Kanakuk wants to be taken off ‘Dirty Dozen List’; abuse victim disagrees

Written by on March 14, 2022

By Michael Gryboski, Mainline Church Editor Twitter

Kanakuk
Campers and staff gather in prayer a Kanakuk camp in this undated file photo. |

One of the largest christian summer camp ministries in the United States has raised objections to being placed on the National Center on Sexual Exploitation’s “Dirty Dozen” list of entities accused of profiting from or promoting sexual exploitation.

The Washington-based watchdog group released its annual “Dirty Dozen” list last week, which included the Branson, Missouri-based christian organization, Kanakuk Kamps, through which hundreds of thousands of campers have participated since its founding in 1926. 

However, Kanakuk contends that NCOSE had not done sufficient research to label the nonprofit as an entity that covers up sexual exploitation. 

In a statement emailed to The christian Post last Wednesday by Kanakuk communications, the camping organization said it was “egregious and flawed that any organization would include Kanakuk in a list of ‘Dirty Dozen’ without the benefit of verifying the information, including direct communication with Kanakuk.”

“That was not done in this instance,” the statement claimed. “For nearly a century, Kanakuk has provided a safe, fun, and exciting adventure in christian athletics to over 500,000 Kampers and more than 50,000 staff.”

Kanakuk’s statement contends that the organization learned more than a decade ago about “deceptive and abusive behavior” from one of its directors and “quickly took action,” including “immediate termination and reporting of the individual involved to authorities.” 

“We immediately began conversations with identified victims and their families and notified families of current and former campers,” the statement continues. “We also began to elevate our safety practices already in place, which resulted in the Kanakuk Child Protection Plan.”

According to Kanakuk, the KCPP includes “340 protection elements designed to prevent, detect, or respond to physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual abuse of a child.” As of the present day, Kanakuk says over 600 youth organizations have used its plan for training purposes.

Concerns

According to NCOSE, Kanakuk was put on the 2022 Dirty Dozen list due to multiple reports of child abuse at its camps, including one written by David and Nancy French for The Dispatch in March 2021.

In their piece, the Frenches discussed Pete Newman, a former camp counselor at Kanakuk who in 2010 pled guilty to sexually abusing at least seven boys. He received two life sentences.

The number of children abused by Newman was probably much larger, as a civil complaint lists 57 possible victims, while one prosecutor told the Frenches that it might be in the hundreds.

“The scant media attention — combined with [Non-Disclosure Agreements] — means that we still don’t know the true number of legal actions against the camp or the true extent of Newman’s abuse,” read The Dispatch article.

“An unknown number of victims have filed an unknown number of lawsuits filled with unknown evidence that have resulted in unknown numbers of settlements for an unknown amount of money.”

For its part, NCOSE reported that from April to June 2021, it was “contacted by three survivors of sexual abuse allegedly taking place at Kanakuk.”

“One survivor we spoke with said that finally at age 70 he was sharing what happened to him for the first time when he was a young counselor at the camp. Another was a dad of young boys who was abused as a ‘kamper’ while a young teen,” said NCOSE.

An NCOSE spokesperson forwarded CP two emails sent by NCOSE CEO Dawn Hawkins to Kanakuk, the first being sent on Dec. 14, 2021, and the second on Feb. 11, 2022. NCOSE said it did not receive a reply.

“We have concerns about the way Kanakuk Kamps is handling ongoing reports of child sexual abuse. This year, I have personally spoken with two survivors of abuse that they say happened at your camp — one was in his 70s and the other in his 20s – who reached out to our organization,” wrote Hawkins in the first email.

“May we review your full child protection policy? The website only highlights parts of it. Has your child protection policy been updated in the past 2 years? As a mother, I request to see such policies of all camps my children attend and it has never been a problem to get a copy.”

‘Not sufficient’

Last November, VICE News published an investigative report on Kanakuk Kamps, which included interviews from parents whose children were allegedly abused at Kanakuk camps.

According to those interviewed by Vice, Newman not only physically abused kids but was known to be naked around minors, including when he hosted “hot tub Bible studies” with kids.

Ashton Alarcon, an adult who was interviewed by Vice, recounted first meeting Newman when he was 10 and then being abused by Newman at the camp when he was 12 years old.

The Alarcons were one of the multiple families who sued Kanakuk, believing that the camp was liable for the abuse, arguing that camp leadership was aware of Newman’s abusive actions.

Although they reached a financial settlement with the camp, unlike other families who sued the camping organization, the Alarcons refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

NCOSE directed CP to Joe Alarcon, Ashton’s father. Joe Alarcon told CP that he believes Kanakuk “had multiple opportunities to deal with perpetrators, especially Pete,” and had many “parents complaining” about his behavior. The father contends, “they failed to do the right thing.”

“They failed to protect kids,” Alarcon said. “It wasn’t until parents started pushing them. It wasn’t until parents started taking a stand and forcing Kanakuk to start taking measures. After we sued them, they started to take incremental steps, but they’re still not sufficient.”

He believes that “if they truly want to stand for kids, the first thing that needs to happen is that” Kanakuk CEO Joe White and Kanakuk Ministries President Doug Godwin need to resign.

“Anybody who allows grown men to be naked with kids does not have the discernment nor the backbone to make tough decisions and do the right thing,” said Joe Alarcon. “Joe White and Doug Godwin are still on staff, and they refuse to step down.”

Ashton Alarcon told CP last Friday that he believes Kanakuk is still failing to provide proper oversight when it comes to combatting sexual abuse at its camps.

He referenced the case of Lee Bradberry, a former employee at Kanakuk who in 2011 abused at least three children at a Kanakuk camp, which happened after the organization implemented its child protection plan.

“Kanakuk is full of lies,” Ashton Alarcon argues. “My response to Kanakuk’s, ‘Oh we’re taking steps’ [is] no, you’re not taking steps. You’re doing public relations.”

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