SAN ANTONIO – In its work with abused children, ChildSafe often hears allegations similar to those raised in “Leaving Neverland,” the HBO documentary about the relationships between the late superstar Michael Jackson and two boys.
“It’s no different for perpetrators of sexual assault who are trying to gain access to children," said Randy McGibney, chief program officer for ChildSafe.
McGibney said that, in nearly 100 percent of its cases, the person accused is not a stranger but someone the victim and the family knows.
McGibney said the person will try to “groom” the victim for what could happen with gifts, money and friendship.
“They’re trying to gain a sense of trust from you. They try to gain a sense of access to your child. They’re trying to fill some kind of need or void, not just within the child, but within the family as well,” McGibney said.
He said the victims, especially the youngest ones, don’t know what sexual abuse is.
Perpetrators often try to convince victims it’s love, a secret between them or even a game.
“It can be enjoyable for the child, unfortunately, and so the child doesn’t understand what’s happening to them is wrong," McGibney said.
But if a child does want to talk, McGibney said, his best advice is: “Don’t ask a lot of questions. Stay out of the way. Let them disclose the information, support them, believe them.”
He said to give the information to the authorities and mental health professionals trained in dealing with child sexual abuse.
Although perpetrators want their victims to remain silent, McGibney said, parents should not avoid having an open, honest and healthy discussion with their children about sex.
Difficult and awkward though it may be, McGibney said, they should explain “who has the right to touch you and where and that you have the right to say no and you have the right to protect your body.”