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FARMINGTON — A Farmington therapist stands by her belief that young people who commit sex offenses are worthy of a second chance at a healthy, normal life.

Alisha Hawthorne-Martinez is a clinical social worker and drug and alcohol abuse counselor licensed with the state. She previously specialized in treating patients with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, but she said her growing awareness of sexual offenses throughout San Juan County — especially by those 18 and younger — has given her therapy practice a new direction.

Starting in May, she began treating young people who commit sexual offenses, in addition to her practice's usual case load of clients with mental health issues.

"I started noticing a trend that we have a lot of youth who cause sexual harm in our area, and there are not a lot of treatment options available," she said.

Her practice is called Second Chance Counseling, a name she said is rooted in her belief that minors are capable of change and, through clinical treatment, can learn to lead healthy lives.

Hawthorne-Martinez treats clients at their homes. She travels to clients' homes to work with both them and their families once a week, on average. She said treatment varies based on the degree of the abuse committed.

Treating juvenile perpetrators and their families is a long-term process that starts with acknowledging the behavior. Over two or more years, Hawthorne-Martinez said patients may focus on reintegration back into normal, healthy routines at school, work and home.

Despite public perception, Hawthorne-Martinez said sex offenders do not have a high rate of recidivism if they are treated early.

"Statistics show that kids who cause sexual harm do not grow up to be adult sex offenders — if they get the right treatment," she said. "Ninety-three percent of kids who cause sexual harm do not re-offend. That's what I'm invested in with this treatment. We've got to get intervention treatment soon. It's long-term. The brain's not fully developed until age 25, so I like to think that you can change until then."

Mike Castenell, a Farmington sociologist who works with sex offenders of all ages, said he began to refer some of his underage clients to Hawthorne-Martinez this summer.

"Because of the need in this community, it's prudent to have somebody like Alisha in place to work with these kids," Castenell said. "You have to have the necessary foundation to go into this type of work. We certainly do have a problem in our community with sexually abusive behavior. She does a good job."

Castenell said that besides himself and another therapist, George Ragsdale, Hawthorne-Martinez is the only professional he knows of in this area who works with juvenile sex offenders.

"If you talk about juveniles in treatment for (sex offenses), the recidivism rate, based on my research, is less than 10 percent," he said. "We know that it works and that it works for most people. When you talk about effectiveness, it is clear that these programs do work, but it takes a combination of factors. There's no 28-day program. I tend to work with juveniles on a case-by-case basis for two to five years. Sexual abusing is a symptom of a larger family problem that typically requires a family solution to address it. The best treatment outcome is when you have total family involvement. That's the work I (and Hawthorne-Martinez) do."

Castenell said the work requires a special skill set and fortitude.

"It's not something that people typically gravitate towards," he said. "You see a lot of trauma, and it doesn't go away. It's persistent. You have to really have the mind set to go there to be successful. You have to believe that these guys can and do get better. I think she has a similar philosophy."

Hawthorne-Martinez said she hopes to launch a website and hire other therapists to work in her practice this fall.

"My mission with this practice is to end sexual violence with youth," she said. "I believe in rehabilitation, instead of incarceration. I believe that our youth have the ability to be cured and learn to make healthy, positive choices. If we don't bring health and wellness into this community, who is going to?"

More Info

What: Second Chance Counseling
Where: 101 S. Locke Ave., Suite 202 in Farmington
Hours: By appointment only
More info: Call 505-427-1621 or email to 2ndchancecounselingservices@gmail.com.

James Fenton is the business editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.

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