Guidelines on child sexual abuse and exploitation

One of the hardest things for us to accept and understand is the fact that there are people who do sexually molest or abuse children. The facts, however, are undeniable: Sexual victimization is a very serious problem. Given the number of children who attend our camps each summer, we can no longer deny the existence of this abuse, nor can we deny our responsibility to report suspected abuse to the child protective services.

The laws in many of our provinces require that any professional who is responsible for the care and supervision of children must report cases of suspected child abuse to the proper authorities. These laws carry criminal and civil penalties for failure to comply. We suggest that you contact the reporting agency in your province to determine your legal responsiblities for reporting. You may want to invite a representative from that agency to a staff training session.

There are several situations that you may encounter involving suspected child sexual abuse in your camp: 1) a camper who indicates, through behaviors or statements, the he or she was sexually abused prior to coming to camp; 2) a camper who claims that he or she was sexually molested while at camp; and 3) a minor camp staff member who may have been sexually abused at home or at camp. All of these situations require your immediate attention and action.

In cases of previous sexual abuse, you must report the suspected abuse, even if it may have occurred in another province. The child protective services in your province can arrange for their counterparts in the other province to investigate. If the child claims that someone other than a parent or step-parent was the molester, you may want to notify the parent yourself. The notification of the parent will require a great deal of sensitivity and is best done in person, perhaps by the family physician.

In cases of sexual abuse at camp, it is especially important to make a prompt report. Your camp staff should be informed during the pre-camp training that any criminal conduct involving the camp staff will be reported to authorities - especially any conduct in which the health or safety of the campers may be threatened. Make it very clear to camp staff that inappropriate behavior of any kind will not be tolerated.

Do not be afraid to report abuse to the authorities. Also, it is not enough simply to fire the abuser - you must prevent him or her being hired by someone else. These cases deserve to be pursued through the criminal process and, if the evidence supports the allegation, strict sanctions applied. Only in this way can we truly protect our children.

We all want the experience at summer camp to be a happy, carefree one for our children - one in which boys and girls experience independent living, develop an appreciation for nature, and work on their social skills. In order for us to provide our children a carefree environment, however, we as adults must act responsibly and face the fact that child victimization and sexual abuse are harsh realities. A realistic approach to child safety is essential to protecting those for whom we really care.