Exposure to Pornography

At ABC Counseling, the therapists provide treatment for juvenile sex offenders or youth with sexually problematic behaviors. These children have engaged in inappropriate behaviors with peers or younger children. Each child’s inappropriate behaviors may be motivated by a variety of factors. One important factor that has a profound negative influence on children is exposure to pornography. At ABC, we understand that pornography has a significant influence in the lives of many children that develop sexual behavior problems. Unfortunately, the rates of pornography exposure have escalated, and a significant number of children and teens in society are exposed to pornography, especially through online sources. Pornography exposure can impact the brains of children, can lead to pornography addiction, and lead to unhealthy and deviant behaviors. To learn more about the prevalence and consequences of pornography, visit fightthenewdrug.org.

By: Christina Meads, MS, Sexual Abuse Therapist

Youth with Sexual Behavior Problems: What Everyone Should Know

At ABC Counseling, many therapists work with a very specific population. In our field and in the research, they are known by many names: juvenile sex offenders, kids who sexually act out, youth with sexual behavior problems. In the general public, it is common to hear the words “sexual deviant,” “perpetrator,” “predator,” or “pedophile” applied to these same individuals. However, it is important to understand the significant differences between a youth and an adult who act out sexually, and use the correct terminology.

 A juvenile sex offender is a youth (under 18 years old) who engages in an inappropriate or illegal sexual behavior with a child his/her age or younger. Typically, these youth are motivated by a combination of sexual, emotional, psychological, and social factors, such as isolation, difficulty interacting with same-age peers, depression, exposure to pornography, anxiety, family problems, or a history of abuse or neglect. While they need regular supervision and accountability, juvenile sex offenders are often very amenable to treatment. The rate of recidivism, that is, the frequency that these individuals re-offend after successfully completing treatment, is around 7%. This is significantly lower than the recidivism rates for adult offenders.

In contrast, adult sex offenders are less amenable to treatment and require much longer treatment, due to years or decades of ingrained patterns of behavior. They often lack the social supports to provide supervision, and therefore are held responsible for keeping themselves accountable. Some of the motivating factors that lead to adults  acting out sexually against children are often a combination of low self-esteem, a history of abuse or neglect, sexual addiction, isolation, lack of social skills, stress, disability, or alcohol or drug use. The recidivism rates for adult offenders range between 20% and 60%, depending on the specific population researched and the time period studied.

A pedophile is an individual who has a sexual attraction to children instead of adults. They may or may not act on this attraction, but they are characterized by an interest in developing sexual relationships with prepubescent children. True pedophiles, who fit this description, make up a very small percentage of all adults who act out sexually – estimates are typically under 3% to 5%. It is even rarer to find an adolescent who falls into this category.

Before joining the staff at ABC Counseling, I never imagined myself working with juvenile sex offenders. Like many in the general public, I assumed it would be uncomfortable, or that they would be threatening or dangerous to work with. As I have discovered, working with youth who have sexual behavior problems is incredibly enjoyable and rewarding. They are great kids who come from difficult backgrounds. They usually have very low self-esteem, lack education about sex and sexuality, and need help improving their social skills. Most come from separated or divorced families, or are being raised by single parents. The vast majority know they have done something wrong, feel badly about it, and want to avoid doing it again. They can also be funny, creative, intelligent, friendly, helpful, and loyal to their friends and family. They play basketball, collect Magic cards, and love video games; they watch TV and go to movies; they cheer on their favorite sports teams and do their chores (most of the time – they’re still teenagers!). Some of them have been abused themselves, and never got help or dealt with the trauma. They all need help, and the benefits of counseling are far-reaching and long-lasting.

 There are many, many misconceptions about youth with sexual behavior problems. These misconceptions contribute to a failure to communicate or support families who are dealing with these issues. I hope this brief commentary has helped you understand a little bit more about the kids that we work with. In addition, like many other families in Central Illinois, the families who have a child who has acted out sexually sometimes cannot afford the services that child desperately needs. If you would like to help a child receive counseling who cannot afford it, please contact us at (309) 451-9495 and ask about the Ed Willard Scholarship Fund, or make a donation here.

