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Christian Summer 'Kamp' Knew About Sexual Abuse: Complaint

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 13, 2013 2:51 PM

A federal suit filed in August by a former camper at a Missouri summer camp alleges that the director sexually abused him for seven years, and that the camp's founder and CEO knew about the inappropriate contact with campers.

The Kanakuk Kamp is a Christian summer camp founded by "Promise Keeper" Joe White. "Kamp" director Peter D. Newman pleaded guilty to sexual assault in 2010 for molesting more than 20 boys, reports The Dallas Morning News.

The complaint by an abuse victim, filed in a Texas federal court, asserts that Kanakuk Ministries, the camp's parent company, is liable for Newman's abuse.

Notice of Director's Abuse

The plaintiff, identified as "John Doe III," alleges that Newman molested him from age 10 to age 16, and that before he even attended Kananuk Kamp, Kanakuk Ministries and its various affiliates had notice of Newman's inappropriate and predatory behavior.

In particular, the complaint asserts that, in some cases as early as 1999, Kanakuk Ministries was aware that Newman would:

  • Ride four-wheelers in the nude with nude boys,
  • Swim nude with minor boys,
  • Have private "one-on-one sleep-overs" with boys, and
  • Play basketball nude with minor boys.

By refusing to take action to stop Newman's abuse, the complaint argues that Kananuk Kamp essentially ratified and approved his conduct.

This is not the first time a Christian organization has been sued for turning a blind eye to molestation. You may recall that a former Boy Scout secured $1.4 million in damages in 2010 for the organization's negligence in allowing an admitted child predator to continue as a Scoutmaster.

Hurdles to Proving Negligence

Although the allegations of child sexual abuse are tragic, the egregious facts do not serve to overcome the legal barriers to finding Kanakuk Kamp liable for Newman's actions.

Missouri law requires "person[s] with responsibility for the care of children" who have "reasonable cause" to suspect a child has been abused to report that abuse to law enforcement. The complaint alleges this failure to follow state law is per se negligence.

This leaves the question of whether the behavior the camp was aware of constituted abuse -- a problem of evidence that has confronted plaintiffs in other federal circuits.

While it is certainly helpful that Newman has a criminal conviction for many of the alleged acts, the notice given to Kanakuk Ministries may fall in a gray area between abuse under Missouri law and inappropriate conduct that does not require reporting.

Kanakuk Ministries and its CEO can certainly be held liable if they knew of abuse but refused to report it. However, it remains an issue to be determined in this case, and for any plaintiffs' attorney in a similar case, whether the camp and its CEO were aware of any conduct that constituted abuse.

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