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Missouri Men Detail Abuse at the Hands of Convicted Kanakuk Kamps Counselor

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Two Branson, Missouri, men have shared their stories of abuse at the hands of a former counselor at Kanakuk Kamps with the Springfield News-Leader, saying Pete Newman groomed them for abuse starting when they were 13. 

 Newman pleaded guilty on June 9, 2010, to seven counts of sexually abusing boys and is currently serving two life sentences plus 30 years in prison. 

Newman worked at the camp and with related ministries from 1995 to 2009. According to court documents, his abusive behavior included naked conversations with campers, mutual masturbation, and “hot tub Bible studies.” 

Evan Hoffpauir told the newspaper he was a victim of Newman’s physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse after meeting him when he was in seventh grade. He described Newman to the News-Leader as “very charismatic” and “the guy that all kids wanted to be when they grew up.”

He said that although he was never a Kanakuk camper, Newman took an interest in him, taking him on overnight trips and to sporting events as well as on outings around town. 

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He told the News-Leader that Kanakuk leadership “should have caught on” that it was not acceptable behavior for an adult to be hanging out with a 13-year-old boy. 

One of Hoffpauir’s middle-school friends, Keith Dygert, also detailed to the News-Leader how Newman abused him. Dygert said he met Newman in a public-school lunchroom when he was 13, and that like Hoffpauir, he accompanied Newman on trips and retreats. He said he also visited Newman when was working at Kanakuk overnight camp.

Dygert said his sexual abuse by Newman, including mutual masturbation, continued for “several years.” He told the News-Leader that Newman told him masturbation was okay, as long as he didn’t “lust” while he was doing it. 

Dygert previously filed a civil lawsuit in connection with the abuse, but the suit was dismissed when a settlement was reached, and he was among several alleged victims who signed non-disclosure agreements with Kanakuk as a condition of settlement.

Both Dygert and Hoffpauir said they have discussed the abuse with a local licensed professional counselor.

Read the News-Leader’s complete interviews with Dygert and Hoffpauir here

Kanakuk Ministries has characterized Newman’s behavior as an anomaly and says it implemented more rigorous child protection policies after his conviction.  

But critics and victims continue to call for more accountability, and in early February a survivors group sent an open letter to the camp calling for leaders to admit to past failures, release victims from non-disclosure agreements, and launch an independent investigation into what role the camp’s staff, senior leadership, and board of directors may have played in monitoring and reporting predatory behavior and child sexual abuse.

Court documents posted on a survivors’ website called Facts About Kanakuk also contend that camp president Joe White knew about questionable behavior by Pete Newman years before Newman was arrested. 

A total of 57 victims have come forward, and multiple civil lawsuits have been filed. 

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Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.