BENTONVILLE, Arkansas – Local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors came together Thursday (Aug. 13) for a training session on how to better detect and investigate child abuse cases.
Organizers said around 50 professionals from Washington and Benton County attended the training at the National Child Protection Training Center. Benton County Prosecutor Nathan Smith said the training is important to make sure all agencies are on the same page.
“This training is really about equipping officers and forensic interviewers to be able to conduct these cases in the way that leads to those results,” Smith said.
He said it’s vital that the case is handled correctly from the beginning, starting with how to identify if child abuse is happening.
“Child abuse is rampant everywhere we have lots of instances of it, much more than we want so really the goal is how do you deal with it and how do you prevent it, how do you let schools and nurses and people like that know the signs to look for,” Smith said.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, also attended the training.
“What we’re trying to do is break the cycle, and nobody is working harder than these folks it’s a labor of love and I just have all the respect in the world for them,” Boozman said.
The National Child Protection Training Center is only one of four in our region. It serves child abuse professionals from 16 states.
Today’s stories are the third in a four-part, eight-day series focusing on child abuse in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Our goal is simple: to increase awareness of the need to report suspected abuse, in the hopes of saving children and families in our community.
The cycle of abuse isn’t confined to passing on abusive tendencies, it also leads to a plethora of life-altering decisions that destroy families for generations.
Don’t expect to find a one-size-fits-all explanation as to why one person versus another crosses the moral line and slams a baby’s head against a wall, scalds a toddler in hot water for soiling her panties or starves their children. Certain risk factors increase the odds of abuse, but sometimes people are just evil.
“Just the secrecy of it is so detrimental, and you can’t move past something that you can’t even accept is going on… Because for so long, you think you’re sick and there’s something wrong with you, when you’re not sick — they are. You’re not the one with the problem — you’re the victim.” Deidre Cox
Abused in her youth, Deidre Cox is sharing her story and asking others to speak out By Kaycee Lagarde
For years, Deidre Cox’s family lived behind a veil of secrecy.
They all knew the ugly truth, yet no one talked about it — no one but Deidre.
And she plans to keep talking.
Deidre took a deep breath and smiled softly as she sat down on the plastic chair inside the cold, tiled prison visitation room, ready to share her story.
But as a lifetime of pain and guilt began to resurface, the smile turned to tears.
She doesn’t remember many details surrounding the sexual abuse from her biological father — most of it happened before her third birthday. But she remembers enough.
Enough to know the abuse has impacted her life, her decisions, her ability to be a good parent, despite her best efforts.
Enough to know that she would never let it happen to her children.
From an early age, Deidre knew her dad was a pedophile. After her parents separated when she was about 3 years old, Deidre lived with her mother in Navarre — but her father stayed in the picture, maintaining a relationship even after he remarried and had four children.
As she grew older, Deidre was able to mostly avoid her dad and his sexual passes, though she couldn’t say the same for her half-brothers and sisters.
Her family never acknowledged the abuse, causing Deidre to live a life of confusion and anger toward the people who she knew were supposed to keep her safe.
“Not only are you victimized by the abuser, but you’re more victimized by the person who you thought would protect you,” Deidre said in her soft, sweet voice, still resembling that of a child. “And that’s the one that is hardest to get over.”
Her parents and siblings found it easier to force smiles and fake normalcy, Deidre said, which puzzled her all the way into adulthood. But for a child, it was especially confusing.
“I don’t know why this is happening to me, but we’ll wake up in the morning and pretend like it didn’t, and we’ll go on,” she said, tears filling her eyes. “That’s our mom, that’s our dad — we love them. Today we’re going to go swimming in the pool, and we’re going to have a grilled cheese and everything’s going to be great. And then when the lights go out, things are different.”
A lost mother, a family destroyed
Now 46 years old, Deidre is nearing the end of a seven-year sentence at the Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Fla., Deidre’s time at Gadsden has given her countless hours to reflect on the abuse and begin to heal.
After struggling with drug addiction, grand theft to support her habits and a laundry list of related charges that kept Deidre in and out of jail, an escape from a work release program in Pensacola finally landed her in prison.
She traces her self-destructive tendencies back to her childhood, a product of both the abuse and a lack of parental structure.
And though she succeeded at keeping her children away from her dad and free from abuse, the cycle destroyed their lives in other ways.
A mother at 16, Deidre said she had no idea how to be a parent, because she certainly hadn’t been taught by her own.
“I thought parenting was about playing,” she said. “I had no business being a mother, but I was one, and so we were just going to play. And that’s what we did.”
Deidre blames that absence of discipline for ultimately leading to the death of her son, Ricky, at just 20 years old. Driving while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, Ricky lost control of his vehicle and was killed instantly in a crash on April 16, 2007.
The loss was devastating for Deidre.
“His life was destroyed from that lack of knowing how to parent, which came from a destructive childhood,” she said. “So how many other children have to die like that who don’t even get abused, but because of generational abuse?”
An upward climb, a promising partnership
During her time at Gadsden, Deidre was able to dig deeper into the causes and effects of the destruction in her family. She entered therapy and began seeing patterns of self-sabotaging behaviors in both herself and her 25-year-old daughter, Miranda, who still struggles with drug addiction.
Being in a place where she could finally get help and truly talk about her abuse, Deidre began actively seeking ways to move on from her past and better herself as a result.
She’s encouraging other victims to do the same.
“You have to get out of that guilt and shame and move forward, and realize that you can do that,” Deidre said. “I think so many people are stuck in the guilt and shame that they don’t realize tomorrow’s another day, and you can just move forward. And even if you get stuck that day, you just wake up and try again the next day.”
While struggling to cope with Ricky’s death, especially as the anniversary approached each year, Deidre found a much-needed distraction.
“Coming into that time, April 16… it can be very tragic and it can lead to triggers and self-sabotaging behaviors and start the cycle all over again,” Deidre said.
After reading an article about the Gulf Coast Kid’s House in Pensacola, a child advocacy center for victims of abuse, Deidre began writing staff members as she continued to seek answers about the cycles of neglect and abuse in her family.
The connection eventually led to an annual fundraiser in Ricky’s memory to support the Gulf Coast Kid’s House, which raised about $500 last year through requests mailed by Deidre.
But she has even bigger plans in mind.
Scheduled for release on Dec. 31, Deidre wants to further her education and continue advocating for child abuse awareness, perhaps even starting her own child advocacy group or nonprofit.
No matter what path she chooses, Deidre said her hope is to promote transparency about abuse and encourage others to share their stories and seek help.
“Just the secrecy of it is so detrimental, and you can’t move past something that you can’t even accept is going on…,” she said. “Because for so long, you think you’re sick and there’s something wrong with you, when you’re not sick — they are. You’re not the one with the problem — you’re the victim.”
Though she’s still “wildly imperfect,” Deidre plans to spend the rest of her life helping others in any way she can — and she intends to do it in a big way.
“Now that I’ve seen I can come out the other side of it, I plan to bring some other people with me,” she said.