School is out and summer is here!
It’s the time of year when many parents send their kids off on that grand adventure: sleepaway camp. Summer camp can be an exciting time for kids, when they make new friends and get a taste of independence from their families. Parents, too, often appreciate the weeks of sleep-away camp, for a variety of reasons.
It is an enormous leap of faith for parents to hand their child over to a camp for sometimes weeks at a time. They have to trust that the child is in a supervised, safe environment with responsible adult leaders. But as we see every summer, no place is completely safe, not even the idyllic summer camp.
The fact is that no matter how picturesque the camp looks in its brochures, the risk of childhood sexual abuse in summer camp exists and it occurs more often than most people realize. No matter what we do to protect our children, there is always a risk that they may be harmed when they are away from us. Sleepaway camps in particular pose some unique opportunities for sexual predators. Children are away from their parents, may be homesick and may not have made any friends, making them vulnerable to attention that they receive from older campers or staff.
In most states, there are laws in place to keep sexual predators out of day care centers and schools. Rarely do the same prohibitions apply in the summer camp setting. Consider the following recent news stories:
1. A New York teenager is suing a sports camp alleging that a popular counselor sneaked into his bed while he was sleeping and sexually assaulted him in a cabin in 2006. According to the lawsuit, the counsel engaged in other inappropriate contact with campers, including “tweaking nipples, ‘bear hugging,’ tickling and rubbing up against boys.”
2. The family of 12-year old boy alleged that he and another camper were molested at a Pennsylvania sleep-away camp for Orthodox Jewish boys. Their lawsuit further alleges that the camp owner tried covering up the abuse and gave the counselor a bus ticket home to Canada.
3. In Texas, a counselor was convicted of sexually abusing two boys at Camp Stewart, one of the oldest camps in Texas. At least six civil lawsuits were filed. The counselor, who was hired through an international agency, had publicly advocated on the internet having sex with anyone regardless of age or gender.
There is no fool-proof way to protect your child from all harms while at summer camp. There are, however, some prudent considerations and questions to ask when selecting a camp:
- What risk-management procedures does the camp have in place?
- How are staff, counselors, and volunteers screened and selected? Are criminal background checks being performed prior to supervision?
- How are volunteers trained before they supervise camp-sponsored trips?
- What kind of discipline code is followed? Is it enforced? By whom?
- Are yelling, bullying, harassment, or physical force tolerated? How are incidents of violence and abuse handled?
- Do campers know who they can talk with and what to do if they feel unsafe?
- Are appropriate procedures in place to prevent teachers, counselors, and volunteers from being alone, one-on-one, with children?
- Are at least two counselors or adults present in each cabin at a sleep-away camp?
- On field trips, is there adequate supervision for the size of the group? Are there, for example, at least two staff members or volunteers for class trips of eight or ten students?
- Are age groups reasonably established and kept separate for activities and sleeping?
Our attorneys are experienced in representing victims of child sexual abuse at summer camps in civil lawsuits. If you or someone you know was a victim of child sexual abuse at a summer camp, please contact our law firm at (954) 641-2100 or send an email to sexual abuse attorney Adam Horowitz at [email protected].