Lawsuits: Children sexually assaulted at Duke summer camp

Several young boys were allegedly left alone and sexually assaulted by another child at a summer camp that Duke University used to run for chronically ill kids, according to three lawsuits that have been filed in Durham County.

Indy Week first reported about the lawsuits in a story on Tuesday. They all involve Camp Kaleidoscope, which the suits say operated for decades on a Girl Scout Camp on Kerr Lake near Henderson, north of Durham. Camp Kaleidoscope catered to children with non-communicable chronic illnesses. It ran for three weeks each summer until 2017.

Two of the suits were filed in August 2017 and October 2017; the third was filed Jan. 25.

All three lawsuits claim that on multiple nights in July 2017, five campers ages 7 to 10 were left alone in a bunkhouse for an hour or more while their counselors attended a mandatory meeting. While they were alone and unsupervised, the lawsuits say, one of the children — who was not sick or disabled but was attending because he was the son of a camp counselor — instigated sexual acts on and between at least three other children.

In its story, Indy Week said Duke had filed responses to the first two suits, rejecting allegations that the university tried to hide anything. Duke also denied the sexual assault claims and maintained that the defendants “exercised reasonable care and diligence in their respective roles at the camp,” the publication said.

Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said Tuesday night that, “Duke is committed to protecting the privacy of minors and their families, and will thus decline to comment on this lawsuit.”

The Jan. 25 lawsuit was filed by the guardian of the fifth child, who is now 10 and has been battling brain cancer. The suit says the boy suffered psychological injuries from witnessing the assaults and has required psychiatric care and counseling.

The suits say that two of the children had sexually transmittable diseases; one was infected with HIV/AIDS, the suit says, and one had oral herpes.

The suits claim that a counselor walked in and found the children involved in sexual activity and that the boys were taken to the Duke Children’s Hospital emergency department for treatment. Duke closed the camp that year, the lawsuits say. The suits also claim that Duke worked to conceal the assaults, and that Duke “has refused to offer any compensation whatsoever or in any way offer to make right what happened.”

The lawsuits claim Duke was negligent in leaving the children alone, and they seek punitive and compensatory damages.

Defendants in the suits are Duke University Health System, Duke University Affiliated Physicians, Duke University, Duke University Philanthropies, Duke University Special Ventures Fund, The Duke University School of Medicine Research Foundation and Camp Kaleidoscope. The suits also name Duke pediatrics chair Dr. Ann M. Reed and camp director Judy J. Panella.

Each suit seeks up to $250,000 in damages.

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