, he passes the children various instruments: a penknife, a Phillips screwdriver, giant medieval looking nails, a large fishhook.


“You see,” Jean tells the children, “it’s very easy. All you do is something like this.”


He sticks something that looks like a medical tool with a cone shaped point into my arm, right next to the messy, gaping wound of a burn he created earlier, when he learned I was not protected anymore.

I had not felt his cigarette dig into my arm; I had been completely focused on Patrick, the young blonde perpetrator who was responsible for getting me in this situation, who had protected me for an entire year, only to discard me like a worthless used-up object. In the moment Patrick had watched the children deliver me to Jean, he had laughed, as if to say I’d better not expect sympathy from him. I had been taken over by an otherworldly power that had taken me out of my body, into the energetic flow between our souls, and had felt him there with me. I had smelled the skin and hairs of my arm burn, and mercifully, my sense of touch had shut off entirely, and I had not felt the pain until the present, with Jean digging into the wound.

Instinctively, I breathe in slowly and deliberately, listening to the sound it makes in the back of my throat. Jean twists the cone into the ripped skin, digging deeper. I breathe out, making the same sound against the back of my throat. I focus on the lengthened inhales and exhales and the sound they produce.


“See?” Jean says casually. “That’s all it is. For now. For the beginning.”


He nudges authoritatively, switches instruments and drops three teeth of a tiny rake into the wound, creating three stripes of blood. The girls gasp.

The children shoot into action. They prick my arms, legs and torso, hardly touching the skin, immediately pulling back.

As I focus on the breathing, every part of my body seems to fill with oxygen. I reach a deep state of relaxation and am pleasantly high. And I find I am amazed at this.

I sense that Jean is going to correct the children and instruct them to puncture the skin.


“No, but you’re barely getting in there,” Jean criticizes. “You have to relax a little, and then just do it. Go in. Go on.”


“How funny that he said that about relaxing.” I think.

My thoughts crystallize, each one like a pure, solitary rock in the vast empty cave of my mind:

“That is what he is doing.

That is what I am doing.

That is what they should do.“

The room is no longer a place with four walls and a butcher’s block. Everything seems to be breathing with me. Everything is alive and part of life, and people are the most concentrated forms of energy: beautiful, complex life forms endowed with the keenest consciousness.

My smiling eyes find Jean’s, who looks simply at me. For the first time in the years that I have known him - in this moment when he is finally secure in his power - we connect.


In a split second, a shift is reflected in Jean’s eyes; they look less clear, as if a curtain of slime were pulled over them by an invisible pest that lives on his shoulder, whispering in his ear: You’re losing the relaxation contest with this little brat, you idiot. You better do something!

Jean smiles again, this time with his mouth only, whereas his eyes remain slimy. He grabs my cheeks and plies my face into a grimace.


“There, pretty girl. Not so pretty now, are we?”


He squeezes and pushes and twists my face, having fun with the results, laughing and showing the children.

I breathe.

The sound changes as Jean pulls on my lips and mouth. I hear the breath. I listen. And see Jean.

“What a little kid he is! “ is what occurs to me.

“How can such pettiness, such smallness exist in a grown man? To think of the ridiculous importance, the weight, to think of the power given to evil! O, darkness! O Lucifer! Here it is, in all its glory, making fun of my face.”


Jean fishes for a thin bar of warped steel, like a drill bit with a square tip, which comes flying towards my eye. I squint, and feel the metal ripping skin as it hits my left cheekbone.


“There; a souvenir,” Jean jokes.

“Go on,” he orders the other children. “What are you waiting for, an official invitation?”


Jean is back to the Jean-role, forced by the creature on his shoulder to act funny. The room is a room again, with a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and I see my bruised, bloody body being attacked by five terrorized children. Jean looks so bland he’s hard to describe, except that with weary eyes and wrinkled white shirt with rolled up sleeves, he looks like he’s had a long day at a stuffy, smoky office.


Jean’s hand grasps the inside of my thigh. This comes as a surprise! I have seen him make out with pretty teenagers, sixteen or seventeen. In my current situation, with my life critically in his hands, I find appreciation for never having seen him rape young children.

Jean is the eternal broker, the middleman between the pimps, children and the elite. He is happiest as Paul’s gopher. Paul is the politician who is also the boss of the network. Jean so admires Paul he constantly mimics him. But whereas Paul’s sarcasm is poignant, Jean’s is always in bad taste. Whereas Paul’s dramatic pauses are full of significance, Jean’s are meaningless. Only, as far as I know, Jean seems not to share Paul’s taste for young children.

