Blog Home   >   Understanding and training for peer-to-peer abuse prevention

Understanding and training for peer-to-peer abuse prevention

Screening adults who will have contact with your campers is an important safety measure for camps. However, not all abusers are adults. 

In 2022, the American Camp Association (ACA) Crisis Hotline reported 16% of its calls were related to allegations of abuse — 67% of which were peer-to-peer incidents. Most common were camper-to-camper bullying and instances of sexual abuse and/or misconduct. Peer-to-peer abuse can also take the form of physical violence, teasing or hazing. 

This creates a critical need to update policies and procedures to ensure your staff are prepared to better identify and prevent abuse. It’s also important to teach campers about positive social interactions and respect for boundaries through education and practice. 

Reducing the risk of peer-to-peer abuse is a complex task, but here are a few steps you can take to strengthen your prevention practices: 

  • Train staff and campers to recognize unsafe behaviors. Explain unsafe behavior as any violation of boundaries, camp policies and rules – all common warning signs of potential abuse. Campers and staff should know how and to whom to report concerns, and what boundaries cannot be broken. 

  • Campers, staff and guests must understand clear behavioral expectations. This includes understanding consent, respecting personal space and boundaries, and that hazing or pranks are strictly prohibited. Establishing clear expectations around the rules and culture of your camp can help your staff identify patterns of behavior associated with abuse. 

  • Increase supervision in high-risk areas. Peer-to-peer abuse is often opportunistic, occurring in places and situations with less supervision. These areas include cabins, bathrooms, shower houses, vehicles and water activities. Engaged supervision does not mean violating privacy but being present to hear what is happening, observe behaviors and intervene when necessary. Use signage in high-risk areas to remind everyone of behavior expectations and, if they see something, to say something. 

  • Encourage open communication and provide multiple reporting channels. Campers should feel comfortable reaching out for help if they experience or witness abuse. Make sure everyone understands it will be confidential and there will be no retaliation for anyone who comes forward with concerns. By empowering staff and campers to speak up or intervene through regular check-ins, you are taking practical steps toward improving your organization’s camper safety and abuse prevention efforts. 

  • Consistently apply accountability. Both adults and children will push boundaries to see how far they can go. Some will push as far as inappropriate touch or bullying. You likely have a policy that addresses abuse – how is it enforced? To reduce the risk, it is imperative you foster a camp culture where everyone — campers and staff alike — are held accountable for their actions, and inappropriate behavior is consistently called out and addressed. 

When children are abused, whether by an adult or peer, it can have a lasting, potentially damaging impact. Allegations of abuse under your watch puts your camp’s reputation on the line. If abuse between campers happens at your camp, ultimately, it’s your responsibility. 

To learn more about abuse prevention and what your organization can do to proactively reduce this highly sensitive risk,