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Local residents hear first hand a horrific case of child abuse

October 13, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

“It only takes a moment for your life to spin away from you and spiral out of control.”

In almost every sense of the word, Wendy Cook had a tough childhood. Growing up in a small community near Oshawa, ON, Ms. Cook suffered through unbelievable amounts of abuse. The self-declared “black sheep” of her family, Wendy was practically tortured by her mother, who would beat her on an almost daily basis. She was verbally abused by other members of her family, including her stepfather. She was also raped, regularly, by her older half-brother.

It is a difficult story to tell and not one most people would relish hearing about, but, with Child Abuse Prevention month kicking off on Oct. 1, Jennifer Moore, Executive Director of Dufferin Child and Family Services, felt it was one the public should hear about. Dubbed ‘Speak Up for Kids’, Ms. Moore invited Ms. Cook to share her horrific past with a room full of local residents last Thursday (Oct. 5). It was a shocking account, a way more than any person should have to go through in 1,000 lifetimes.

Growing up, Wendy never really considered herself a normal kid. Her family would not allow that. Instead she was teased and tormented, told almost daily that she was a worthless excuse for a human being. She was physically, sexually and verbally abused by her own family members. All before her 16th birthday.

“I never really knew, nor did I understand, what a normal life was,” Wendy said. “Normal to me was unlike anything I could ever truly explain. It wasn’t happily getting together for a family meal. It wasn’t watching your favourite TV show or movie. It was ducking for cover whenever I heard my mother, shuddering what I saw my older half-brother.”

Throughout the years of abuse, however, Wendy had one hope, one shining light that drew closer with every passing day. She remained in regular contact with her birth father, in secret behind her mother’s back. While she wanted to tell him of all she had to ensure, of the fear she was living in, she chose not to. Instead she simply relayed her wish to live with him once she was legally able to, having turned 16 years of age.

And so the days and the months and the years came and went. The beatings continued. The sexual abuse continued. Wendy though remained strong, or at least as strong as she could, looking forward to the day she could finally escape and start a new life with her dad. Then the day came, and everything changed.

“I remember coming downstairs on my 16th birthday, my mother was there and she informed me, bluntly, that I could no longer see my birth father and live under her roof. I felt something inside, almost joy. I remember calling my dad, excited…” Ms. Cook recalls. “It turns out he had completely forgotten it was my birthday. He had completely forgotten all the promises he had made over the years. He had forgotten about me.”

Her father had remarried for a third time and come to the conclusion that neither he nor his new wife knew how to raise a 16-year-old teenaged girl. Long story short, Wendy no longer had a way out. She was facing another sentence at home with her ‘family’.

Then she remembered a conversation she had with a man she met weeks previously, who promised her a lifetime of riches and safety. All she had to do was call him and he would fix her up with the “perfect job”. And so, with very few options and seemingly nowhere to turn, Wendy picked up the phone and called the number. She arranged to meet this man the very next day.

“All that was going through my head at the time was that this guy promised me I’d make a lot of money and I knew right now that I needed to make a lot of money. I needed to make a lot because I needed to have my own place, where I could lock the doors and where nobody could hurt or get at me, so I went to an interview,” Wendy said.

If you haven’t guessed already where this story is heading, prepare yourself now.

“I was driven to a strange looking building. We pulled up in this guy’s car and he told me to go inside, up the stairs and find a man named Wayne,” Wendy said. “I went inside. Wayne introduced himself and six other women. I quickly realized I was in the wrong place. I went outside to tell the guy as such, that he must have meant a different building, a different door, a different Wayne. He immediately got out of his car and approached me, baseball bat in hand. He threatened to kill me unless I showed up at the end of the day with cash in my hand.”

She added, “That’s how fast it happened.”

During her time in the sex trafficking industry, Wendy was introduced to pimps, high-end drug dealers, members of the mafia – basically, some “not very nice people” as Wendy would put it. As bad as she thought she had it living with her mother, half-brother and stepfather, who started making sexual advances himself towards the end of her stay at home, this was worse. As much as she thought her life was in danger before, it really was in jeopardy now.

It wasn’t just her handlers she had to be afraid of, it was herself. Wendy recalls one night where she came “very, very close” to taking 60 sleeping pills. Ending her life and slipping into a permanent sleep seemed infinitely better than anything else she could possibly think up at the time. In the end, she didn’t take the pills, she managed, finally, to find someone she could trust and she found a way out. Not everyone is so lucky, Wendy admits.

Now, working as a traumatic brain injury case worker and a support worker, she spends her time helping those in need. Her keynote speech at last week’s event was the first time she has ever spoken publicly about the troubles she had in her life growing up.

“I’m very grateful to be alive,” Wendy said. “My goal here is to ask all of you to be very aware, to have your eyes open, because we do have kids right here in this community wondering how they are going to come out the other side. We do have kids that want to leave this community, that think life will be better for them in Toronto… Don’t let them make the same mistakes I did. I went out of the frying pan and into the fire, not everyone is so fortunate to find a way out.”

She added, “I believe we have the resources right here in this community. Let’s make it our goal to make Orangeville a safe place, let’s make Dufferin County a safe place, even if your family is dysfunctional and messed up. We can help our children get the assistance they need – let them know they will be believed, acknowledged, supported and helped to get past any abuse they may be falling afoul of, they can turn their life around and come out the other side.”

Ms. Moore echoed those sentiments, stating that, while people may not wish to believe or acknowledge it, there is a need right now for services in Dufferin County. Between April 1 and Oct. 5 this year there were 525 referrals to child protection services under DCAFS.

“The mistreatment of children is uncomfortable to talk about, because nobody really wants to believe it’s happening here in our community, but it does. It happens in lots of different kinds of families, nobody is necessarily immune to it,” Ms. Moore said. “We all have a role to play in breaking the silence around child abuse and neglect, we all have a role to play in supporting our community. I believe strongly that, if we work together, we can make a difference.”

She added, “So let’s speak up for kids and let them know they have a place here. Help us spread our message and help us work towards bringing an end to child abuse in Dufferin County.”

As a part of its plans for Child Abuse Prevention month, DCAFS will be hosting ‘Dress Purple Day’ on Oct. 24, where it encourages students in all local schools to dress in purple clothing and speak up about the rights children have to safety and well-being. For more information, visit dcafs.on.ca.

         

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