2015-03-13 / Community

Public reacts

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Since a former Biddeford resident posted on social media that he was abused by former Biddeford police officer Stephen M. Dodd, others have come forward about their own experiences with abuse, as well as support for his decision to go public.

Matt Lauzon, who grew up in Biddeford and now lives in Boston, said he decided to go public last month with his experience as a child sex abuse survivor to inspire a dialogue with city leaders on how to prevent abuse and provide resources for victims. Lauzon is a CEO and founder of Dunwello, a free online service that allows people to review individual professionals.

Lauzon graduated from Biddeford High School in 2003, and has filed a complaint with the Maine attorney general’s office against Dodd, who is now retired and living in Lakeland, Florida.

On his Facebook page, Lauzon said other victims of crimes have contacted him for help. Family and friends have also been supportive of his disclosure.

Dianna Beaulieu Bergeron of Biddeford, whose nephew was abused by another person and eventually committed suicide, said she was proud of Lauzon’s decision, posting, “My nephew couldn’t do it and turned to drugs to deal with his deep pain … It’s very frustrating to deal with the way people and family react when victims speak up. A lot don’t want to believe, especially if it’s family.”

Denise Paranteau Tupper, also from Biddeford, wrote on Facebook to Lauzon, “People out there are counting on you to be their voice and to raise awareness in preventing this from happening to others. You are truly a hero and an inspiration to everyone who has also been through the same ordeal as you have and you are now giving them courage to come forward and tell their own horrific story.”

Former Biddeford resident and city councilor Fred Staples said on Facebook that a couple phrases came to mind when hearing of Lauzon’s story.

“The truth will set you free. And, what goes around, comes around. Stay strong, Matt. You’re a good man with a good family and good friends beside you. More people need to come out from the shadows, and they will as your story is told. You’re on the side of the angels.”

Lauzon said he was inspired to share his story after reading an article by Ruzwana Bashir in The Guardian, an online newspaper. They are now working on a global project to help those who have experienced sexual assault.

At times, Lauzon has wavered on his page between admiration for Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre for addressing the issue, and frustration because the chief had not responded promptly to his requests for information.

Also communicating via Facebook, social worker and former police officer Laura Seaver cautioned Lauzon from being too accusatory toward Beaupre and Mayor Alan Casavant, with whom he has been corresponding, reminding him that they were not his abusers.

“ … the mayor was elected to do a specific job of running the city. He is not a child abuse expert and cannot be all things to all people,” said Seaver, a Biddeford resident. “The chief of police is there to run the police department, that agency’s primary role is enforcement, meaning they are there to ensure that crimes are investigated and charges sent to the (district attorney). My concern is that you are asking more of these two men than they can provide.”

Lauzon initially asked Beaupre and Casavant to organize a community forum on preventing child sex abuse. Beaupre said he would participate in such a forum if it was organized by a group with expertise on the matter, such as the Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine.

Seaver said when it comes to prevention, the challenge is that sexual predators are not easily identified until a crime has been committed.

“I fear that what you are hoping for in ‘prevention’ is a witch hunt. There is no means of identifying a sexual predator in society,” Seaver said. “Sadly, we only know who they are after they have offended and a victim comes forward. After that, we have prosecution, treatment and monitoring through the offender registry.”

In response to her post, Lauzon said he was saddened by Seaver’s comments.

“Reflecting on your comments it makes me feel like you’re content/comfortable with status quo and in fairness to myself and to other discouraged survivors, I must admit it’s saddening. Way too many young women and men are victims and I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to discourage wanting to do more to protect young women and men from sexual abuse. Both because of your official role where you’re responsible for being an advocate for survivors who we’d hope would relentlessly push for improvement but also because of your personal relationships with Roger P. Beaupre and Alan Casavant. I go to bed tonight disheartened and I know others will too,” Lauzon wrote.

Seaver said she was only trying to explain the pitfalls of the issue.

Ralph Toussaint, a Biddeford resident who is also a child sex abuse survivor, commended Lauzon on social media for sharing his story. Like Lauzon, Toussaint was an adult – 27 years old – before he publicly accused his abuser.

Toussaint, who is now 50, said he was the first victim to pursue a case against a Maine Catholic priest, and after he did, others followed suit.

“All I can say to you is, don’t give up,” Toussaint wrote to Lauzon. “Keep the pressure on them because this happened to me when I was young, by a priest and I won. A lot of people came to me, that the same thing happened to them and wanted someone strong to lead the way, and when I had the people come forward, everything changed. Don’t give up. He needs to be in jail.”

Toussaint, who has four children and has volunteered in the Biddeford sports community for nearly 30 years, said crimes against children are the worst kind. He also said when he first disclosed the abuse, a nun discouraged him by saying, “A real Catholic would forget and forgive.”

Rep. Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) said there’s always more that can be done to prevent sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Fecteau is introducing a bill that will allow cell phone users to text a crime to 911. During a recent interview with a Courier editor, Fecteau said a case in New York City proved that the technology could improve the way crimes are reported.

“A woman called 911 while trying to hide from her attacker,” Fecteau related. “She was hiding in her vehicle and didn’t want to speak. The operator thinks it’s a prank call and no one responds. The woman is found murdered a few days later.”

Since then, California has integrated text 911 along with 15 other states in some capacity or another. In Maine, Verizon integrated that technology in 2013.

Fecteau, who has showed support for Lauzon’s efforts via social media, said technology may encourage more sexual abuse victims to report their attackers.

“(Lauzon) felt it could have been a game changer for him. Look at how many young people out there feel embarrassed about this crime,” Fecteau said. “People, in general, are willing to share a lot of information through the Internet and various technology.”

Fecteau said text 911 is “just a small drop in the bucket of a number of things discussed at the state level” that could address sexual abuse.

Co-sponsors of the bill include Sen. David Dutremble (D-Biddeford, Alfred, Arundel, Dayton, Lyman and Kennebunkport) and Sen. Bill Diamond (D-Baldwin, Casco, Frye Island, Raymond, Standish, and Windham). Diamond has crafted a bill that would bring back the death penalty for someone who murders a child in connection to a sex crime. Fecteau said he doesn’t support capital punishment, but that Diamond is known for his efforts to protect children when it comes to sex crimes.

Fecteau said it’s difficult for someone in Lauzon’s position to put himself out there and to choose to be vulnerable by sharing his story. He also said it may be easy to blame the whole police department for what Lauzon alleges took place, but all employees can’t be held accountable for such actions.

“I hope everyone who becomes a contributor in this conversation uses discretion and are sure to respect the fact that not only is Matt dealing with years and years of emotions and stress, but his story is encouraging others who have experienced similar crimes,” Fecteau said. “Lots of people haven’t shared their stories because they feel the system doesn’t work in their favor.”

Lauzon said support from friends and family since the story ran in last week’s Courier inspired him to take a “gigantic step in my own process of healing.”

“For many years, the place in the woods that former Biddeford Police Officer Stephen Dodd took me and first sexually abused me has haunted me. Every day and in many nightmares,” Lauzon posted. “I just went back there for the first time as an adult. And I accepted what happened there as part of my story. And I accepted that what happened wasn’t my fault, and I accepted that I have nothing to be ashamed of and that it’s not a place I need to be afraid of anymore.”

– Managing Editor Molly Lovell-Keely contributed to this story.

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