ST. CHARLES – Kane County crime statistics have revealed a disturbing surge in the number of young teens preying sexually on very young children, often their siblings, Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said at his April 10 media briefing.
He was joined by prosecutor Deb Bree, executive director of the Kane County Child Advocacy Center in Geneva, which coordinates the investigation of cases of child sexual abuse. The two discussed possible causes that include the influence of social media and access to sexualized television shows as well as internet video streaming and other online content.
"We are seeing a marked increase in the number of very young children who are being sexually and physically abused in their home," McMahon said. "Something that is really alarming to me … is the increase in the number of child victims who are under the age of 6 years old who are becoming the target of sexualized aggressive behavior. This is not what historically has been described as exploration or curiosity."
He said in 2015, there were 111 victims younger than 6 years old, with the number climbing to 125 in 2016 and to 185 last year.
He also cited a high correlation between children who are victims of crime or witnesses to a crime who later as teens get into trouble and end up in juvenile court for non-sex-abuse-related reasons often involving alcohol, drugs or property crimes to acquire street drugs.
They may be self-medicating because they have not received professional counseling and treatment to learn coping skills to deal with trauma in their past, McMahon said.
"This community needs to invest heavily in resources for [these] victims … to be sure we don’t allow victims of crime to now come into the juvenile court system without giving them every opportunity and the tools they need to heal from the trauma and do well in school."
Looking at the latest trend in incidents, Bree said the department is seeing such cases as a 15-year-old molesting a 5- or 6-year-old.
Regarding the rising numbers, she said it is not certain whether there are more such incidents or whether mandated reporting has improved.
The number of juvenile offenders younger than 18 rose from 45 in 2015 to 59 in 2016 to 76 last year. In that three-year period, 52 of the youth offenders were younger than 13, Bree said.
"There aren’t a lot of resources for juvenile offenders for getting that type of [sex offender ] therapy … or [they] may not have the ability to pay for it," she said, noting that free counseling is readily available to victims, but not to juvenile offenders.
She talked of the stress within a family if a 14-year-old son is abusing an 8-year-old sister.
"You can imagine what that does to a family," Bree said of the emotional turmoil. '[They] want to protect the offender and the victim."
A goal is to establish safety plans, stable boundaries and give referrals to anybody in the family for counseling that might be necessary," Bree said.
Interviews of young offenders include determining if they themselves have been the victims of abuse.
"We have found indeed they are not being abused," she said of some of the offenders, noting that interviews indicate they have been on social media or viewed TV shows that might be hypersexualized and want to act out those behaviors.
In some cases, various sexual acts have been reported between two 5-year-olds and two 8- or 9-year-olds, Bree said.
Among the tips Bree shares with parents are knowing what their children's passwords are, putting parental controls on social media, making sure to check in and telling them they have to add them.
"[It] starts with accessibility and being able to review what content they’re looking at and what they’re doing on social media and [a] device," Bree said.
McMahon recently participated in a St. Charles School District parent university program, noting it explained different media platforms. Students discussed having an Instagram account to post one's best self and a "finstagram" account in which the "f" references a fake name and one's worst side is revealed.
He said he was impressed that 90 parents attended the program.
"You have to be engaged," he said. "Everybody has a smart device and at a very young age."
As for recognizing the signs that a child is being abused, he said it's difficult at an age when change is the norm, but telltale signs include whether a child becomes withdrawn, acts out in the home or shows changes in behavior.
Bree also cautioned parents to be aware of adults' behavior.
"Any time an adult takes extra interest in your child, anything that is done in secret," Bree said. "[If an adult says,] I want to drive him or her to soccer practice, take him to the park. We’ll have ice cream. Ask questions and pay attention."
Child sexual abuse runs across all social settings – from the affluent to those in poverty to the middle class, Bree said.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and McMahon said the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services hotline to call about suspected abuse is 1-800-25-ABUSE.
"If you see something, say something still applies," McMahon said. "There is civil liability protection for someone who reports in good faith physical or sexual abuse. … One thing that alarms me is so many offenders – whether [it's] physical abuse [or] sexual abuse – [have] put themselves in a position to have access to kids – in the educational community, in the coaching community, whether paid or volunteer. … We have to be vigilant as to who has access to our kids."
Crisis Intervention Team training
McMahon said the second of four sessions this year of Crisis Intervention Team training for law enforcement officers will be conducted the week of May 14 at the Elgin Community College Center for Emergency Services in Burlington. The third will begin July 23 at the Kane County Sheriff's Office and the fourth will fall in October.
He said the goal is to increase the number of police and correctional officers who become trained and certified to deal with people facing mental health issues. He said 23 people attended the first session held March 12 to 18.
"It will be part of my request for the 2019 budget," he said, calling it an important tool that leads to better outcomes for law enforcement officers and individuals they will be interacting with.
For the March 20 primary election, assistant state's attorneys visited each polling place to check for potential electioneering or similar concerns, McMahon said. Correctly anticipating that Aurorans would vote on a referendum to disband the Aurora Election Commission and fold its services into the Kane County Clerk's Office, McMahon said his office devoted resources so his assistant state's attorneys could visit the additional polling places.
"There are always some minor complaints of electioneering either in or near polling places," he said. "One thing we’ve been able to do is minimize the impact that may have. The voters in Kane County do enjoy a very peaceful, seamless voting process."