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Investigations Ministry News

Former Kanakuk Counselor Peter Newman Named in New Sex-Abuse Lawsuit

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An anonymous “John Doe” plaintiff has sued a former counselor of Kanakuk camp for civil damages.

According to court documents and reports in the Springfield News-Leader, “The plaintiff says he suffered sex abuse while he attended a Christian youth camp based near Branson.”

Former Kanakuk camp counselor Peter Newman is already serving two life sentences, plus 30 years, at the Jefferson City Correctional Center. According to the News-Leader, Newman was imprisoned following his 2010 sentencing on seven felony counts of sexually abusing boys, in connection with his role as a Kanakuk counselor.

The lawsuit was filed on April 8.  It does not name Kanakuk as a defendant.  The suit seeks $5-million in damages from Newman.  

Accusations of sex abuse regarding Newman and other former counsellors at Kanakuk have been in the news since a group of abuse victims and their families created a website called FactsAboutKanakuk.comThe site claims that “Kanakuk’s reputation and reach conceals a dark secret.  For decades, Joe White and other camp leaders knew about and facilitated sexual abuse against scores of children.”

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Kanakuk Kamps is one of the largest Christian camps in the nation.  Each summer, more than 20,000 kids from age 7-17 pay thousands of dollars each to stay at the camp.  Some of the most prominent leaders in the evangelical world have worked with the camp and its leaders, Joe and Debbie-Jo White.

The website includes links to court documents for lawsuits in which Kanakuk or senior staff members, including Joe White, were names as defendants.  The website maintains that “non-disclosure agreements and significant financial settlements have concealed the truth in order to preserve a ministry brand and economic engine.”

Kanakuk claims that the problems highlighted in lawsuits and news reports are now long behind them.  In a statement on the camp’s website, Kanakuk said “no charges for failure to report were ever filed against any Kanakuk staff” in connection with the Newman case and that “we were devastated by the deceptive practices of this individual, and continue to grieve with the victims and their families.”

Kanakuk also said it developed a “comprehensive Child Protection Plan” because of the “tragedy.”

A petition launched by victims and their families asking Kanakuk to release victims from their non-disclosure agreements now has more than 12,000 signatures.

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.