Tulir Reports Increased Child Sexual Abuse Post Summer Camps

Summer camps are full of adventurous possibilities. However, they can also be unsafe spaces. Hence, it is important to pay close attention to the summer camps you choose for your child.

By Jasmine Kaur

Tulir Reports Increased Child Sexual Abuse Post Summer Camps
Let's stop child sexual abuse!

We were informed by Tulir, Centre for the Prevention and Healing Child Sexual Abuse, that there’s a noted spike in the number of child sexual abuse reports after summer. They explained that this could be due to the following reasons:

  • Children go for summer camps, and parents don’t have a great knowledge about the kind of people surrounding their children, at least in comparison to other regular places like school and neighbourhood, where they have the time to get to know people.
  • Children visit their relatives during summer vacations, where they are reportedly being sexually abused.

This is what Tulir had to say about children’s safety in summer camps:

We don’t claim that all summer camps are unsafe, but that it's crucial to take preventive measures when placing your child in a summer camp. Furthermore, most children do not immediately tell a trusted adult that they have been sexually abused, making it even more important for us to be alert.

Worldwide experience shows that people who are sexually interested in children, gravitate towards jobs that allow them an easy access to children. This access can allow them to groom and sexually abuse children while maintaining secrecy. While not all child abuse is done by such professional perpetrators, they are a significant part of the problem. And they often get away with their crime because they are extremely organised and manipulative. They can be found anywhere: in a school, in a sports organisation, in a hospital setting or a childcare home. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere and to anyone.

What kind of questions can parents ask organisers when figuring out how safe a summer camp is?

They can ask the following questions to the organisers:

  • How many years has the summer camp been operational?
  • What policies does the summer camp follow to ensure children’s safety?
  • Is a child ever left alone with a staff member or volunteer? If yes, under what circumstances and why? Usually it is not a good idea for one child to be alone with one staff member, even having two staff members can reduce the risk of abuse.
  • How do the organisers screen their volunteers and staff members? What kind of background checks do they run?
  • Is there a code of conduct?

What do you mean by the code of conduct?

Code of conduct is a list of dos and don’ts for all the staff members, including volunteers, when interacting with children. The organisers need to make sure their staff is aware of their roles and responsibilities, the kind of behaviour expected out of them and the consequences of breaking any rules. 

Note: These summer camp policies aren’t just about protecting the children, but also about protecting the organisation from false allegations. So, it’s in their own benefit to have good policies in place.

You can ask these questions about the code of conduct:

  • What is the policy on children being left without adult supervision?
  • What is the policy on boundaries and physical contact? When can children be touched and under what circumstances? For example, a sports activity might involve a lot of physical contact between adults and children, so what kind of touch is acceptable in that situation? What are other such instances in which physical contact with children is acceptable?
  • Even if adults are not interested in the children sexually, they might take pictures of children and post them online without their's or their parent’s consent. Is there a policy addressing such photography?
  • What kind of speech is acceptable? Is there a policy about not using sexually suggestive language?
  • Do the staff receive any training or orientation about children’s safety?

In what ways would training the staff help?

Not many adults who work with children truly comprehend how likely and real the possibility of children being sexually abused is. So, it’s extremely important to not only raise awareness about the widespread nature of abuse, but also train staff members to recognise warning signs of abuse and grooming. This would also allow them to understand if any of their colleagues behave inappropriately, so that they can step in, even if it means becoming a whistleblower. Moreover, they would know how and whom to approach to report any abuse they witness.

How can one go about reporting abuse?

Both parents and children should be aware of the protocols to report any concerns of abuse. The child should especially know how they can report any concerns they might have about the summer camp. So, in a time of crisis they know exactly how to proceed instead of fumbling for ways to come forward. If an organisation doesn’t have any procedures in place, then it may not take any action if any abuse takes place.

Do you think it would be helpful for the children to have a short seminar about sexual abuse at the start of the summer camp and be encouraged to report anything they feel?

Yes. I also think that the parents need to orient their child to what safe and unsafe situations are before the camp starts. The responsibility can’t always be on an outsider. Parents can also add to their child’s protection by teaching them about personal boundaries and that they shouldn’t be violated by anyone at all, even another child. Because it’s not just adults who might behave inappropriately, but other children might too. Camps also need to have polices addressing such situations.

Moreover, parents should spend some time with their children when they get back home from the summer camp. They can ask about what they did in the summer camp and the friends she made. This will give the child an opportunity to share anything that happened untowardly at the summer camp.

Sadly, several organisations do not have any protocol or policies in place to deal with child sexual abuse, because they don’t expect it to happen. And therefore they don’t know how to handle a situation when it does occur. A good organisation acknowledges that child sexual abuse can happen to any child anywhere. It is proactive, has safeguards and protocols in place taking worst case scenarios into consideration. That’s the kind of summer camp you should aim for. 

Remember that it is always the adults’ responsibility to keep children safe. Children shouldn’t be expected to protect themselves. So, fulfill your responsibility with care.

Also read: Summer Camp Safety: Questions Parents Should Ask

About the author:

Written by Jasmine Kaur on May 21 2019.

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