Sex Life of the American Male

How new technology, new mores, and current events impact male sexuality.

Sexual Victimizaton and Camps: Safer Camps in the Future

What will make summer camp safer for children?

Since I posted my March 5th blog on sexual victimization in camps, we've seen a media focus on the ongoing Catholic Church scandal and learned of sexual abuse in the Boys Scouts. Acknowledging that sexual victimization occurs in summer camps really shouldn't come as a shock.


The summer camp season is only three months away. Here is my prediction: Adults will sexually victimize some children, and other campers and junior counselors will victimize even more (40% of incidents of child sexual abuse are perpetrated by adolescents). Staff members will be sexually harassed, assaulted, and raped. Still at the end of the summer, few official complaints will be documented. While the majority of participants attending camp will have a positive experience, some will be traumatized for life.


What can be done?


First, parents should not assume that a camp is doing everything in its power to protect children from abuse. The ostensible sincerity of a camp director, the glossiness of its promotional materials, its affiliation as an ACA accredited camp, and even its price are no guarantee of how proactive it is in protecting children. Some camps are so poorly managed that they invite an excess of problems, including sexual abuse. And sometimes even the most incredible camps unknowingly hire risky individuals and admit dangerous youth as participants. Thus parents need to ask questions and plenty of them.

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Second, we need to reevaluate existing camp standards. The standards of the industry have inarguably decreased the amount of sexual victimization occurring in camps. However I believe they have reached a plateau, and they need to be further refined and expanded to counter the increasing number of sexual issues that present in camp settings. (Note: On April 6 the American Camp Association e-mailed it members a reminder to review their policy on video voyeurism, the use of cell phones to takes pictures of people in compromising positions. However if a camp isn't accredited by the ACA it likely didn't receive this message. It's a good question to ask a prospective camp: What is your policy on cell phones in camps and why?)


If I am wrong about sexual victimization in camps I owe an apology for needlessly sounding a false alarm and for putting unnecessary and unwanted attention on the ACA. However if I am right, then we all need to do a much better job protecting children in camps. I believe I am right. I've worked at camps my entire adult life, as a treatment provider for offenders and victims, and interviewed camp directors, staff, insurance companies, and other treatment providers about the issue. I encountered parents of sexually aggressive children who outright lied to get them into camps. I worked with victims of camp sexual abuse that had occurred decades earlier. I treated camp rape victims. I unsuspectingly hired pedophiles to work at camp, and, years later, met former camp peers mandated to treatment for sex crimes. When I put all of these disparate experiences together, the final picture is one of an alarming frequency of sexual victimization.


My plan now is simple: To speak to professionals across the country who work with sexual offenders and victims and ask, "What would you need to know about a residential camp before you would turn your children over to the care of strangers for a week or more?" Any common themes discerned in the responses will be the starting point for exploring a new approach to decreasing sexual victimization in camps.


I'll keep readers posted.


(The American Camp Association asked me to clarify that I am not an employee of the organization and that this blog does not in any way represent it and its opinions.)

Michael Shelton is a writer, therapist, and educator focused on male sex and sexuality issues.

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