Rape advocacy agency expanding services to teenagers

Rape advocacy agency expanding services to teenagers

URBANA — After a boyfriend took advantage of her sexually as she slept, Lexi White needed someone to listen to her about that trauma.

It was about five years ago and she was having flashbacks and couldn't sleep. Worse, her family didn't believe her.

"When I tried to tell my mom and siblings, they were like, 'You're lying,'" she recalled.

Thinking that police might have the same reaction toward a 15-year-old girl, she didn't report what happened to her.

"I didn't want to go through that process," said the now-19-year-old full-time Parkland College student, who also works part-time.

Nonetheless, it bothered the then-high school freshman enough that she went to the school psychologist, who referred her to Rape Advocacy, Counseling & Education Services (RACES) in Urbana.

After one-on-one counseling with the assistant director, White has taken part in different kinds of group counseling. She especially liked art therapy.

"I like how I can express my feelings through pictures. I didn't have to use words. It's kind of hard sometimes," White said.

The counseling, including the group therapy, was very helpful, she said. She learned how to deal with her flashbacks and negative feelings by doing something positive like going for a walk or a jog or writing a poem. Softball is also a huge outlet for her.

"You can get a lot out of it," she said of her group therapy.

"I used to be shy, and now I'm not afraid to tell my story. It helped me find my inner self," she said, adding that her family also noticed a positive change in her.

"Now they all believe me since I've been in counseling. They apologized because they knew they were just judging me," she said. "My mom didn't want to believe it happened, and that's why she didn't trust me that much."

A stronger White said she isn't as scared of forming relationships now and even has a boyfriend again.

White said she would recommend the counseling for someone who has been similarly hurt.

"I would tell them at first, take it easy, and once you feel comfortable, start sharing. At first, I was scared, but I started trusting the girls in the group, then I started to speak," White said.

Although RACES has done several different groups for adult women in the past decade, this is the first group aimed at adolescent girls who are in eighth through 12th grades, said Erin Sturm, the agency's assistant director.

"We were able to hire a child and adolescent counselor last fall. Because we have the staffing, we are able to provide this group," she said. "There are more kids and teens coming in, and we've seen there is a need for this."

The agency got a bit of a financial boost with money that came to the Champaign-Urbana area from the settlement with other Big Ten universities as a result of the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal at Penn State.

Sturm said the adolescent support group will meet for eight weeks at the RACES office in Lincoln Square in downtown Urbana, starting April 3. The sessions will be about an hour once a week and each week will cover a different topic. Sturm said they hope to limit the size of the group to eight.

"We try to teach them coping skills. One of the big purposes is to create a safe place  where they feel like they can talk if they want. We never force anyone to talk, but we hope they feel that they could," she said.

All services are free and confidential, but interested participants are asked to call the office at 344-6928 before March 26 to schedule an intake interview.

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