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Another Kanakuk Abuse Survivor Sues Camp for Fraud

Twenty years after a trusted counselor used faith to groom him for abuse, a Colorado man says he is trying to reclaim part of his life and take a stand for fellow victims.
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Another Kanakuk Abuse Survivor Sues Camp for Fraud
Image: Courtesy of Andrew Summersett

Andrew Summersett felt his world shatter twice.

The first time was in 2009, when the Christian camp counselor he idolized was convicted of child abuse. It was then that Summersett saw though years of manipulation, trauma, and teenage confusion and realized he also was a victim.

The second time came in 2021, when he read reports that leaders at Kanakuk Kamps had known about Pete Newman’s predatory behavior against boys like him, and they covered it up.

After years under the weight of shame and secrecy, Summersett, 37, came forward last week in a lawsuit filed against Kanakuk, a number of its current and former leaders, and its insurer, alleging they fraudulently concealed Newman’s abuse from him.

He said the legal action was his way to regain control over part of his life “because I didn’t control what happened to me as a kid.”

Summersett says Newman—who is currently serving a double life sentence for child enticement and sodomy—abused him at his family’s home in Texas during a camp recruitment trip and again at Kanakuk’s K-Kamp in Branson, Missouri. He was 14 and 15 years old.

The same year that the former camper says his abuse began, Newman was warned by Kanakuk leadership “to stop sleeping alone with children, among other ‘healthy boundaries,’” the suit claims, citing a years-long pattern of Newman being promoted despite concerns about his nudity and other boundary-crossing behavior with children.

When Newman was arrested, Summersett turned to two camp directors, the daughter and then–son-in-law of Kanakuk CEO Joe White, to ask if they had known about Newman’s behavior and to share what happened to him.

The filing states that they told Summersett they “didn’t know” and to “back off” and alleges that their false representations and omissions factored into Summersett’s decision not to pursue a legal claim at the time.

Kanakuk did not respond to CT’s request for comment but has previously declined to discuss pending litigation. The camp portrays Newman as a “rogue employee” and “master of deception,” saying leaders had no knowledge of his abuse prior to his 2009 confession and arrest.

Last year, Kanakuk also sued its insurer—admitting that it had withheld information about Newman’s previous abuse from victims and their families due to advice from their adjuster. Court documents include a 2010 letter from ACE American Insurance Company recommending that Kanakuk not let families know about Newman’s misconduct and the camp’s response, since “such disclosures threaten to expose Kanakuk to greater liability and may interfere with ACE’s contractual right to defend claims and to have Kanakuk’s cooperation in that defense.”

Summersett is the second of Newman’s victims to sue the Missouri-based Christian camp for fraud, following Logan Yandell in 2022. Yandell’s family said the camp similarly claimed that it had no knowledge of the former counselor’s misconduct when they entered a settlement over his abuse in 2010. His case is awaiting trial.

Yandell called it “both empowering and heartbreaking” to see another survivor come forward with a lawsuit, a sign of the scope and continued impact of Newman’s abuse through Kanakuk.

“Legal actions like Andrew’s and mine aim to expose the truth and hold those responsible accountable,” he said in a statement to CT. “This fight is not just for our individual justice but for systemic change that prioritizes the protection of children over the shielding of institutions.”

Their cases also raise the profile of the risk of grooming and abuse toward male victims. Men may not be subject to the same formal boundaries or informal expectations for their interactions with boys as they would with the opposite sex.

“It is an area that we have to be so much more cognizant of and so much more vigilant in and around, because there are evil people. There are predators, there are people like Pete and people like Kanakuk who harbored Pete,” Summersett said in an interview with CT. “I think it’s our absolute charge and duty to protect our kids because they don’t deserve this, and we can prevent it.”

Summersett grew up in Arkansas and Texas, where he loved to play outside “with no shoes on, running around the neighborhood.” He looked forward to camp at Kanakuk every summer, starting at age 7. His favorite part was the people. He loved reuniting with fellow campers and with staff members like Newman who seemed “larger than life” with their big personalities and spiritual insights.

“I grew up in a Christian household—faith was always part of our family, and obviously, this significantly rocked the entire foundation of everything I believed,” said Summersett, now married and raising a family of his own in Colorado. “Faith and God and the Bible were what Pete used to groom me.”

A popular and charismatic counselor, Newman initiated conversations with boys about biblical purity. He had “hot tub Bible studies” where they’d discuss sexuality and masturbation.

“It’s totally grooming behavior,” said Andi Thacker, a counseling ministries professor at Dallas Theological Seminary and a licensed professional counselor who treats victims of child sexual abuse.

Thacker described how abusers like Newman “stairstep” their way to abuse by justifying inappropriate behavior as playful or “just what guys do.” Underage victims in evangelical settings, then, don’t know what to make of their young bodies’ responses and feel the additional guilt of sexual behavior with someone of the same sex.

Many victims of child sexual abuse wait decades to report their abuse, if at all, and men can be particularly reticent. They may blame themselves or may be afraid of how people would respond, said Thacker.

Summersett said he hadn’t told his family until last year. But he’s been encouraged by the outpouring of support since his lawsuit made news last week. Putting his name and face out there as a victim, he said, is worth it if it makes fellow survivors feel less alone.

“One of the most impactful things has been connecting with other survivors who have eerily similar stories,” said Summersett, who began to network through the site Facts About Kanakuk, which shares resources for survivors. “There’s been a ton of healing and sharing and kind of this brotherhood forming.”

Dozens of men have come forward in civil complaints and John Doe suits against Newman. Reports estimate that his victims could be in the hundreds.

Yandell sees a similar sense of hopefulness and bravery from fellow survivors: “Each voice that speaks out strengthens our collective fight for justice and healing. It is through our shared experiences and united efforts that we can demand accountability and ensure that such abuses are never repeated.”

Kanakuk is a prominent and long-running camp program, hosting 450,000 campers over nearly a century of ministry. A 2021 Dispatch investigation by Nancy French examined how the camp culture at Kanakuk “enabled horrific abuse.” She noted that “nobody resigned as a result of the failure to stop a decade of abuse. There was no disciplinary action against any of Newman’s supervisors, and Joe White is still the head of the camp today.”

Across many cases involving victims of child sexual abuse, Summersett’s attorney Guy D’Andrea has seen the lasting damage done by institutional cover-up on top of the trauma of the abuse itself.

“If you want your faith to grow and prosper, you can’t have the most vulnerable … feel their faith has been shattered by the leadership of an organization or entity,” said D’Andrea, with the firm Laffey Bucci D’Andrea Reich & Ryan. “We’re not holding the organization to an impossible standard. We’re asking them to do the right thing, which is what our faith asks us to do.”

July/August
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