Post Memories: Barking sexual abuse victim fights back
- Credit: Archant
Sexually abused by his godfather from the age of four, wrongly imprisoned and tortured at 20, Jean-Louis Kassis knows the importance of a second chance at life in a foreign country.
Born into poverty and squalor in Beirut, the 53-year-old now lives opposite the childhood home of Bobby Moore in Waverley Gardens, Barking, and works as a Christian minister.
With the Jungle migrant encampment demolished in Calais last week, he believes the UK has a duty to help those in need.
“We need to show love to those people,” he said.
“If anybody wants to come to this country and is going to obey the laws of the land then they are most welcome.
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“Regardless of who they are or their colour, if people want to come we should do what we can to help them.
The oldest of eight siblings, he was shunned by his father who took to the bottle after losing his job around the time Jean-Louis was born.
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“I wish I had a dog, not you,” a very young Jean-Louis recalls his father telling him.
But it wasn’t just verbal abuse that plagued his childhood.
Jean-Louis describes how his godfather used to strip him down and bounce him up and down on his naked lap for sexual gratification.
A friend of the family, the man ran a shop and would even abuse him behind the counter.
Jean-Louis was just four the first time it happened.
“I didn’t understand,” he explained. “I just thought that was love.
“He would do these things to me and then give me 50p, or some sweets or a comic or something.
“I just thought ‘Ooh somebody loves me.’
A few years later he witnessed cold-blooded murder with his own eyes.
“I was in a grocery shop when two masked men came in and demanded money from the shopkeeper.
“The man said ‘I don’t have any money’ so they shot him in the belly and blood was gushing out of him.
“I was only 12 and I couldn’t sleep properly for about six weeks afterwards.”
The harrowing episode coupled with the constant abuse led him to get a 9mm Beretta pistol shortly afterwards because he “wanted people to leave him alone”.
Although he never killed anyone, he did shoot it from time to time.
After spending a number of years in a Christian militia, he joined the Lebanese army where he rose to the rank of sergeant, responsible for 300 new recruits.
He also converted to Islam.
But after being falsely accused of a crime he found himself wrongly imprisoned and tortured for 45 days, assuming he would die in the horrific conditions of a Lebanese jail. Lying in his cell he recalled the Bible parable of the prodigal son and prayed to God to set him free.
Then without warning or reason a guard opened the door. He was free.
Now living in Barking with his wife of 11 years, Margaret – the pair met at the Barking and Dagenham College – he works with some of the most desperate people in society including drug-addicts, sex-workers and the homeless through London City Mission at Webber Street Day Centre.
And despite suffering horrific ordeals on the other side of the world, he isn’t bitter.
“That’s all in the past,” he added.
“If I’m walking down the street and fall in a hole do I just stay there? No, I get myself back up and continue. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future, and my future with the Lord Jesus Christ.”