Many children are off to camp this summer, but parents need to be aware of the risk and know what they can do to reduce that risk. Learn some questions to enhance summer camp safety below. Each year, tens of thousands of children attend summer camp. Summer camp can provide activities for children that teach play, learning, and team building activities for children of all ages. Camp counselors and owners act in place of the parents to ensure the safety and well-being of children at camp. Both parents and the community at large trust camp administrators to protect their children. However, when a child is sexually abused at camp, this trust is violated.
Over the past 55 years, more than 500 children were victims of sexual abuse at children’s camps. This abuse happens around the country, including in Oklahoma. In 2018, a legally blind Oklahoma man, Benjamin Petty, was sentenced to probation for raping a 13-year-old girl at Falls Creek church camp. Petty, who was a cook at Falls Creek, tied a rope around the girl’s wrists before raping her and threatening to hurt her if she told anyone about the rape. Petty pleaded guilty to first-degree rape, forcible sodomy, and rape by instrumentation, but was sentenced to three 15-year prison sentences, resulting in only probation.
This story is not unique; indeed it has been told for decades. Camps create opportunity for sexual predators, as children are alone without parental guidance, sometimes for weeks on end. Many states do not require background checks for employees. Background checks by states that do require them, like Oklahoma, are complicated by the fact that each year over 24,000 camp counselors come from foreign counties. Thus parents need to question camps and take steps to ensure their kids’ summer camp safety.
Summer camps are often not regulated to the same extent as schools or day care. There are no national regulations for summer camps, and Oklahoma requires no license for overnight camps. A few organizations, including the American Camp Association and Praesidium, issue accreditations to camps based on their safety records. These accreditations can be checked and reviewed online.
Summer camps can be an enriching and positive experience for children, but parents should be aware of the risks. It’s important that parents know the right questions to ask to ensure their kids’ safety at summer camp:
- Is the camp certified with the state?
- What kind of training is required of the staff?
- Are the staff trained in CPR and first aid?
- Are there staff who are life-guard certified?
- Are background checks required of camp staff?
- Will there be hunting activities and, if so, will the staff teach proper gun safety?
- Do you know the policies for photos being taken and published of your children?
- Have you signed a release for photos of your child being used on social media?
- What policies are in place for kids to report abuse?
- Are there at least two adult counselors assigned to each overnight bunk?
When a child is abused at summer camp, many people may be held liable in a civil lawsuit. Adult abusers, camp counselors, administrators, and insurers, minor abusers, or other third parties like churches or dioceses may be liable. To learn more contact Koller Trial Law for a free consultation.