Every summer approximately 10 million American kids attend summer camp. Most will have a wonderful experience, yet some will return home having been sexually abused. About one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused before age 18 (statistics from Center for Disease Control). Ninety percent of the abusers are male, and 70% of the abusers know their victims. One-third of the time the perpetrator is an older child.

Camps provide ideal environments for abuse but with proper preparation and protocols this risk can be minimized. Here are steps that parents should take to help their child have a safe and enjoyable summer:

1. Screen the Camp

Parents need to make sure that a camp has policies and procedures in place to minimize the risk of sexual abuse. These include the following:

  • Camps should do criminal background checks (including the sex offenders’ registry) on all personnel, including counselors, lifeguards, drivers, rebbes, etc. The camp should ask for at least three references and check them.

  • Staff members should be trained to understand what constitutes child sexual abuse and how to respond if such is suspected.

  • A responsible adult should enforce camp rules and regulations. Campers should know who to talk to if they feel unsafe and know that he or she will take proper actions.

  • The camp should have a policy that staff members may NEVER be alone with a camper.

  • The camp should make sure that older campers cannot be secluded with younger peers and that there is adult supervision when such groups are together.

  • At least two adult counselors should sleep in each cabin and be forbidden to ever sleep in the same bed as a camper.

  • The camp policy should be that they follow state guidelines for reporting suspected abuse and have zero tolerance for abuse.

  • The camp should forbid male counselors from babysitting or spending time with campers outside of camp. (Predators “groom” children by getting involved in their lives and gaining their trust.)

2. Educate Your Child

We live in an age when our children can be “protected” by teaching them about their bodies. Every child needs to know the proper names of their body parts, and that their genitals are private.

Children should know that no one should touch them in their private parts unless there is a legitimate reason, such as a pediatrician checking them with another adult present. Using euphemisms for genitals can destroy your child’s credibility in reporting if that is ever necessary.

Teach your child:

  • If anyone ever asks your child to look at or touch their private parts, or touches your child private parts or body in a way that makes them uncomfortable, tell your child to tell you or another adult immediately and to keep telling until they get help.

  • Child molesters tell their victims to keep the abuse a secret. Teach your child that it's never okay to keep a secret (unless it is a “good secret” that has an ‘expiration' date, such as telling about a present that will be given as a surprise).

  • A child should never go to a secluded place or alone in a vehicle with an adult whom their parent hasn’t authorized.

  • If someone just makes them feel uncomfortable or creepy when they're nearby, they need to report it. If they notice an unaccompanied male hanging out with kids, and/or taking a great interest in them, they should also report that. The person may be innocuous, but better safe than sorry.

  • Promise your child that no matter what anyone says, you will make sure that they never get into trouble for reporting.

3. What to do if you suspect abuse

  • Support your child: Research shows that the single most important factor in a child's doing well after being abused is the steady emotional support of a parent. Keep your true feelings hidden and be calm and strong for your child. (You can get therapy later.)

  • Explain to your child that abuse is never his or her fault, even if there was some part of the experience that felt good to him or her.

  • Make sure your child knows you believe him or her and praise him or her for sharing. Children rarely lie about having been sexually abused, although they may be very confused and change their story when they feel doubted or afraid.

  • Call local authorities or the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1.800.4.A.CHILD (1.800.422.4453)

4. Know the warning signs of sexual abuse

If your child comes back from camp in a much worse emotional state than when he or she left, ask your child to tell what happened in camp. There are many possible reasons for this, including homesickness, bullying, being isolated by their peers, and having been abused. Know the warning signs of sexual abuse in younger children:

  • Your child knows about sexual topics that children their age shouldn’t know. He or she is overly concerned about or preoccupied with their genitals.

  • Seductive behavior

  • Suddenly shyness about their body, getting undressed, being afraid to go to the bathroom or take a shower.

  • Avoiding a specific individual for no apparent reason.

  • Sleep disturbances, bedwetting or soiling.

  • Reluctance to go back to camp or to a specific place.

Warning signs of sexual abuse in older children

  • Unusual interest in or avoidance of sexual topics.

  • Depression or suicidal thoughts, isolation, avoidance of places or people.

  • Hostility or aggressive behavior.

  • Secretiveness or seductive behavior.

  • Sleep disturbance, overeating, lack of appetite.

  • Substance abuse

  • Reluctance to go back to camp

If parents give camps the message that they won’t send their kids there unless they get serious about preventing abuse, and educate their kids about prevention, we can make our kids a lot safer so they can have an enjoyable summer.

For more information, go to https://asap.care/summer-camps/