Sexual Abuse at Summer Camps

Sexual Abuse at Summer Camps

As Summer approaches, many parents will be sending their children to summer camps, day camps, and other related recreation/educational activities. While most such camps will provide a safe environment for children, there have been reports from every state in the country of sexual abuse by summer camp employees, their supervisors, and even by other campers! In today’s post, the sexual abuse lawyer at The Doan Law Firm discusses the problem of sexual predators using their positions as camp staffers to prey on children. He will then discuss the legal remedies that may be available to parents whose children may have been victimized by these criminals.

The Problem

According to data compiled by Crime-Stoppers.org, there were over 1,000 documented instances of sexual abuse at summer camps and similar organizations in the years 2014 to 2019. The majority of these camps are operated by local religious groups such as churches, while others are sponsored by national organizations such as the YMCA/YWCA or the local Boys/Girls Clubs. In addition to these are “specialized” camps that are dedicated to sporting activities such as gymnastics and football, and camps that develop individual talents in music or the arts.

No National Regulation of Summer Camps

Many parents are surprised to learn that each state is responsible for enacting its own set of laws and regulations for summer camps. As is the case with daycare centers for young children, state supervision of summer camps varies from “close” to “practically none.” However, national organizations such as the American Camp Association have set voluntary accreditation standards that are intended to protect children participating in summer camps from harm. Among these voluntary standards is that each camp employee with access to children should undergo a criminal record background check as a condition of employment. Although access to national criminal record databases such as those maintained by the FBI is authorized by federal law such as the National Child Protection Act (1993) and the Volunteers for Children Act (1998), each state is allowed to make its own laws regarding who has the legal authority to request a criminal background check.

Who is Liable for Sexual Abuse at Summer Camps?

In law, an employer is generally held responsible for the actions of its employees and its agents (those acting on its behalf). This is known as the doctrine of respondeat superior (“let the master respond”) and also applies to criminal acts, even if the employer had no knowledge that an employee or agent planned to commit a crime.

Obviously, any camp employee is personally responsible for their interactions with children. This is always the case when sexual abuse occurs. However, the courts have held that the camp itself (and its sponsoring organization) can be held liable if it:

  • Failed to conduct criminal record and background checks of an employee prior to allowing that employee or volunteer to interact with children.

  • Knew, or should have known, that an employee or volunteer was sexually abusing a child.

  • Attempted to “cover up” an incident of sexual abuse of a child by a camp employee or volunteer by pressuring a child’s parents not to file a report of sexual abuse with the local police.

  • Attempted to influence a child victim of sexual abuse to “change the story” regarding the circumstances of the sexual abuse or not to report the incident to the child’s parents and/or law enforcement.

If a summer camp can be shown to have committed any of the above-listed acts, it has been negligent in its legal and moral duties to protect a child from harm. Once negligence has been proven, a court can order a summer camp camp to pay damages. Since children who have been the victim of sexual abuse often take years to recover from the psychological trauma of sexual abuse, these damages can be substantial. Damages that can be awarded in a sexual abuse case are of two general types, economic and non-economic damages.

Economic damages are those to which a “dollars and cents” can be attached, such as medical expenses and the cost of psychological therapy. The “reasonably anticipated” costs of future expenses may also be included in economic damages awards.

Non-economic damages are awarded to compensate the sexual abuse victim, and the victim’s family, for things that are difficult to assign a value, such as the victim’s “pain and suffering” and the disruption of family activities. A special type of non-economic damages are known as punitive damages. Punitive damages awards often exceed the total amount of other damages awarded in a given case.

Contacting a Summer Camp Sexual Abuse Lawyer

If your child was the victim of sexual abuse by a summer camp employee or volunteer, we encourage you to contact the summer camp sexual abuse victim’s lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a personal injury law firm with offices located throughout the country.

When you contact our firm to arrange a confidential review of the facts in your child’s summer camp sexual abuse case, your case review and first consultation with out summer camp sexual abuse lawyer is always free of any charges and does not obligate you to hire our firm to represent you in court. Should you decide that a lawsuit is in order, and that you would like for us to act as your legal counsel, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your case for trial in exchange for a percentage of the final settlement that we are prepared to win for you.