Keep your kids safe with this summer camp safety checklist
Summer camp is a perfect place for sex abusers to groom and abuse kids, which means it is time to think summer camp safety. Wherever there are kids there is the potential that a predator will have found his or her way into the camp and positioned themselves in a role that gives them one on one access to your child. While there are no statistics regarding the frequency of child sexual assault at summer camps there have been numerous high profile molestations that should get parents to think about summer camp safety.
- Former Penn State assistant football coach and convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky used his youth football camps to reportedly groom his victims.
- In Florida, the Palm Beach Post reported that the state’s weak laws allowed predators to move from camp to camp victimizing children.
- In San Jose, a Walden West camp employee was charged with both child porn and molestation charges.
Teach your child about anatomy.
It’s tempting, as a parent, to use euphemisms when describing body parts and functions to your child. But if your child should ever be molested, this “soft” language can actually hurt the investigation–and your child’s credibility as a victim. It behooves you as a parent to teach your child the proper names for anus, scrotum, vagina, and penis. Tell your child that these are the “private” parts of his or her body, and that no one should ever touch them unless that person is a doctor or an emergency medical technician.
Tell your child that secrets are not OK.
One of the most common tactics molesters use is to make your child a co-conspirator in their own abuse. Learn how predators groom children. Pedophiles swear children to secrecy, making them promise never to tell another adult, often threatening them with bodily harm or telling them that they’ll “get in trouble” if they tell. Teach your child that secrets with no “expiration date”–which are to be kept indefinitely–are not the right kind of secrets.
Teach your child persistence.
Many camps don’t allow children to have cell phones. If your child is abused, or even if some adult makes them feel uncomfortable or afraid, then they need to report it to someone immediately. Tell your child to tell a trustworthy adult about the abuse, and to keep telling someone until the authorities are called. Molesters commonly convince children that they will get in trouble if they tell someone about the abuse, but teach your child that this is a lie–they will never get in trouble for confessing no matter what.
Vet the camp…thoroughly.
You, as a parent, have an obligation to do your homework. You need to make sure the camp you’re sending your child to lives up to its brochures. You need to know:
- Whether or not the camp is accredited;
- What sort of child sex abuse/awareness training the staff receive;
- What sort of hiring practices the camp uses (are background checks required, and does the camp ask for references?);
- Whether there will ever a time when your child might be alone with an adult or an older child (the answer to this should be a resounding “no”);
- What resources your child will have for reporting a sex crime or a creepy adult’s behavior; and
- Whether the camp has any measures in place to make sure younger campers are never left alone with older campers.
Teach yourself to recognize suspicious adults.
An overwhelming majority of sexual predators (90%) are male, according to the Centers of Disease Control in 2005. Worse yet, the victim knows the perpetrator personally in over 71% of reported molestation cases. As unpleasant as it is to admit, pedophiles aren’t nameless strangers wearing hoodies and sitting in pickup trucks, waiting for our children to walk by. They’re friends of the family, coaches, teachers, religious leaders, even family members.
Be suspicious of any adult that takes an inordinate interest in your child. Familiarize yourself with predatory grooming behavior and be watchful for signs of it in camp counselors and administrators. And not just adults: roughly 30% of all sexual abuse against children is perpetrated by other children. Be aware that even the adolescents at camp with your child may not be trustworthy. That’s why it’s important for you to find out if your child will ever be alone with older children.
Look out for red flags.
The signs of sexual abuse are many and telling. In younger children, these signs include but are not limited to:
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Unusual awareness of body parts or sexual practices
- Inappropriate, seductive behavior with toys or inanimate objects
- Being overly shy about bodily functions or getting undressed
- Irrational fear of people, places, or things
- Soiling the bed
- Mood swings or irritability
- Reluctance to talk about what happened at camp
In older children, the signs of sexual abuse may include:
- Inexplicable interest (or disinterest) in sexuality
- Reluctance to speak about experiences at camp
- Substance abuse
- Secretive behavior
- Depression, anxiety
- Anger, acting out
- Suicide or self-harm
Know what to do if your child is molested.
Don’t get angry.
Anger will only frighten your child and make them reluctant to reveal more. It may even teach them that confessing to abuse was the wrong thing to do. Make sure that your child knows you believe him or her unconditionally, and tell him or her that she did the right thing. Praise them for their bravery, integrity, and courage.
Don’t interrogate. You may feel the urge to get every single minute detail from your child before you call police, but this will only force your child to relive the trauma all over again. Just get the basic facts and then make a report to the authorities.
Your child needs you now more than ever. The best thing for you to do is to be their rock. Lend them emotional support in order to minimize the psychological damage they have suffered. Hide your anger and your guilt and stay calm.
Assuage your child’s guilt.
An abused adolescent is probably feeling confused, ashamed, guilty, or afraid. Convince your child that what happened was not and never will be their fault. The molester may have told your child that he or she would suffer if they told you the truth. Also, many victims of child abuse do occasionally find the stimulation of their genitalia physically pleasing, and this makes them ashamed and somehow to blame. No matter what your child tells you, persuade them that they bear no responsibility for what happened.
Make the right calls.
As soon as you get the details from your child, contact local law enforcement or get in touch with the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453.
Saving your child a lifetime of heartache by thinking about summer camp safety
Teaching your child some basic things (the proper names for body parts, for example) and by properly vetting the camps you’re considering may save your child a world of grief. It’s your duty as a parent to properly ensure that your child is safe when they’re away at summer camp and making happy memories, not sad ones. Child molesters are good at manipulating children, but if you forewarn them about predatory behavior and ensure the camp’s policies are up to snuff, you’ll ensure that summer camp remains a magical, cherished time for your children and your family as a whole.