About 45 people gathered on a hot August night at a Chicago LBGT community center to hear a chapter in Chicago history that is often forgotten--how John Gacy prowled the streets of Chicago’s northside from 1972 through 1978, picking up young men and murdering at least 33 of them. Gacy, one of the most vicious mass murderers in U.S. history, was found guilty of the murders, sentenced to death and executed by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois on May 10, 1994.
Author and activist Patrick Dati spoke about his acclaimed memoir, I Am Me: Survivor of Child Abuse and Bullying Speaks Out which recounts how Dati overcame a life of bullying and emotional terror which included an assault by mass killer John Gacy when he was only 9-years-old. The book has been acclaimed by Fox News, the Chicago Sun-Times and Kirkus Reviews. Dati told the group he hid his true identity as a gay man through two failed marriages and that sharing his story in his memoir, as he has finally done, is the “ultimate coming out journey to find acceptance and love.”
The book started as a personal diary that Dati’s psychiatrist recommended he write to “release the trauma” Dati told the group. But when his best friend who was a writer read the manuscript, he told Dati that the powerful narrative of overcoming shame, childhood abuse and bullying would have national appeal. Soon a book was born and I Am Me: Survivor of Child Abuse and Bullying Speaks Out was launched by Amazon Digital Services earlier this year.
Many who now live in Boystown, Chicago’s LBGT neighborhood, were not alive when Gacy cruised its streets. On the day of Dati’s encounter with Gacy in the winter of 1973, he had been playing outside in the snow with his brother and other children. The boys went into Goldblatt’s at Belmont and Central, a prominent Chicago department store chain now closed, to warm up and continue playing. But when he went to the men’s room something happened to Dati that meant he “was never a child again,” he says. He was sexually assaulted by a knife-wielding John Gacy. Dati fought back, he told the audience, refusing to “leave with” Gacy and possibly saving his own life.
Dati was likely only the second of Gacy’s scores of victims, Dati told me. The crimes would continue until 1978, with victims usually losing their lives.
Dati said the shame and guilt about the violent assault kept him from telling anyone about it for many years. Ironically, when police finally arrested Gacy in 1979, Dati was with a friend of his who lived close to the Gacy Chicago residence. It was only then that he realized who had assaulted him. As soon as he saw Gacy’s face flash on the TV screen, Dati said he ran to the bathroom and “I was throwing up and I was crying.”
In addition to the assault, Dati said he has coped with bullying and abuse most of his life made all the more acute by a strict Catholic upbringing. The youngest of five children, Dati was bullied by his brother and his father would dismiss the abuse as “boys will be boys,” he said. But it wasn’t good natured pranks or teasing, says Dati, “It was bullying.”
Dati struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide after the assault, enduring more abuse in personal relationships because the emotional landscape of exploitation was so familiar to him. Dati also had two marriages before coming out and has a daughter. Since I Am Me has been published, Dati has become an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and bullying as well as closeted gay men. Eighty to 85 percent of men who have been abused never come forward and reveal the harm and violence done to them, he says. He hopes to become a public speaker on the topics and his talk at the community center was videotaped for an upcoming CD.
“Too often in life the person we were raised to be is not the person we are,” Dati explains. “I lived my life to please others and it doesn’t work. I suffered so much and now I want to share my journey with others to that they too can come out of their darkness and into their light. Just be who you are. That’s the message!”
In addition to regularly speaking at national forums, he is active in several local and national anti-bullying and child abuse prevention organizations including, RAINN the Rape, Incest National Network.
Dati says he now regrets that he “didn’t come forward” and reveal his traumatic experience sooner than he did. “I may have been able to save so many other kids’ lives,” he reflects. Dati is planning a second book to educate parents, teacher and school superintendents about the signs of bullying and abuse.