The former 35th District Attorney, two high school coaches in Brown County and now a Brownwood Police sergeant — Kim Gilliam counts off the list of locally known people accused of child sexual abuse and/or assault.

“Those are within the last five years. Those are the cases people know about and talk about and are familiar with,” Gilliam said. “People think it’s something that happens to others, but how close are these cases?”

Gilliam, a former Brown County sheriff’s deputy and Texas Youth Commission guard now serving as the sexual assault victims’ advocate at The Ark Domestic Violence Shelter, answered the question herself.

“Too close.”

Gilliam said the statistics she sees — that one in six children will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 — sadden and horrify her. But they don’t surprise her.

“We teach our children to be afraid of strangers,” she said, “but we tell them to respect and obey people of authority, family members and others who are actually more likely to take advantage of them.”

The sexual assault advocate’s office at The Ark is made possible through a grant, and Gilliam said, her office has been assured funding for only one year. But she said, a reapplication will be made, and for right now, the advocacy program is “up and running and available to any and all who need the help — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Those seeking help may call The Ark at 643-2699 or 646-5366.

A sexual assault victim’s advocate helps provide emotional support to victims; can explain medical and legal procedures; can connect the victim with the various help agencies available; can help victims get compensation for costs incurred from assault; and offer numerous other kinds of emotional and social support for the victim and the victim’s family.

“People need to know help is available for them,” Gilliam said. “Sexual abuse is an extremely emotionally complicated issue that can take years for the victims to resolve and recover from. Typically, especially in situations where the victim knows the perpetrator, the process of what is called ‘grooming’ goes on for months (sometimes) before the physical contact is made.

“The abusers frequently ‘groom’ not just the child victim, but the child’s parents and other adults, so that if the child does report the abuse, other adults discount the stories with ‘Oh, he would never do that.’”

Gilliam said often, too, when the abuser is caught, the victim has been “groomed” to such a degree that he or she can’t show contempt for the abuser, and instead is confused or afraid of being in trouble for allowing the abuse.

Legally, a child under the age of 18 and more than two years younger than the molester cannot have consensual sex, Gilliam said.

“The abuser may make every excuse in the book, that she came on to him, that he did not force himself on her, that it was a mutual attraction, but the burden of proof is on the abuser, not the victim.”