Whenever summer begins, so does the summer camp season. Parents expect camp to be a fun place for their children to deepen friendships, learn new skills, and build their character within an environment that practices the highest child safety standards.
As the largest Evangelical Christian sports camp in the world, with thousands of children participating each year and an annual revenue of more than $30 million, Kanakuk Kamps should be one of those trusted places.
While many children have experienced a joyful summer at Missouri-based Kanakuk, for many others it was a nightmare that continues throughout their life and a perpetual trauma that a growing body of evidence shows could very well have been prevented had leadership acted as they should have. By prioritizing their own reputations and the camp’s reputation by covering up wrong-doing and by protecting predators (under the guide of “ministering” to them) instead of protecting children and supporting survivors, Kanakuk has and continues to cause untold harm. Kanakuk must be held to account.
Kanakuk Kamps is on the 2022 Dirty Dozen List as a mainstream facilitator of sexual abuse exploitation and an example of institutional abuse. You can learn more about our reasons, our requests, and examine existing evidence here.
Sadly, new allegations of systemic sexual abuse of children by adults, child-on-child abuse, and cover-ups at Kanakuk have recently come to light through a series of investigative reports based on new survivor testimony and witness accounts from former Kankuk employees.
On May 27, 2022, two days before the Kanakuk summer season started, USA Today published a detailed report “Survivors ,ex-employees say Kanakuk Christian camp “ministered’ to its sexual predators.” This national story drew from a collaboration with USA Today’s Missouri affiliate which had released a three-piece investigative series earlier that week.
The titles speak for themselves:
- “Unreported abuse at Kanakuk spans decades”
- “Kanakuk camper says she was told to apologize, denied call home after reporting abuse”
- “’It was just a thing at Kanakuk’: Campers and staff say nudity was part of camp culture”
The editor even posted a special piece about the process of investigating Kanakuk which explained that, in deference to the brave survivors who came forward, they were making the articles available for free. We encourage you to read them yourselves to truly understand the full scope of abuse and institutional wrong-doing by Kanakuk. If you only have a few moments, below is an overview.
Key facts and new revelations about sexual abuse at Kanakuk Kamps:
- No More Victims, a Kanakuk watchdog created by survivors and their families, has received 60 incident reports spanning from 1950 to 2022: bringing the total to over 100 reported victims with allegations of child sexual abuse against 30 perpetrators.
- In addition to Pete Newman, six other men affiliated with Kanakuk have been convicted of sexual crimes involving children. The new story shares that, despite denying it, Kanakuk leadership had been made aware of sexual misconduct by those convicted as well as several other cases that have just surfaced.
- In some cases, Kanakuk did let staff go for inappropriate actions, but publicly hid the reasons and continued to dismiss and lie to the victims, families, and other parties. In one case a counselor encouraged a camper to pull down his pants and then whacked a boy’s penis with a stick. The employee was fired; but leadership lied about the reasons why the employee was no longer at Kanakuk.
- In two newly-reported instances, a counselor sexually assaulted a then-8-year-old girl and another young female camper in the mid-1980s. The accused was fired but then continued on to work at Kanakuk-affiliated KLIFE youth ministry until February 2022. When pressed by reporters, leadership refused to answer whether he had been fired for abusing a child. Kanakuk did not report the allegations above to the police.
- Another survivor stepped forward to share his abuse at the hands of Paul Green, who abused the child in his own home while being hosted by the boy’s family.
- Survivors have also come forward with reports of child-on-child sexual abuse – in other words, campers assaulting other campers. One instance reported was of a male camper who sexually assaulted multiple girls. When two of the girls mustered up their courage to come forward, leadership made the girls guilty for reporting, brought the assaulter into the room unannounced, and forced the girls into “reconciling.” The boy was allowed to remain at the camp and when one girl asked to call her parent was told, “you may only call your parents if you’ve been injured.”
- “We believe in salvation, we don’t believe in punishment, Jesus forgives, and we are going to forgive the camper,” Caroline said Chancey told her. “We’re going to help him through his problems.”
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation stands with the survivors in demanding Kankuk release them from their NDAs and welcome their public testimony so they could pursue healing (tragically, several victims of Kanakuk have died by suicide which is highly suspected to have been due to the trauma of the abuse they endured). And we join survivors in calling for Kanakuk leadership to unequivocally admit to their grave failures in protecting children and to be fully transparent as to what they knew in the past, as well as about how they plan to prevent future instances of wrong-doing and crimes against the kids in their care.
Institutional abuse must be rooted out from all entities, but especially from within those with the primary purpose of caring for young people.
Please take 30 seconds to demand Kanakuk leadership do the right thing
Before kissing your children good-bye as they head out to their summer activities, be sure to ensure review this C-A-M-P-S checklist:
- Child protection policies should be inspected before signing-up
- Ask about previous allegations and reports of abuse (including child-on-child abuse) and/or inappropriate behavior and how leadership handled them
- Make a clear plan for your children to follow and determine how they may reach you should they feel uncomfortable or in danger while at camp
- Probe other families about their experience at the camp
- Speak often to your children about safety, personal boundaries, appropriate behavior by adults and other children
Here is a guide which parents at NCOSE have found helpful 12 Questions Parents Need to Ask Their Child’s Summer Camp Program. We’d add the need to ask for their policies on device usage (are campers or counselors allowed have them? If yes, when and where? Can they take pictures of each other? Do they have access to the Internet? What happens if someone doesn’t follow policies?)
And remember, even if you’re already signed-up and deposit was sent, it’s never too late to ask these questions and demand more if you feel a camp is not doing their utmost to protect your child.
What would you add to this list? Tell us at [email protected], and we’ll post another blog with recommendations for what to look for and ask when choosing a summer camp.