By Senior Airman Regina Agoha
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
If you know her or have ever been around her for a few moments, you know she is neither silent nor shy. She’s a people person.
She greets everyone with a smile and a loud and confident voice, introducing herself, “Cynde Maddox, Public Affairs specialist.” Her distinctive voice and almost 20 years of PA experience at Little Rock Air Force Base has made her a familiar face to the base and community.
To look at her, you’d never guess that 55 years ago, she became a victim of sexual assault, lasting for six years beginning at the age of 6 – a violent crime committed by her brother-in-law.
“I met him in 1959,” she said. “I was 5 years old, and he was dating my 16-year-old sister. He was 22. A year later, they got married, and everything was normal. He was my brother-in-law. The summer after they married, my sister became home sick, so I was sent out to live with them to keep her company.”
It started off innocent, Maddox said. He would do things like tickle her and sit her on his lap. It gradually increased to him insisting to tuck her in at night, and when he did, he would touch her inappropriately as well as sexually take advantage of her.
“He told me that if I told anyone, he would kill my sister and my family,” said Maddox. “Back then, people didn’t talk about things like that.”
Maddox didn’t talk about it for six years.
When she was 12 years old, her brother-in-law tried again to assault her, but this time, she was older, stronger and no longer afraid.
“I told him, ‘this is over,’” she said. “I told him that if he touched me, I would make sure he was no longer a man. I made the threat this time, and he didn’t touch me.”
Seven years passed, and Maddox had put those dark memories away until she was set to travel with her fiancé to meet his parents.
“I was terrified to tell my husband, but I had to,” she said. “He was angry at first and wanted to confront my brother-in-law, but I convinced him not to. He comforted me, and we agreed that it would be my choice to decide when I was ready to tell anyone else.”
Years later, after Maddox was married with a daughter, she received a call from the sister married to her perpetrator. She was inviting Maddox’s family to her 25th wedding anniversary. She and her husband declined. She later got the news that her brother-in-law asked her sister for a divorce shortly after. Once again those dark memories began to resurface. And though Maddox was still not ready to confess to family about her abusive adolescent years, she was about to receive an unexpected nudge of help.
“My brother-in-law ended up raping the niece of the woman he left my sister for, and she called the police,” said Maddox. “They started doing an investigation on him, and I was subpoenaed to testify in court.”
Maddox said it later came out that her brother-in-law molested not only her those years ago but also a male cousin, his own son and daughter, and he physically abused another sister of Maddox’s. None of whom ever told anyone until his trial.
The perpetrator, who is now 75 years old, has been in and out of jail since that arrest for major and minor crimes. He is registered as a sex offender. The first time he was sent to jail, Maddox said she felt like a new person.
“I felt a whole lot better,” she said. “I finally got help. I went to counselling for 10 years, and I’m at peace.”
Maddox said certain things still trigger a reaction out of her. If she sees a man with little children on his lap, she takes a harder, longer look.
“I’ve realized that I am a defender now,” she said. “I cannot and will not ‘stay in my lane.’ If I see something wrong I will address it.”
Addressing it is the advice Maddox’s gives to anyone going through or knows someone that’s going through any type of abuse.
“My wish for everyone is that you go get help,” she said. “Tell somebody. It brings a freedom in your life knowing that this person doesn’t control you anymore. When you don’t tell, you’re paying the price and not the person who should. You put yourself in a mental prison you don’t deserve to be in. Remove the burden off yourself. Let’s not be silent anymore.”