Summer Camp Safety: Preventing Sexual Abuse at Camp


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Each summer, there are more than 10 million kids who pack their clothes, pillows, and favorite stuffed animal and leave for summer camp. Many of those children will return home with fun stories, new friendships, and great memories that will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, some will come home with tragic memories, which will also last a lifetime—memories of sexual abuse that happened at camp.

According to the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (NAASCA), one in three girls and one in six boys suffer sexual abuse before they reach the age of 18. Sadly, many of those victims never disclose the abuse to anyone. In fact, the NAASCA reports that less than 12 percent of childhood sexual abuse is reported to the authorities.

While sexual abuse can occur anywhere, as see in news reports from all over the country, summer camp poses 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.

Unfortunately, no summer camp is immune to the possibility of sexual abuse occurring, but there are some crucial steps that parents can take to help prevent their children from becoming victims of abuse.

1. Talk about Anatomy

When you talk to your children, especially young ones, be sure that you use anatomically correct language about body parts. Using “nicknames” or euphemisms can threaten your child’s credibility should it ever become necessary to report sexual abuse. Explain to your children that these body parts are private and that no one should be looking at or touching them there unless there is a valid reason, like their doctor or early childcare provider.

Make sure that your child knows the following:

  • That it is never okay to keep a secret about anyone who touches them in private areas, and that they must tell you or another adult immediately, and to continue telling until they get help.
  • They need to report anyone who even makes them feel uncomfortable when they are nearby.
  • That no matter what another person (adult or child) tells them, they will not get into any trouble for telling an adult.

2. Pre-screen the Summer Camp

Always do your homework about the camp you are sending your child to. It’s important that you know what policies and procedures the camp has in place to prevent sexual abuse from happening. Some of the questions you should ask before choosing a summer camp are:

  • Do you perform criminal background checks on all camp staff?
  • Are references required for staff to be hired? How many, and how are they verified?
  • Do staff members receive training that is specifically about child sexual abuse?
  • How is the interaction between older and younger campers monitored?
  • How many adults are assigned to each cabin?
  • Are staff members ever allowed to be alone with a child?
  • Which staff members are responsible for enforcing the camp’s rules and regulations?

3. Be Aware of Potential Abusers

When you talk with your child about camp (while they are there or when they return home), be sure to take note of anyone who seems to be overly interested in your child. While camps typically forbid their counselors to babysit or spend time with children individually because it may give them an undue amount of influence, sexual predators are good at grooming their victims by becoming someone that the child trusts and cares about.

4. Understand the Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

If your child is a victim of sexual abuse, he or she will likely exhibit some of the following warning signs.

Warning signs in younger children:

  • Problems walking or sitting (fidgeting more than usual)
  • Sudden awareness of sexual subjects
  • Seductive or sexual behavior
  • Sudden shyness about getting undressed
  • Avoiding a specific person for no reason
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Wetting the bed
  • Not wanting to go back to camp

Warning signs in older children:

  • Sudden interest or extreme avoidance about sexual subjects
  • Depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideations
  • solation
  • Hostility, anger, or aggressive behavior
  • Seductive or sexual behavior
  • Increased secrecy
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Not wanting to go back to camp

5. Know What to Do if You Suspect Sexual Abuse

If your child is exhibiting some of the above behaviors and you suspect that sexual abuse has occurred, it’s important that you remain calm and do the following:

  • Show support. If your child reports sexual abuse or you even suspect it, you will likely be extremely angry and upset. It’s important to provide your child with consistent emotional support from a calm parent and not let them see you fly off the handle.
  • Explain that it’s not his or her fault. Make sure that your child knows that he or she did nothing wrong and that abuse is never his or her fault.
  • Let your child know that you believe him or her. Many children do not report abuse because they fear that no one will believe them. Make sure that your child knows, unquestioningly, that you believe what he or she is telling you.
  • Praise your child for sharing and seek help. Let your child know how strong and courageous he or she is for telling you what happened and that you understand that it wasn’t easy. Then, immediately call the authorities or the National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-422-4453) for help.

Reducing Chances of Sexual Abuse at Summer Camp

People who victimize children sexually are good at manipulation and often make children feel that the abuse is their fault, that no one will believe them if they tell, or that someone they love will be hurt if they report abuse. By following the above steps and letting your children know that some parts of their body are off limits, that they will not get into trouble if they report abuse to you, and that it’s not okay for someone to ask them to keep secrets from you, you will be making your children far less vulnerable to sexual predators – not only at summer camp, but in all areas of their lives.

Did This Happen To Your Child?

If an organization entrusted with the care of your child or loved one, such as a camp, neglected its responsibilities, resulting in child abuse, you might need to file a lawsuit. The experienced child abuse attorneys at Ross Feller Casey can help. Ross Feller Casey has won numerous cases involving child sexual abuse, and is widely regarded among the nation’s leading firms handling such cases.

Recently, the firm successfully litigated a multi-million dollar settlement on behalf of a girl who was sexually assaulted by a camp counselor at a Pennsylvania summer camp. Ross Feller Casey also garnered nationwide media coverage for successfully representing seven young men who were sexually assaulted by former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Contact our law firm today to arrange a free consultation with one of our attorneys.

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.