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Students at a Kanakuk camp. Photo courtesy of the Kanakuk website.

Explosive documentary on Kanakuk sex abuse wins Emmy Award

A documentary made by VICE News about sexual abuse cases at Kanakuk camps in southwest Missouri won a 2022 Emmy award for “Outstanding Hard News Feature Story: Long Form.”

The 17-minute film, “A Christian Summer Camp’s History of Abuse,” (watch it below) features interviews with survivors and gives details about litigation and settlements that have occurred, as reported previously in Metro Voice.

“We’re so grateful for everyone who trusted us and shared their stories,” VICE News correspondent Meena Duerson said of the award. “We’ve been blown away by the incredible courage of these survivors and their families, and we were honored to be able to help shine a light in pursuit of accountability at Kanakuk.”

VICE news is part of a media group that began in Canada in the 1990s with an eye to the youth of the world as its audience. Now it often focuses on events that “may not be as well covered by other news sources.”

MinistryWatch has been reporting on the abuse issues at Kanakuk for the last year, after David and Nancy French broke the story in The Dispatch.

Founded in 1926, Kanakuk is no ordinary summer camp. The elaborate up-scale sports camp costs about $2,500 for a two-week session. Wealthy families from places like Dallas often send their kids to Kanakuk for several weeks of the summer, year after year.

Kanakuk’s leader, Joe White, claims to have served over 500,000 youth from all 50 states and around the world during its history.

In 2010, one of  the camp’s senior counselors, Pete Newman, pleaded guilty to seven counts of sexually abusing boys. He is serving two life sentences plus 30 years in prison.

Earlier this year in response to a letter by victims, Kanakuk posted a statement expressing its regret and continuing support for victims, saying it “has continued to work tirelessly to help ensure that this deeply deceptive and abusive behavior does not happen again.”

It has developed the Kanakuk Child Protection Plan in response to the abuse allegations and said the plan “has been shared with more than 600 youth-serving organizations across the country.”

Facts About Kanakuk is an advocacy website “where victims of Kanakuk abuse can finally feel seen, believed and supported. At a minimum, we want their pain, suffering, silencing, and deaths to be acknowledged.”

The website includes a petition by abuse survivors asking Kanakuk for three courses of action: (1) Admit to known failures, (2) release victims from nondisclosure agreements and (3) conduct an independent investigation.

“The survivor community celebrates this moment and appreciates the exposure of an Emmy Award after years of legal intimidation, silencing, and ongoing abuse at the hands of Kanakuk and its leadership,” said a spokesperson for Facts About Kanakuk who prefers to remain anonymous due to ongoing legal threats from Kanakuk.

This piece is republished from MinistryWatch with permission. Kim Roberts is a freelance writer who holds a Juris Doctor from Baylor University. She has homeschooled her three children and is happily married to her husband of 25 years. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, gardening, and coaching high school extemporaneous speaking and debate.


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