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Duke faces lawsuits alleging 'negligence' led to child sex abuse at camp for sick children

A trio of lawsuits allege that four children were coerced into sexual acts by another child due to "negligence” at the now-shuttered Camp Kaleidoscope, a camp for chronically sick children operated by Duke.  

The University denies the allegations—“conspiracy to hide child sexual abuse that took place as a result of their negligence"—that came in a set of three lawsuits filed in 2017 and last week, which were first reported by IndyWeek. 

Camp Kaleidoscope was a summer camp for chronically ill children that was operated from 1979 to 2017. The lawsuits allege that five children—ages 7 to 10—were left “unsupervised” in a cabin. A counselor returned to their cabin after an hour away and found several boys engaged in oral sex, according to the lawsuits' plaintiffs.

Four of the children were later taken to Duke University Children’s Hospital for observation, according to the allegations, where one of the boys told a psychiatry fellow that they were “sucking on each other [sic] penises.” 

A week later, IndyWeek reported, Duke shuttered Camp Kaleidoscope. 

"Camp Kaleidoscope has operated for over 30 years and provides a free camp experience for Duke patients and is entirely staffed by volunteers who want to contribute their time and effort to benefit children with chronic medical conditions," Duke's response filed in one of the suits stated. "All defendants involved with the camp exercised reasonable care and diligence in their respective roles at the camp..."

The University declined to comment on the lawsuits. 

“Duke is committed to protecting the privacy of minors and their families, and will thus decline further comment on this lawsuit,” Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, wrote in an email to The Chronicle. 

The Board of Trustees’ meeting summary for Nov. 30 to Dec. 1 notes that its Audit and Compliance Committee discussed "Accountability and Compliance for Youth Camps and Summer Programs." It specifically mentioned "[r]esponsibility for ensuring safety and care of minors on campus and protecting the Duke brand."

Richard Riddell, senior vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees, did not respond in time for publication to an email asking if the discussion had to do with the allegations about Camp Kaleidoscope and what specifically was discussed. Schoenfeld wrote that the "committee discussion was not about any specific incident but the issue in general."