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NORMAL — The trauma experienced by victims of sexual abuse can take years to heal, but the effects to address what went wrong are much more complicated when the victims and their abusers are children.

A 2007 study of 107 child offenders treated at three ABC Counseling centers points to success in working with youths before they develop problems as adults, said Lynn Willard, executive director of ABC Counseling and Family Services in Normal. Seven minors in the study committed new offenses, a recidivism rate well within the 5 to 12 percent national average; three of the seven did not complete the year of recommended treatment.

“What we are doing is changing thought patterns. We can’t change their backgrounds with things like a lack of good role models, academic problems and different diagnoses such as ADHD. But we can help them develop a sense of responsibility for their actions,” said Willard.

Last year, the McLean County state’s attorney’s office filed six petitions in juvenile court related to sex offenses and one so far this year. After the case is filed “the range in sentences is then up to the judge, but based on the offense can include probation to the Department of Juvenile Justice,” said First Assistant State’s Attorney Jane Foster.

A thorough evaluation is the first step for a child accused of abusing another minor, said Willard. The evaluation, which takes up to 10 weeks, can help child welfare workers understand what is behind the abuse.

“These are not mini-adult sex offenders,” said Willard, adding that several factors may be behind the abuse.

Children younger than 12 may be acting out their curiosity about sex, or the sexual activity or pornography they have seen at home. These children often are the victims of prior sexual abuse, said Willard. Appropriate treatment options are reviewed for older children with  aggressive behavior.

Currently there are five juveniles who attend weekly group therapy sessions in Normal. The group consists mostly of previously abused children who displayed unhealthy behavior witnessed in the home, said Willard.

Juveniles comprise about 25 percent of all sex offenders in the U.S. and about 35 percent of sex offenders of minor victims, according to data from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Sorting out the potential causes behind abuse also can keep a minor in the courtroom, where they could end up on the juvenile sex offender registry.

If the abuse involves family members, the Department of Children and Family Services steps in to create a safety plan for the children as the evaluation and treatment process moves forward.

Fees for services at ABC Counseling in Normal and its five other Central Illinois locations are based on a family’s ability to pay. In addition to counseling minors accused of sex abuse, ABC Counseling provides treatment to about 75 victims and their families and adoption services.

An annual fundraiser helps cover operational costs but donations may be made to the center at 705 E. Lincoln, Suite 303, Normal, IL 61761.

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