“But what is this hand?”


“Look at this!” Jean exclaims as he rolls my leg outward to observe the dried stab wounds on the inside of my knee, recently administered by the young perpetrator Patrick, who had become increasingly violent in the past six months.

“Your boyfriend tried to make you like himself. How touching,” Jean mocks, referring to Patrick’s slight limp.


Jean smiles and reminds me that Patrick’s final act was to get rid of me, laughingly. Once upon a time Patrick threatened to kill Jean if he ever were to let anyone touch me. And here we are today, and Patrick is not killing him, but is letting him kill me.

Ha ha.


I am very close to feeling. I could easily cry. I could let myself feel the pain over Patrick’s betrayal, Jean’s cruelty. I could remind myself that I am the child.

I could become conscious of the fishhook Jean gave to the boy, which painfully pulls and stretches the skin from the inside, bruises before it rips. I could let myself feel the blood creeping all over my skin from many wounds. I can remind myself that though it tickles like mad, I can’t wipe it off because I’m strapped down.

I could realize that I’m powerless. But if I did that, I would slide into the role-play. Then I would be powerless, and Jean would be almighty. I would be on one side of the coin and Jean on the other. We would be one divided into two, inseparable, bonded by the play, by the lie.

In that role play I would become so desperately attached to him I would feel that I love him, because I would give him all my power.

On this night, I have seen the real Jean beneath the obnoxious surface. I have appreciated him, gotten on his wavelength, and I could very easily begin to hope that connecting with him in this space, where no one else would, could spark some feeling in him - at least enough to keep me alive. My love for Jean would fire up my hope for his love, for his benevolence, and render me incapable of believing that he really means to hurt me, really wants to torture me to death, which in turn will make me incredulous, more stunned with every blow. In short, I would become a wide-eyed victim.


Jean, for his part, would take good note of my disbelief. Right inside those wide opened eyes of mine, he would see the lie. He would know that I know better, even if I don’t. If I slip into my role, then Jean can play. For me, the feeler, the play would seem increasingly real. What is wrong? I would think. I love him but he keeps on hurting me. It’s not fair!’ I would feel increasingly powerless, as my signs would remain unseen, my cries unheard.

For Jean, the player, only his power would seem real. He would have the advantage of point of view, a godlike detachment from the events being played out. Heads getting rid of Tails. Whereas I would feel horribly trapped, Jean would experience a rare bout of freedom.

When he first strapped me down, Jean was free from the gnawing pressure of the gnat on his shoulder droning orders in his ear. He is trying to free himself again, but for all his casualness, he appears to be completely caught up in his part of the lie. But if I don’t play my part, I could die free.


I stare defiantly at Jean:

“You think you have me now, don’t you? You don’t have me. You never will. “ I express to him with my eyes only.

My defiance is met with the familiar gaze of sour resentment that had been absent so far this evening. Jean shakes his head as if trying to throw his expression off his face. He ducks down and I hear him rummage through the tool bin. He lifts out a strap with nails, and furiously digs the nails into my right arm, underneath the deltoid, systematically stabbing, hitting several points at once, creating an armband of blood.


“What are you waiting for!” he yells at the other children. “Get down to business already, or you’re next!”


The children do as they are told. Jean, after puncturing the whole circumference of my right upper arm, hands the bloody nail strap to the girl across from him at my shoulder level, and she copies the job on my left upper arm.

Jean picks an apple corer out of the bin.  He raises his arm up high and hits my right leg on the thigh. Next, he whacks away at my shin, hits the bone. I resume breathing deeply and slowly.

The girl who is putting the nails in my left arm unties my wrist, to better reach the inside of my arm. I lift up my forearm up to test if it’s still working, and rest it on my elbow.

The youngest girl directs a penknife at my raised forearm. I can tell that because of Jean’s temper she wants to try to stab me hard, but she looks terrified, and hesitates. I look intently at her, mentally shouting: Do it!

She lunges, and the knife hits, and sticks.

When the girl sees the knife stuck by itself in my forearm, she panics. Not knowing what to do, she tries to pull it out, and in her terror, twists it.

A tremendous, deep, raw pain enters and spreads through my entire body. My nerves awaken. It is as though I am being stung by thousands of giant bees at once. The stinging and singeing are intolerable, and yet the torture does not end.

Patrick is not here to save me. There is no otherworldly power to help me know I am more than the body. I bite my lip, in a last attempt to fight off identifying with my body, with my circumstances - fighting back the tears pushing through tightly shut eyelids.


