By ANNA BROWN
Claire R. Reeves says when her former husband called and asked her to come to Union to assist him as he battled medical problems, she only planned to stay a few weeks.
The nationally-recognized expert in incest and child sexual abuse said she found support from folks as Art Cooksey Jr.’s condition worsened and he passed away. She decided to make Union her home and has established Life Counseling and Consulting.
“I’m building my life here,” said Ms. Reeves, the founder of Mothers Against Sexual Abuse, a national non-profit organization dedicated to protecting children against sexual abuse. “I am too young to retire, I have too much knowledge and I have too much dedication to what I do on behalf of children.”
Ms. Reeves grew up in Canada. She met Cooksey, a Union native, in Bermuda while he was stationed at Kindley Air Force Base. They married in 1964 and had one son, Arthur F. Cooksey III, who is an executive with Bank of America.
In March of 2008, Ms. Reeves came to Union to assist Cooksey, who was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. His health worsened. He died on Dec. 26.
Ms. Reeves said she felt she should stay in Union to be close to Cooksey’s mother, Catherine, whom she describes as her mentor and surrogate mother and calls “Mom.” However, Ms. Reeves said Ms. Cooksey moved to Pennsylvania to be closer to her son and daughter-in-law, Jim and Elizabeth Cooksey.
“I had to make a decision of what to do,” Ms. Reeves said, “I love Union and had an outpouring of love and support that I don’t think I could have had anywhere else.”
During Cooksey’s illness, Ms. Reeves put her career on hold. Now, the certified counselor with a doctorate in counseling said she is ready to help those in the area who need her services.
Prior to becoming a counselor, Ms. Reeves was a journalist with her own company in Canada, Reeves and Associates. For two years she had a nationally-syndicated TV show aimed at senior citizens and traveling, “You’re Getting Better.” Her first book was a worldwide travel guide for Canadians, “Intrigue.”
An encounter in another state with child sexual abuse (not related to the Cooksey family) was an eye-opener for her.
She spent the next nine years researching incest and child sexual abuse.
“I learned it was a national epidemic,” she said.
In 1992 in California she founded MASA, a national non-profit organization.
“The organization received national coverage from the jump,” she said. “That is how bad this issue is.”
From there her career evolved to include training, education and speaking engagements. She has been the keynote speaker for the Crimes Against Children Conference in Washington, D.C., the Christian Lawyers Association and other national conferences.
She has received many honors for her work. The mayor of Los Angeles recognized Ms. Reeves for her work with children. The California Assembly and Senate both bestowed honors on her. California Gov. Pete Wilson gave a special tribute to her in 1996. She was named “Woman of the Year” for Los Angeles County in 1997.
Many new laws to support victims were designed and supported in California by Ms. Reeves through MASA. She said she thinks one of the most important was to eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution in cases of incest and child sexual abuse. She worked closely with Wilson for the chemical castration law to be passed. She also helped get this passed in Oklahoma. She worked closely with Attorney General Dan Lungren to pass legislation for a 900 telephone number that would identify registered sex offenders in California.
She was a certified trainer for the state of North Carolina for teachers, issuing continuing education credits on the signs and symptoms of sexual abuse. For one year, she was the Guardian Ad Litem for North Carolina.
In 2003, she wrote the book “Childhood — It Should Not Hurt.” In 2004, James Madison University in Virginia made the book part of the curriculum for the course “Psychology of Child Abuse and Neglect.”
The book highlights cases she has encountered and provides guidelines for those attempting to navigate the legal system in attempts to protect abused children.
An outspoken critic of pop star Michael Jackson, she was interviewed by People Magazine twice.
“My goal is to help adult survivors who have been sexually abused,” she said. “I deal with all kinds of child abuse, but mainly my speciality and where I am nationally recognized is an expert on child sexual abuse.”
Ms. Reeves has been recognized as an expert witness in child sexual abuse 43 times in court in Canada and the United States.
She said she had found that people have wrong ideas about child sexual abuse and as a rule don’t want to talk about it.
“So many people are under the misconception that the child molester is the man in the oversized raincoat who flashes children,” she said. “This is absolutely wrong. Child molesters are from all socioeconomic levels. Over 85 percent of abuse is committed by someone a child knows and trusts and quite often is a family member. Unfortunately it is the only crime where the victim takes on the guilt of the perpetrator. Children are often scared by the threats made by the perpetrator and they don’t get help until much later in life when their own lives have completely gone awry. Whereas getting counseling and early intervention they can go on to live happy and productive lives. I tell my survivors all the time, ‘The perpetrator took your childhood. We can’t change that, but we can make sure he doesn’t get a chance to take one more day of your life as an adult.” Living life well is the best revenge. I truly believe that.”
Ms. Reeves offers individual counseling, including in matters not related to sexual abuse. She offers group training, including training for teachers in how to recognize symptoms of child abuse, she is available for speaking engagements, is available to testify in court in both civil and criminal cases as an expert in child sexual abuse and also has done training for social service agencies. She has worked with law enforcement across the country and has done training with law enforcement in recognizing abuse.
“When a child reveals abuse, it needs to be taken very seriously,” she said. “Most of our victims I have dealt with are 6 and under. They would not have age appropriate knowledge of sexual activity. To believe these children is so important and it is so not happening across the country.”
Ms. Reeves said she finds it hard to talk about herself, but she wants people in Union who might need her services to know about her background.
“I have said all through my long career, it’s not about me,” she said. “When I was named ‘Woman of the Year’ I accepted on behalf of all the victims, it’s really about them, not me. I just happen to be someone who is outraged that children are being hurt like this and I had to do something about it. I don’t think that makes me special. Everyone needs to be a voice for these children. Everyone is affected. Consider that 80 percent of incarcerated women are victims of child abuse — sexual and otherwise — and I’m sure it’s very high with men, too. People who have been abused, sexually and otherwise — go out and in turn they abuse. It goes on and on until someone had the courage to stop it.”