BIDDEFORD — Memories of the Vietnam War haunt Terry Belanger every day, playing in his mind over and over again, like movie scenes he can’t turn off. They have for almost 50 years, Belanger, a Biddeford resident who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, said Wednesday.

“It’s a very serious illness,” he said. “There is no cure. And the younger you are, the more naive you are, the more innocent you are, the greater the effect is going to be on your mind.”

Belanger was one of three panel members to speak at a meeting at Biddeford Middle School on Wednesday night, which was scheduled in the wake of the sexual abuse allegations against two retired Biddeford police officers that have roiled the city for the past several months. Former City Councilor Roch Angers spearheaded a successful petition drive to hold the meeting, which served to educate the few dozen people in attendance not only on the allegations at hand but also on the effects of sexual abuse and trauma in general.

“Sexual assault does not only affect the victims,” Daniel Parenteau, a Biddeford resident who has been an outspoken supporter of the alleged victims, said at the beginning of the three-hour meeting. “It affects every single person in the community, some directly, some indirectly. ”¦ So we’re here tonight to really find our way and really discover what the next step is.”

A similar meeting was held in May, at which more than 20 members of the public emotionally addressed the allegations in front of the mayor and the City Council. Mayor Alan Casavant was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, having instead attended a Planning Board Meeting, while only seven of the nine City Councilors were there.

In addition to Belanger, the other panel members included longtime Maine weatherman Kevin Mannix and Robert Brown, a survivor of sexual abuse who is now a global advocate of sexual abuse victims.

Mannix, who said he grew up with an alcoholic father and a mentally unstable mother, stressed that it is important for those who have experienced trauma in their lives to discuss it openly. Although a few speakers urged “new victims” to come forward at the meeting, none did so publicly.

“If you want to heal, you have to talk, you have to communicate, you have to take that scary first step on the journey to recovery by saying the truth,” said Mannix, who recently penned a book with his wife titled “Weathering Shame,” which details both of their experiences enduring traumas during childhood.

Brown, who said he was sexually abused by a group of older boys from the age of 7 to 14, spoke more directly about the concerns of sexual abuse that have been raised in Biddeford.

In studying cases of sexual abuse nationwide, Brown said he has found it is far too easy for municipalities to cover up sexual abuse, which he called “the most complicated, twisted, disgusting crime you can possibly deal with,” and condemned the city’s inaction regarding the allegations.

While alleged victims and their supporters have for months called for the temporary suspension of the police chief and deputy chief as well as a third-party investigation of the Biddeford Police Department as a whole, city officials have argued that no current evidence suggests any wrongdoing on the part of the department.

In April, the Maine Attorney General’s Office confirmed it is currently investigating allegations of sexual abuse involving a former Biddeford officer and a young teenage boy, but no further details have been released.

“There’s no excuse for anything less than total justice,” said Brown. “When the police violate the trust we put in them that is a heinous crime. ”¦ The reaction of the public ought to be earth-shattering, and it doesn’t matter if (the abuse) was five minutes ago or 25 years ago.”

When asked directly by Biddeford resident Dennis Munroe whether he feels Chief Roger Beaupre and Deputy Chief JoAnne Fisk should be put on administrative leave while the Attorney General’s Office carries out its investigation, Brown said, “What I can say generally is all hindrances to full disclosure and transparency must be removed. All barriers to discovering the truth need to be removed.”

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

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