More than 578 children have been victims of sexual abuse at children's camps in the U.S. over the past 55 years, according to a new report.
A news segment on "CBS This Morning” reported that 21 cases surfaced this year, though victims’ advocates fear many other children haven't reported the abuse they suffered.
One mother in Texas who wasn’t named allowed her son to speak with a psychologist about the molestation he suffered at the hands of a camp counselor in 2009.
"After you took a shower, you'd put on your towel, and he didn't want you to wear underwear under it," the boy said, adding that the alleged incident happened at Camp La Junta.
"He would check all the kids, but under their towel," he added. "He wouldn't look under there. He'd just stick his hand up."
The boy’s mother said she knew something was wrong when he returned home.
"He was a different kid," she recalled. "He was not the happy-go-lucky little boy that loved to play outside. He was totally different. He just wanted to lay on the couch."
Jon Conte, who studies child abuse and trauma at the University of Washington, believes that the 578 victims or so reported is only the “tip of the iceberg.”
"I think it's isolation from parents, it's out of a normal routine. Some kids are a little bit older and they're feeling more independent, and they may have a false sense of security," Conte said.
On it's website, the nonprofit Children's Advocacy Center warns parents that they must be very careful over their children's safety at summer camps.
Leah Howell, training coordinator for the Protect Our Children Project of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Jackson County, Oregon, writes that she has seen firsthand through her experience that standard camp safety measures are inadequate.
“As camp counselors, program directors and camp administrators, safety was on our radar — we were keenly aware of the dangerous and overtly suspicious situations involving adults and youth. However, looking back over the course of many years working and living at camps, I now more fully recognize the potentially compromising environments that exist in a youth camp setting,” Howell warns.
“Consistent and costly changes to the camp’s physical environment, facilities, organizational processes and staff structures would have been needed to totally eliminate potentially harmful situations. I doubt much has changed in camp standards in the last 15 years.”
Institutional child abuse continues to be a major issue in the U.S., with scandals plaguing both Catholic and Protestant churches as well.
Abuse of children and subsequent cover-ups by Catholic clergy has been reported in several states. In August, a Pennsylvania Grand Jury report found that 301 priests abused over 1,000 children in the past several decades in that state alone, but were often protected by church hierarchy.
Pope Francis has scheduled a global summit of church leaders in February 2019 to discuss the ongoing clergy sex abuse crisis.