Summer camps: Not always fun and games for the kids
“Sexual abuse of campers is a nationwide epidemic” – attorney Steve Estey
Whether it’s sailing or swimming, or figuring out how to make green slime, summer camps give kids a chance to learn, develop skills and have just plain fun.
At least that’s what’s supposed to happen.
Turns out, summer camps are a pedophile’s paradise, with cases of childhood sexual abuse occurring at camps across the U.S.
“We know that child abusers go where the children are, so it’s not surprising to find them working at summer camps,” attorney Steve Estey said. “Our research shows that well over 1,000 campers have been sexually assaulted over the last 10 years and that’s just the cases we know about through the media. There are undoubtedly countless others.”
Mr. Estey recently filed two civil lawsuits against A.R.E., the Virginia-based Association for Research and Enlightenment that was founded by spiritualist Edgar Cayce in 1931.
Hannah Furbush is one of eight sexual assault survivors who are suing A.R.E.
Hannah grew up attending A.R.E. camp programs – her parents started bringing her to family camp when she was just 10 weeks old. In fact, the entire family was involved with A.R.E. for decades – even Hannah’s grandmother went there.
Hannah described an environment that was akin to a cult, where members were conditioned into thinking it was OK for male staff members to sexually exploit young girls.
“If you were an attractive teenage girl it was expected that male staff members would prey upon you,” she said.
Hannah also talked about hugging and massage “circles,” and activities like “Goddess Night.”
“On Goddess Night, female campers would run through the camp naked while male campers stood at the top of a hill and cheered them on,” she said.
Hannah’s sexual abuse took place when she was a 20-year-old camp counselor: she was abused by an A.R.E. director she’d known since childhood. A few years after that Hannah was put into a “sexually volatile situation” by a different staff member.
As a result, Hannah was shunned for complaining about behavior that was deemed “playful and normal.” She finally split with A.R.E. after learning that one of the young girls in her care was sexually assaulted.
“Allowing this type of culture to exist at a camp for children is beyond the pale,” Mr. Estey said. “It causes long-lasting harm and heartache.”
From Peoria to Flagler, the number of sexually abused children is astounding: a Massachusetts youth minster/camp counselor was accused of sexually molesting as many as 200 boys; another 13 boys were reportedly molested at a Los Angeles camp for seriously ill children; and 40 incidents of aggravated assault and sexual harassment were reported at Purdue University’s Camp DASH for teenaged boys and girls.
Despite the alarming statistics, there are camps that have implemented stringent safety practices. Branson, Missouri-based Kanakuk Kamps is one of those.
Kanakuk’s Child Protection Plan includes background checks, in-depth interviews with potential camp counselors, extensive training on policies and guidelines, and a reporting system that includes a hotline staffed by a third party.
The Child Protection Plan was developed after a camp director was convicted of sexually molesting numerous boys.
“Children would be much safer if all camps developed protection plans like Kanakuk’s,” Mr. Estey said. “Sadly, that rarely happens, which is why our lawsuit is so important – we intend to make sure A.R.E. campers are safe going forward.”