The Story Of Mark Foley’s War On Youth Nudist Camps For Children
Guest Nudist Blog Post By: Chet Kresiak
The War Against Nudist Camps For Children
Nudist Camps and Nudist Kids: America has been stunned recently by the horrific allegations about child abuse at Penn State University. Scandals involving sexual molestation of children have rocked many of our most revered institutions, such as the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church and in our schools. It’s clear that child abuse is a societal problem, not restricted to any particular organization or institution. Even the naturist population has been victimized by those who would exploit children for sexual purposes, although it is very rare.
Any person or group planning naturist activities must be aware of the current cultural climate, which is becoming increasingly intolerant of any activities involving children who could be misconstrued as being inappropriate or harmful. Naturists believe that people of all ages should be able to participate in nude recreation, that rejecting shame when it comes to the human body is beneficial to physical, mental and sexual health. The presence of children is a necessary component of the philosophy, and to remove them from naturist activities would significantly redefine the modern movement which began in Germany in 1903.
Morley Schloss, board member of the Naturist Action Committee, operates a nudist youth camp at Sunsport Gardens in Florida, and debunks the notion that children are somehow at risk in naturist settings. “From what I read, children are safer at naturist resorts than in scout camps, church groups or malls. Most nudist resorts are gated communities. Members and guests are screened for criminal activity. Children have many people looking out for them, adults and other children. Since naturist children are generally comfortable with their bodies, they would not be hesitant to report any approaches to them with which they are uncomfortable. For these reasons, children are quite safe from abuse in naturist venues.”
In January of 2010, acting on an anonymous complaint, The Florida State Department of Children and Families paid a visit to Sunsport Gardens. Mr. Schloss welcomed them in, showed them photos of children having fun at the youth camp, and the officials left satisfied that Sunsport offered a safe, caring environment.
Still, overzealous politicians or prosecutors are always looking for “hot button” issues with which to stir public sentiment in their favor, such as in 2003 when U. S. Representative Mark Foley (R) Florida read an article in the New York Times about an AANR nudist youth camp at Lake Como Nudist Resort in Land O‘Lakes. Foley was running for Senator at the time and felt he needed a “family values“ issue to take attention away from rumors swirling around that he was gay, so he seized the opportunity to began a crusade against the youth camps, accusing them of “exploiting nudity among minor children to make money.”
The story about the youth camps went nationwide, with Foley appearing on Fox News, and Time Magazine running an article asking the question “are they any place for kids?” The firestorm had begun.
In Florida, naturists took action, meeting directly with Congressman Foley, and gradually the issue faded away, certainly due in part to the political strength of the naturist population in Pasco County. Governor Jeb Bush’s office released a statement saying that “The rights of parents to impart their values in their children and raise their children as they see fit are sacred.”
At about the same time, since the Times article mentioned that a young naturist camp was also being held in Arizona and future camps were being planned in both Texas and Virginia, anti-camp bills were quickly introduced in those state.
There were also ultimately no political consequences in Arizona, but in February of 2004 the Virginia House of Delegates voted 98-1 to require parental supervision at camps for young nudists, later approved by the Senate 40-0. The single vote was against the act because the bill did not go far enough. In 2005 a bill was introduced to modify the language in the nudist camp legislation, which would have effectively banned children from all nudist and naturist venues, but that legislation was tabled for future consideration.
In Texas, a county prosecutor succeeded in banning children from the Hippie Hollow clothing optional park, and State Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) authored a bill which would have outlawed nudist youth camps, even though there were none operating in the entire state. Hughes called the camps “magnets for pedophiles”, perhaps seizing upon a portion of the original New York Times article which referred to “COGs – creepy outside guys” trying to get inside the camps, or peek through fences. Efforts by the NAC killed the legislation, but the Department of State Health Services amended the Texas Administrative Code rules on General Sanitation to read “a youth camp many not allow campers or staff to be nude, except when bathing, showering, changing clothes or receiving medical care”. This code effectively banned naturist youth camps in Texas.
All of this hysteria grew out of nothing more than ignorance, outright prejudice and unwarranted suspicions about nudism and naturism, and was a waste of time and public resources. There was absolutely no evidence that any harm was being done to any child. If anything, teens attending textile camps were found to be having sexual encounters, with others incurring physical harm from sports and other activities. Children attending nudist camps were happy, healthy and safe.
Bob Morton of the Naturist Action Committee wrote in the March 2004 Nude and Natural Newsletter that in “the case of the Virginia legislation, losing means a significant abridgement of the parental rights of naturists and the unmistakable message that social nudity is somehow unhealthy or unsafe for children.”
Bill Williamson wrote in the AANR Bulletin of May 2004 that “this Virginia initiative just further proves that we have a lot more work to do before we can enjoy the peace and tranquility of our serene environments without the constant overshadowing threat of unnecessary government intervention.”
In the May 2005 AANR Bulletin, Williamson wrote, “Obviously these are no longer isolated political attacks on nude recreation, but a concerted strategically planned effort to separate the family from social family nudism. These social conservatives believe that if they can prevent our children from sharing our wholesome participation in social family nudism, they can then designate nude recreation as simply another part of the adult entertainment industry instead of the most rapidly growing sector of the travel and resort industry.”
Nudist and naturist organizations continue to work with policymakers to advocate for nude recreation for all ages.
In 2006, Mark Foley left Congress in disgrace over his “sex-laced” emails and instant messages to teenagers serving as pages. The hypocrisy of his campaign against youth camps angered nudists and naturists everywhere, still struggling to restore reputations, mend family differences, and recover from loss of business. There was little vindication in Foley’s fall, just bitter memories.
Still, Morley Schloss is optimistic about the future of naturist youth camps. “I don’t see a crisis”, he said, “Naturist camps that have had problems have taught the children that they must be careful and distrustful, that naturist resorts are unsafe. Let’s be proactive. In words and photos, we must portray children and their families having fun at naturist resorts and naturist youth camps.”
Stephane Deschenes of Bare Oaks Family Naturist Park agrees. “We certainly must not give up on this point. Some naturists believe that we should keep quiet so that there won’t be any scrutiny. In fact, many people criticized AANR for running the (2003 New York Times) story about children’s camps in the first place. I disagree. When you keep something quiet and people find out, they are more likely to be shocked because it is a surprise. If we keep talking about it, then it normalizes the situation. That’s why I make sure that there are always lots of pictures of happy children on all our marketing materials.”
Although Rep. Mark Foley’s attacks failed in Florida, Texas was successful in banning the youth camps, and in Virginia, the requirement that parents or guardians always be present effectively killed them in that state, too. In addition, according to Paul LeValley of the Professors and Researchers Special Interest Group of The Naturist Society, the numbers of children overall at the youth camps has “plummeted“. The only exception is at the Sunsport Gardens Youth Camp, where attendance grows every year. Only two other camps took place last year (2011) in the United States, one was at Juniper Woods in New York, and the other was at Shangri La Ranch in Arizona.
This controversy over the youth camps is a clear illustration why nudists and naturists need strong representation from national organizations. While Foley failed in Florida, his demagoguery was damaging, and lasting. It’s perhaps just a matter of time before another “Mark Foley” comes forward to attack naturists, and all of us need to be prepared to push back and fight for our parental rights. When the attacks come, they will be at the children, not just on the youth camps issue, but on their participation in general.
This post about nudist children and youth nudist camps for kids was published by – Young Naturists And Young Nudists America – YNA