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Holiday seasons brings a rise in sexual abuse cases at Roy Mass Youth Alternatives

According to the Adult Probation Department, there are more than 4,000 registered sex offenders living in Bexar County.

SAN ANTONIO — The holidays bring families together. But there's something most of us wouldn't associate with this time of the year: sexual abuse.

Dr. Julie Strentzsch is the chief program officer at Roy Mass Youth Alternatives. She said now is when they see more victims.

“It’s really hard to watch the trauma these young men and women have had to deal with," Strentzsch said. "It makes them really angry and they don't trust people."

They work with children as young as 5 years old. When they're out of school and home for the holidays, she said they're more likely to become a victim.

“The predator has more ability and access to get to them,” Strentzsch said. "Typically when they're at school, they're safer because they are more adults watching them."

According to the Adult Probation Department, there are more than 4,000 registered sex offenders living in Bexar County. 

Shannon Jones supervises the Sex Offender Management Program within the Adult Probation Department for Bexar County; her department handles around 650 sex offenders. She said they keep an even closer eye on them this time of the year.

“Our supervision rules are very structured to know who our people are going to be around," Jones said. "We do a lot of safety planning during the holidays, so we know from the beginning of a holiday to the end of a holiday what the plans are (and) who’s going to be there.”

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She said many sex offenders groom children they know.

"These are friends, family, acquaintances who hurt our children," Jones said. "So during the holidays, it's best to cognizant of where your kids are. Coming together as family, you need to be aware of what's going on in your environment." 

Strentzsch said it's important to talk with your kids about red flags, like an adult asking them to spend time alone or buying them expensive gifts and telling them to "keep it a secret."

She also said forcing your child to give someone a hug just to be polite isn't developmentally effective. 

“We take away children’s natural ability to learn how to trust and not trust people," Strentzsch said. 

She said showing your child how you feel comfortable around a specific person can eventually help them warm up to them, too.

Strentzsch understands that people want to keep Christmas merry and bright. They may not want to think of the bad things that can happen. But she said too many parents tell her they wish they had done more, when it's already too late.

“You can’t undo it," Strentzsch said. "And if you’re not paying attention, it is really easy for adults to prey on children.”