Sexual Abuse Remains a Summer Camp Concern for Parents

Nearly half of parents surveyed said they were more concerned about potential abuse and bullying at overnight camps than the cost or activities offered; As camps move virtual, cyber safety also emerges as a concern

MERRILL, Wis.--()--Summer camp has long been a cherished rite of passage for generations of kids. And even if the sun sets to the sound of crickets across campgrounds this summer – and camps become virtual for the season – there’s sure to be a rush of eager new campers next year, post-pandemic. According to the American Camp Association, about 7,000 overnight camps and 5,000 day camps in the United States offer children enriching experiences, from educational activities to overnight wilderness trips and travel-based adventures.

While three in four U.S. families expect to send their child(ren) to a camp in the next 12 months, parents have never been more anxious about their decision.

According to new data from Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I. (a stock insurer)1, a camp insurance provider, 53% of parents indicate that proper safety and security measures are the most important factor when considering a camp. This ranks higher than either cost or range of activities when it come to camp selection.

What’s worrying them? Church Mutual’s 2020 Camp Safety & Security Study2 found that 57% of parents fear their child might experience some form of abuse while at camp – either by camp counselors, other adults present or even other campers. Specifically, 45% are “very concerned” when it comes to the potential for sexual abuse, closely followed by physical abuse (42%) and bullying/emotional abuse (39%).

“Today’s parents are much more aware of the prevalence of childhood abuse,” said Rich Poirier, Church Mutual president and CEO. “Planning to send their kids away to overnight camp can trigger parents’ fear that their child might be harmed – physically, sexually or emotionally. They want to know how to prevent abuse and identify any warning signs.”

Poirier noted that while Church Mutual’s study was conducted prior to COVID-19’s rapid emergence in the United States, and therefore a potential safety concern, it shows that, overall, parents worry much less about physical camping mishaps and incidents because they tend to be obvious and reported by staff or campers – unlike incidents of abuse.

Today, it’s widely considered a best practice for all camps to have an abuse prevention program and policy in place, including reporting requirements and procedures. Campuses should screen all employees and volunteer staff and conduct abuse prevention training and awareness programs.

Parents can advise their kids to always use the buddy system or stay in a group, stay out in the open, avoid texting with individual staff members and immediately report inappropriate behavior or any kind of abuse.

Church Mutual recommends that parents follow these six safety tips to help prevent and detect abuse:

  1. Talk to their children about their anatomy and no-touch areas.
  2. Assure their children they will never be in trouble if they disclose that someone touched them or that they were asked to touch someone in a private area.
  3. Discuss with the camp their policies and procedures on abuse.
  4. Monitor their children’s social media account after returning from camp.
  5. Note any change in behavior, appetite, etc. after returning from camp.
  6. Discuss the camping experience with their child after returning from camp.

Virtual Camps Raise Cyberbullying Concerns

With many shelter-in-place and stay-at-home directives extending into the summer season, some camps have shifted to virtual experiences. According to Tracy Schmeltzer, director - camps, when children increase their time online, cyber safety, and specifically, cyberbullying, becomes a concern.

Said Schmeltzer, “With new and better technology, cyberbullies are more active and more prevalent than ever. Cyberbullying can happen anytime, anywhere, not just at school. Often, hurtful comments or images are sent anonymously so they are hard to track down and delete. With the emergence of virtual camps, it’s important that camp directors, counselors and parents know how to recognize cyberbullying and to respond to it.”

Church Mutual has established a three-step process to identify and address this growing problem and the effects it can have on a child's personal and social life. Visit here to learn more.

Concluded Schmeltzer, “We help ensure that the organizations, including camps – whether in person or virtual – have the protections in place to help prevent abuse. Importantly, there are also steps that parents, kids and camp directors can take to stay safe.”

About Church Mutual

Church Mutual Insurance Company, S.I., founded in 1897, offers specialized insurance for religious organizations of all denominations, public and private K-12 schools, colleges and universities, senior living facilities, secular and non-secular camps and conference centers, and nonprofit and human services organizations throughout the United States. Church Mutual markets most lines of commercial property and liability insurance, including multi-peril, workers' compensation and commercial auto insurance. In addition to insurance, Church Mutual provides a spectrum of value-added solutions that benefit its customers. Church Mutual holds the following honors:

  • A.M. Best Company "A" (excellent) rating
  • BenchmarkPortal Top 10 National Customer Service Center
  • Wisconsin 75 Top Private Company by Deloitte US, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019
  • Wisconsin 75 Distinguished Performer: Innovation by Deloitte US 2019
  • Futuremakers Partner by Wisconsin Technical College System
  • Celent Model Insurer for innovation and emerging technologies
  • Award in Innovation for entrepreneurialism and innovation by National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies
  • 2018-2019 Employer of the Year by Northcentral Technical College

1Church Mutual is a stock insurer whose policyholders are members of the parent mutual holding company formed on 1/1/20. S.I. = a stock insurer.

2Church Mutual Insurance Company conducted an online survey through SMS Research Advisors, The Church Mutual 2020 Camp Safety & Security Study, the week of February 24, 2020, with a nationally representative sample of 510 consumers with child(ren) aged 4 – 18 currently living in household. Child(ren) must have previously attended a camp in the past or expect to participate in a camp in next 12 months


Contact: Jennifer Johnson
Title: Corporate Communications Consultant
Phone: (715) 539-5797 or (715) 499-1281


Contact: Jennifer Johnson
Title: Corporate Communications Consultant
Phone: (715) 539-5797 or (715) 499-1281