(CBSDFW.COM) – They slowly walked into a dark studio in a line. One by one each person sat down in one of the chairs lined in two rows under television cameras and lights. They spoke very little to one another.
“I have a story that I want to be told.”
Most of them did not know each other at all. They were coming together for the first time.
“I don’t think I would be able to do it until now…”
And while they were strangers, they all said they have something very horrible in common.
“I don’t think I would be able to do it until now.”
Each person says he or she, or a family member of his or hers, was sexually abused at Kanakuk Kamps sometime between 1999 and 2008.
“We’re not supposed to be sitting here.”
“We should never be in the same room.”
Kanakuk Kamp is a very popular sleepover Christian camp. Its website states: “Since 1926, Kanakuk has welcomed over 450,000 Kampers from across the country and around the world, equipping them with leadership skills and Biblical truths to impact their schools and communities as examples of Jesus Christ.”
The camp also is also sponsoring day camps in Amarillo, Grapevine and Midlothian this summer.
“Kanakuk is thick in this area,” says a female in the group. “Dallas is one of the top markets,” picks up a man sitting near her.
The panel, which has gathered for the CBS 11 I-Team, is on a mission.
“Here for awareness.”
“Lack of of accountability…”
“A cry for justice.”
“Why am I here?” asked one man who later told us he is a father of small children. ” … for the individuals at home that haven’t come out yet.”
No one in the group wanted to show their faces because of the sexual assault they say they or their loved ones experienced.
Former Kanakuk counselor Peter Newman is now serving two life sentences for sexually abusing boys at the camp for many years.
Today, a new online campaign has been created to raise awareness about the abuse and recent lawsuits filed.
“If you’re out there and alone,” says one man who was holding back tears. “Our culture makes it hard to speak out.”
Those who gathered were angry but clinging to faith. One man held his Bible in one hand and a notebook with pages of written words in the other.
“We were just broken,” his voice cracked as he was holding back tears. “Now we’ve had time to build ourselves up spiritually, mentally, emotionally, where we can have these conversations.”
Among those who gathered, some say they have never even told their parents.
“My mom asked me when I was 18 … In my shame, I said no I wasn’t part of it. It wasn’t me. I have yet to have the courage to do so,” said the father of small children.
Some filed lawsuits years ago. And many of them talked about the new lawsuits filed in recent months.
“The count has been rising as more information comes out and it’s about time the public is made aware of how far reaching this is…”
Most frustrating to all of them is the talk of non-disclosure documents. Several of them say they, or their loved ones, were asked to sign these years ago so they have been unable to share their stories and get the proper healing they need because they can’t talk about it.
“My brother was silenced with an NDA…”
When asked why they are speaking out despite their agreements to stay quiet, one man responded, “I think the opportunity…we have here is greater than the risk I’m taking.”
The online campaign states nearly 15,000 people have signed a petition to release the victims from their non-disclosure agreements. The group hopes this and other recent national movements such as the #metoo campaign and other national news stories, including claims of abuse in the Boy Scouts of America, Catholic Church and Olympic Gymnastics, encourage other abuse victims to speak out.
“So many others are suffering silently…hiding in shame.”
“We are called here to stand up for those who haven’t spoken out.”
They also came together to meet with the I-Team to provide some very important advice for parents.
ADVICE FOR PARENTS
“I want them to speak early and often about body parts…improper conversations…and sexual situations.”
— Teach right from wrong.
“My heart breaks for the me that was there,” said one man. “…that was in those positions and didn’t know it was wrong.”
— Teach tactics.
“Know about the grooming process and what that looks like.”
“Know how easy to be manipulated.”
— Have talks.
“Tell your kids there are boundaries…teach them that people want to do bad things to good kids.”
— Look for accredited camps.
— And ask the camp about its history, background checks, staff training, and safety protocols.
“Ask for their child protective plan with third party accountability…”
“We have to do a better job as a society. … how do we know when our children may be in a situation that we as parents would find to be the worst nightmare. We’ve lived the nightmare.”
The I-Team asked a representative from Kanakuk Kamps to go on camera and do an interview with us.
Instead, a spokesperson sent us the following statement:
KANAKUK KAMPS STATEMENT:
“This has been a painful experience for all involved, none more-so than those who endured abuse by Pete Newman who still carry the tragedy of his horrific actions with them. Our hope and prayer is first and foremost for healing and restoration for them and their families.
We remain incredibly sorry that this happened to anyone, and regret that we missed the warning signs of abuse. Preventing future abuse has become the hallmark of our camp operations with the Kankakuk child protection plan. This comprehensive 340-point program is more complete, inclusive, and reliable than any amount of background checks, which are typically relied upon at most youth-serving organizations.
Our commitment to child safety is resolute. As for survivors today, we remain committed to finding solutions that bring healing to them and their families.”