 By: Melissa Box, LCSW, Sexual Abuse Therapist

Violent Video Games

Lots of kids play video game. What’s wrong with that?  Well there could be some problems if the video games are excessively aggressive or violent.  Here are some myths and facts every parent should know before allowing free range to different video games.


Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy

Attachment theories focus on the importance of young children building healthy, strong attachments to caregivers.  When healthy attachment styles are developed, the individual will have a framework for attachment in other interpersonal relationships.  Many attachment theorists ascertain that early trauma disrupts a developing attachment system by creating a distorted sense of self, others, and caregivers.  This article discusses Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, which is a therapy based in attachment theory used in order to rebuild or modify a child’s attachment to their caregiver.


Children and Divorce

At ABC, we work with children who have experienced trauma and this includes children whose parents are going through a divorce or who have already divorced. Often times these children are suffering emotionally which can negatively affect school performance, self-esteem and overall mental health.  A divorce can be a traumatic experience for everyone in the family, including the parents, which may result in the child being lost in the shuffle. Often times the child may feel caught between the parents and not know how to continue relationships with one parent without feeling disloyal to the other. Through counseling children of divorce can learn positive coping skills, healthy emotional expression, and have a safe therapeutic environment in which they can share their thoughts and feelings regarding the divorce without any negative consequences. The link below offers helpful tips for parents about how to tell their children about the divorce and what parents can do to help their child through this difficult time.


The Impact of Bullying

As therapists for children at ABC, our goal is to help children heal from trauma, and also cope with other significant difficulties in their lives. Bullying is a prevalent issue faced by many kids today. There have been many short term and long term consequences associated with being the victim of bullying. As therapists and parents of children, it is integral to be aware of the prevalence and impact of bullying. Furthermore, counseling can be a helpful resource for children that have difficulties as victims of bullying. For more information about bullying, see that link below.


Erin’s Law Helping Educate Our Children

Erin’s law is a new law which was signed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn in January 2013.  This law was developed by, and named after Erin Merryn, a sexual abuse survivor.  At the ages of 6-8 and then 11-13, Erin experienced abuse by both a neighbor and her cousin.  As a result, she set out to advocate in favor of children receiving age-appropriate education to help them in recognizing and talking about sexual abuse.   The law mandates schools to provide sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention to elementary and middle school children.  Before the law, high schools were the only schools mandated to provide this education.  The law allows for schools to bring in agencies to provide the education, or train there own teachers on how to educate the students, using a research based curriculum.

As an agency that provides counseling and treatment to children and families impacted by sexual abuse, this is a positive move in the direction of giving abuse victims a voice in the schools.

Currently 8 states have passed the law (Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Arkansas and Mississippi).  There are an additional 14 states which will be introducing Erin’s Law in 2013-2014.

If you are interested in learning more about Erin’s Law, Erin Merryn has developed a website which can be viewed at http://www.erinmerryn.net/erins-law.html.

By: Alicia Bell, ABC Sexual Abuse Therapist

Trauma-Informed Expressive Art Therapy

At ABC, art therapy is a therapeutic method that is used by many therapists that allow our clients to express themselves visually. Trauma-Informed Expressive Art Therapy is the use of creative arts, such as music, art, and movement as a form of therapy (Malchiodi, 2005). Activities such as the Feelings Mask, Feelings Piggy Bank, and Play-Doh roses are just a few examples of how art therapy is used in treatment with our clients. For more information about Trauma-Informed Expressive Art Therapy, please click the link below. 