My solid return to this play called life has not failed to attract Jean’s notice. Through a blur of salty tears I see him smile, as though he were saying: “Finally I’m beginning to get through to you.”

He nonchalantly throws the apple corer over his shoulder.


“I have an idea!” he exclaims. “Since your boyfriend didn’t even get you to limp, why don’t we do him a favor and finish the job for him?”


He looks at the boy, who has been poking at my right ankle with a screwdriver, and orders:


“You, go to the kitchen and bring me a cleaver. Or a saw. We’re going to cut off her foot.”

Turning to me, Jean adds, with visible satisfaction:

“So you can hobble along, like your boyfriend,” referring to Patrick’s slight limp.


The boy hurries from the room. I glance at my right foot, trying to ignore the bloody, fleshy mess on my shin. I’m bleeding profusely, covered with wounds of all sizes all over the front of my body.

Jean seems to have the same consideration, because he says:


“There, girls. Help me untie her. We’re going to turn her over.”


When the straps are undone, I involuntary turn to the left, away from Jean.

I try to lean on the butcher’s block but don’t have the strength to heist myself up.

My left arm barely looks like an arm. I think that whether or not Jean is going to hack off my foot, I will die, because I could never heal from these wounds.

The two older girls pull me up. As I sit, dazed, looking down at the disgusting, chapped butcher’s block, which has plenty of my blood to mix in with the black stains, a flash of all the children that were murdered here passes before my eyes. Knowing myself to be next, the horror sets in. Thoughts of terror rush through my brain:

This is really happening to me. I’m being murdered. I’m being tortured to death because nobody cares whether I live or die. I’m one of the faceless, nameless ones, passing away into oblivion, because no one loved me, not even enough to keep me alive, not even enough to keep this from happening.”

I see Patrick in my mind’s eye, and see him how I saw him last, connecting - at least I thought - on this ethereal level, on which - at least I thought - we had connected from the beginning. Another stream of desperate thoughts is unleashed:

“But if that last look didn’t even make a difference, if Patrick really doesn’t care at all, if I’ve just been dreaming, then I guess there’s no telling if there’s anything besides this world. I’ve never seen any proof of anything else. I don’t know if I’ll continue to exist in some form or just be wiped out. I don’t know anything. I don’t feel ready to die.”


“Push her down already!” Jean cries, extremely annoyed.


Jean forcefully pushes me down himself. The bruises get hit, the wounds scraped, my chin hits the wood.

Why is he so annoyed? I wonder.

Jean is suddenly in a horrible mood. He furiously, quickly, ties the straps around my ankles and wrists, all four of them, much too tight.

I am surprised this is all going so quickly. I have heard the tortures can go on all night. Jean mentioned something about going slowly, because it was just the beginning. I don’t know how long we’ve been in this room - half an hour, one hour tops.


“No, no!” I hear Jean crying out impatiently: “You have to go into the muscle. Otherwise she doesn’t even feel it.”


I feel a sharp stab of something going deep into my left calf muscle. Throbbing with pain, I move, which makes everything hurt.

A few seconds later I feel the same in my right calf muscle.

The children continue to poke me. Jean turns away from the spectacle, brooding.

I am exhausted, but curious. My curiosity makes me forget my role again. I would like to know why Jean is in such a mood.

The door opens.

That’s it,” I think. “The boy is back with the cleaver. Now my foot’s going to come off!

Then I hear the voice of an adult man, saying:


“Okay, Jean-Michel. You can let her go now. That’s enough.”


“You’re joking,” Jean says.


“Nope. That’s it.”


Jean, just as furious as when he tied the straps, quickly unties them.


“You’re making a big mistake,” he warns the man exiting the room. “She’s going to give us trouble.”

Mugshot of Michel Nihoul, aka Jean-Michel Nihoul, whom I knew as “Jean,” taken August 1996. Nihoul was the fourth defendant in the Dutroux case, which went to trial in 2004. Nihoul was found guilty by a majority of the jury for complicity in the kidnapping of the child victims in the case, which was his major charge. The verdict, however, required a larger majority of jury votes to pass. The decision was left to the judge, who declared Nihoul not guilty.

Mugshot of Michel Nihoul, aka Jean-Michel Nihoul, whom I knew as “Jean,” taken August 1996. Nihoul was the fourth defendant in the Dutroux case, which went to trial in 2004. Nihoul was found guilty by a majority of the jury for complicity in the kidnapping of the child victims in the case, which was his major charge. The verdict, however, required a larger majority of jury votes to pass. The decision was left to the judge, who declared Nihoul not guilty.

Anneke Lucas