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Court approves $1 million settlement in camp rape case

11/20/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - A Tennessee court has approved a $1 million settlement in the case of a 12-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted at a United Methodist church camp in 2001.

The settlement, signed Nov. 19 in the 2nd Circuit Court for Davidson County, resolves a lawsuit for negligence brought by the girl's family against the denomination's Tennessee Annual (regional) Conference. The conference operates Camp Cedar Crest in middle Tennessee, where the assault occurred.

"We were grieved by the whole situation and regretted very deeply all that took place," said Bishop William Morris, in an interview earlier in the month. Morris leads the annual conference.

The conference had approved the settlement in a July 27 special session in Nashville. The money will come from dormant conference accounts, active funds and insurance.

During the special session, the conference adopted a resolution stating "that the members of the Tennessee Annual Conference and its various churches continue to pray for healing and wholeness for the victim of the assault and her family and … we invoke the grace and mercy of God upon all who have been affected by this experience."

The conference screens every counselor at Camp Cedar Crest yearly, and its annual training includes issues related to sexual behavior and misconduct. Carl Steven Bentrup, 21, of Nashville, passed through the screening each time, but he had a juvenile court record that was under seal and unavailable to the conference. He worked at the camp for nearly three summers before allegedly raping the girl July 19, 2001.

The girl had left her cabin to use the restroom in the middle of the night when Bentrup allegedly took her inside a bathhouse and assaulted her. He later called police and told the dispatcher he had raped the girl, according to the Hickman County Sheriff's Department.

He was arrested and charged with child rape, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual battery and sexual battery by an authority figure. On Oct. 25, a few days before a scheduled court hearing, he was found hanged in his cell. The Hickman County sheriff said the death was a suicide.

Immediately after the assault, the conference provided the campers, their families and camp counselors opportunities for counseling. The service was extended to campers who had attended Cedar Crest during the previous two years - spanning the time that Bentrup worked there - as well as anyone else in the conference who wanted it.

The conference also held a series of open forums, allowing people to ask questions and get help working through their feelings about what happened.

The conference now seeks more extensive background information on camp counselors during its screening process, Morris said. After checking with other organizations, the Tennessee Conference also developed a new manual for protecting the campers.

A task force reviewed the conference's elementary- and youth-camp policies, determining that the existing procedures "were comprehensive and well done," according to the group's report. The task force made 20 recommendations for improving camper safety.

As a result, the conference installed chemically treated "port-a-lets" in the cabins, so the young people no longer go outside their unit in the middle of the night, as the assault victim had done. It revised the job descriptions and applications for camp staff as well as requiring an additional reference from the applicant's parent or legal guardian. Counselors were equipped with walkie-talkies in case of emergency, and pastors-in-residence were added to provide additional supervision.

Camp Cedar Crest, near Centerville, Tenn., provides camping experiences for students from in and out of state. Enrollment in the camp's summer sessions for elementary school-age children has decreased from 560 in 2001 to 230 this past summer.

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