Talking to Your Kids About Sex

Talking about sex is often uncomfortable, but it can be especially so when you are talking to your children. Basic sex education is very important though and can help protect your children. We want our children to have the correct information and to know our values, and they will not get that from peers, teachers or media…only you as a parent. The conversation can take place at any time but it is most optimal as a preventative conversation rather than a reactive. Kids need to know things that are age-appropriate. Basically, preschoolers need to understand boundaries, correct names of private parts, privacy, safe adults, good and bad touches and good and bad secrets. Information about reproduction can be very basic. Utilizing books is an excellent way of discussing body parts and reproduction with young children. We highly recommend “Amazing You” by Dr. Gail Satlz.  For school-age children, expand the conversations above and include information on puberty for both sexes. Puberty conversations should start as early as 8 or 9, as many children’s bodies begin to change at that time. You can also add information about healthy relationships and be more specific on reproduction. Talking with school age kids while playing a game or doing another activity can make for a comfortable atmosphere and a better conversation. For middle schoolers, they should be fully aware of sexual behaviors, healthy media usage, protection and contraception, and healthy dating practices. Kids are discussing sex and seeing it in the media at this age, so more education means better choices on their part. For high school students, discussions should add dating violence and health sexual practices. For both middle school and high school students, car conversations are the best. They do not have to look at you and that often makes the conversation easier on everyone. Please realize that even if a kid went through health or sex education in school, they did not get everything. In fact, many do not listen well in that environment as they are embarrassed or uncomfortable in front of peers.  This is not a one-time conversation. It needs to happen over and over again.

No matter what though, emphasize safety and your values. Kids listen, even if they pretend they don’t, and if you are willing to have the hard conversation, they know they can come to you and trust you.

Other tips to help:

1. One way to help instill values or to correct what kids might think/say because of what other kids have told them is: “In our family…” You can distinguish that some families talk about or believe in things differently.

2. If kids ask questions, first find out what they already know and why they want to know that. Answer only what they asked. So, if a kid wants to know where babies come from, they may only want to know the actual place a baby comes out, not about sex itself. If they have further questions, let them know it’s okay to ask.

3. When you do discuss, remind kids that this is a private matter, and that it is not their job to teach other kids. See #1. Everyone does it differently, and hopefully that will prevent your child from being the “informant.”

4. If kids refuse the conversation, don’t give up. It is too important. Say, “I understand you are uncomfortable about this, but we need to discuss it. I need you to be educated so you can make good decisions. We will try again on Friday.” Don’t let it rest. Discomfort is not a reason to avoid the talk on anyone’s part.

There are many great books on the topic, so please check in with ABC staff for additional referrals or suggestions on how to handle the conversation.

By: Teri McKean


Expanding Services in Tazewell County

Did you know that ABC Counseling has expanded their offender counseling in Tazewell County? ABC Counseling has a newer program called Back on Track II that works with medium to high-risk youth on probation in Tazewell County. Clients who are moderate to high-risk on probation include youth with multiple criminal offenses ranging from charges of battery, burglary, truancy, etc. Many of these clients have been resistant to previous interventions. They may be struggling with mental health diagnoses and/or have barriers they face while at home such as poverty or other family members who have had involvement in the Department of Corrections.

This is an intensive counseling program to prevent youth from entering the Department of Corrections or a residential treatment center. Some of the youth in this program are receiving aftercare services since being discharged from a residential treatment center. These youth attend once a week individual counseling, once a week group counseling (with a parent parallel group), and twice a month family counseling (meeting once a month in the home). This is a hefty time commitment, but if involved in all aspects of the program it can lead to positive benefits over time. The youth have also been able to participate in some community outreach as a group which has been a positive experience for all involved. Program outcomes are still in the early stages at this time. The therapist involved in this program has a smaller caseload in an effort to provide all services and support needed for each youth and family involved. Often times, individual sessions have been held at the schools where the youth attends. The Parent Parallel Group has benefited from learning more tips based on the Love and Logic curriculum and exploring topics such as empathy, resilience-building, communication, and feelings expression from a parent perspective.

By: Sarah Maurer