What is Child Abuse in Texas?
The laws regarding child abuse and its definition vary from state to state. Generally though, child abuse is a crime by law that refers to any intentional harm or maltreatment to a child under the age of 18. There are many different types of child abuse including:
Sexual abuse is undoubtedly a traumatic experience for a child, and it occurs more than you think. In the state of Texas specifically, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. Sexual abuse refers to when a child is raped or forced to perform a sexual act. It also occurs when children are used as a means to arouse the abuser. This might mean the abuser is forcing the child to undress, showing the child pornographic material, or fondling a child’s genitals.
Physical abuse victims often receive temporary physical injuries, but permanent mental ones. Physical abuse of a child occurs when someone intentionally injures them or puts them at risk to be physically injured.
Meanwhile, emotional abuse can cause long term mental scars rather than physical ones. This type of abuse happens when someone purposely hurts a child’s emotional well-being with words, manipulation, rejection, or isolation.
Medical abuse is a less common form of abuse, but it’s just as dangerous. This is when a person intentionally tries to make a child sick. They may purposely place the child in danger to injure them or make them sick which then requires medical attention.
Child neglect is another form of child abuse. This occurs when a caregiver’s actions result in physical or emotional harm to the child. It can be a result of failing to provide shelter, food, supervision, affection, education, or medical care.
Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children
Trouble walking or sitting
Hesitance to get undressed
Precocious knowledge of sexual topics
Reluctance to return to camp
Depression or suicidal thoughts
Abnormal interest or avoidance of sexual topics
Hostility or aggressive behavior
Abnormal pain, bleeding, or discharge from genital areas
Avoidance of a specific person for no apparent reason
If you notice any of these red flags in your child after returning from camp, encourage them to talk with you. Always make sure they know that they’re safe, that the abuse was never their fault, and that you’re proud of them for speaking up. Finally, make sure they know they’re loved and supported as they recover from sexual abuse.
How Common is Child Abuse in Summer Camps?
Summer camps often provide the perfect opportunity for sexual predators to act. This is because kids are away from their parents, kids maintain minimal communication with their parents, and because kids are often supervised by poorly vetted counselors. In fact, a national report in 2018 and alleges that at least 578 former campers were sexually abused dating back to 1960. However, child abuse experts unquestionably believe there are possibly thousands more victims who didn’t feel safe enough to speak up.
Summer Camp Screening Process
Unlike schools, summer camps aren’t subject to national regulations. For example, there are no licensing requirements for overnight camps in eight states, and background checks for staff aren’t required in 18 states. Additionally, the U.S. is battling a camp counselor shortage. Because of that, approximately 25,000 counselors travel to America every summer from other countries through the J-1 visa cultural exchange program. As a result, most standard background checks may not reveal criminal records. However, summer camps in most states should conduct proper screening for their employees, including:
Who is Liable for Sexual Abuse in Camps?
Camp counselors and other staff members can be liable for sexually assaulting children. Depending on the details of the abuse situation, the camp itself can also be liable. Both camps and camp counselors can be criminally and civilly liable to their victims.
Civil vs. Criminal Charges
Civil cases generally involve private disputes between people and organizations. Meanwhile, criminal cases involve an action that’s harmful to society as a whole. Camps and counselors can consequently fall into both categories for summer camp sexual abuse.
Summer Camp Employees
Counselors committing summer camp sexual abuse can be liable for battery. If the camp counselor is guilty, they could serve 2 to 99 years in prison (depending on the severity of the sexual assault) with a maximum fine of $10,000 according to Texas laws. The counselor will also have to register as a sex offender.
The Summer Camp
The camp itself could also be liable for summer camp sexual abuse. For example, a camp could be negligent if it doesn’t conduct a thorough background check of its counselors. Additionally, a camp can be negligent if it fails to investigate abuse allegations. Therefore, the camp can share the responsibility for the counselor’s sexual abuse through a legal term called “vicarious liability.” This shared liability can happen even if the camp owner didn’t commit or enable the assault.
How to Prevent Summer Camp Sexual Abuse
While no summer camp is safe from possible sexual abuse, there are five steps that parents can take to protect their child from abuse:
- Educate your child about body parts. Teach your child that if someone asks to see their body, it’s never okay to keep that a secret. Tell your child that if someone makes them uncomfortable, they should always tell another adult. Also make sure your child knows that no matter what anyone says, they will never get in trouble for reporting what happened.
- Screen the camp. Ask about the camp’s policies and procedures related to sexual abuse. Specific questions you can ask include:
- Are criminal background checks performed on all staff members?
- What training does the staff receive in relation to sexual abuse?
- Under what circumstances are staff members or older campers allowed to be alone with a camper?
- Are at least two staff members assigned to each cabin?
- Who is responsible for enforcing camp rules?
- Recognize potential groomers. Whenever someone seems to be overly interested in your child, take note. Sexual predators tend to be masters at “grooming” their victims.
- Know the warning signs of sexual abuse. Make sure you’re familiar with the many signs of sexual abuse in children that have been noted previously.
- Know what to do if you suspect abuse. Support your child. Keep your feelings hidden and remain calm. Explain that sexual abuse is never their fault. Make sure that your child knows you believe them. Finally, praise your child for sharing because it takes a lot of courage.
How to Report Child Abuse
If the summer camp sexual abuse is actively happening, parents can call 911 or contact their local authorities. Parents or minors can also call or chat with the National Sexual Assault hotline for more guidance on how to move forward. If you believe the camp or the counselor should undoubtedly be held responsible for their actions, contact a sexual abuse attorney at Reich & Binstock and we can help.
What Compensation Can Victims of Child Abuse Receive?
Victims of summer camp sexual abuse can receive compensatory and punitive damages for their physical and emotional suffering.
Compensatory damages are both monetary and non-monetary. Monetary awards usually cover the present and expected financial losses due to sexual abuse, most commonly including medical treatment and therapy. Meanwhile, non-monetary damages usually cover pain, suffering, and emotional anguish. Factors affecting this type of compensatory damages include:
Severity of the pain: this depends on how violent the sexual abuse is. Sometimes, bruises and broken bones can happen as a result of a violent assault.
Duration of the pain: some injuries take a long time to heal depending on how violent the sexual abuse was. However, some injuries may not ever heal.
Amount of medical expenses: generally speaking, the more medical bills there are, the greater the award for pain and suffering.
Emotional anguish from summer camp sexual abuse (such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD) are also included in compensatory damages.
Courts can also impose punitive damages which requires the abuser to pay the victim for their actions. Punitive damages exist more so to punish the abuser rather than compensating the victim.
Statute of Limitations for Summer Camp Sexual Abuse
In Texas, victims of child sexual abuse have 30 years to report their abuse. The Statute of Limitations was recently extended from age 33 to age 48 according to the Associated Press.
How Can a Summer Camp Sexual Abuse Lawyer Help Me?
If you believe your child has been a victim of summer camp sexual abuse, the Houston children sexual abuse attorneys at Reich & Binstock want to help. Not only do we want to ensure your child receives justice, but we also want to make summer camps a safer place for all children. That safety starts with putting one predator behind bars at a time. Call us today at 713-622-7271 or use our contact form to schedule a free consultation now.