Sexual abuse scandal raises question of camp-leading requirements

Research conducted by Latvian Radio and the news portal Delfi "Embrace of the Leader", which revealed underage girls systematically having been harassed by camp leaders, has resulted in considerations to raise requirements for becoming a camp leader, Latvian Television's De Facto reported on December 10.

“Trigger warning! Sexual abuse!” with those words, a young woman Barbara's post on Facebook began last November. In it, she describes a relationship with a man she met as a student participating in a camp called “K.I.D.,” or “Culture. Tolerance. Friendship” (Kultūra. Iecietība. Draudzība) and related events. The man was one of the leaders of the camp.

Barbara's post on Facebook States: “I was very respectful of Pāvels at the time and our relationship involved touching in a way, but I never saw him as a romantic or sexual partner. I didn't say a specific “no” because of the awe I felt in front of this man, his authority. At that moment, in shock, I figured it was an act of love. But the already bizarre situation took a daunting turn when Pāvels started strangling me very hard. […] I knew something was not right but unfortunately rape in my understanding was something that was happening in the park and by an unknown maniac.”

The atmosphere of the “K.I.D.” camp is characterized by the fact that here, participants and leaders, too, were able to hug and touch each other without special permission. Age of participants – starting from 15 years.

Sexual abuse by a leader several years ago at the “K.I.D.” camp had been experienced by a close friend of another woman, Alīna Kurova. She had long believed it had been an isolated case. But Barbara's entry and the women's comments to it prompted Kurova to clarify the scale of the situation. She concluded that it was a system.

“I know of cases where girls tried to say no openly, but men used physical force to pursue the sexual act or continue to sexually abuse this girl somehow. And it's important to understand that teenagers can't always understand how violence happens. Adult men have a lot of options for manipulating children. There is a very stark power imbalance,” says Kurova, pointing out that “men have very many ways of forcing a child to get what they need.”

The study carried out by Latvian Radio and Delfi portal “Embrace of the Leader” has revealed testimony about how two leaders of the “K.I.D.” camp – Pāvels Nazarovs and Pāvels Vereteņņikovs – sexually exploited members of the youth organization. One of the girls reported it to camp leader Dmitrijs Bočarovs a year after what happened. But there was no immediate action. Bočarovs did not give an interview to De Facto, believing he did not have to comment on what happened.

Members of the K.I.D. also met outside the camp, throughout the year.

Nazarovs and Vereteņņikovs were eliminated only the following year, 2019: “Youth organization Culture. Tolerance. Friendship interrupted her cooperation with Pāvels Nazarovs and Pāvels Vereteņņikovs over activities contrary to the values and tasks of the organization.” After that, the camps stopped taking place for various reasons. The exclusion was only revealed by camp representatives last autumn when a public complaint emerged.

Vereteņņikovs did not speak to journalists. Nazarovs did not deny sexual contact but stressed that the girls were adults and the relationship was voluntary, without violence.

Testimony from other women revealed that the head of the camp, Bočarovs, also tried to build relationships or even physically harassed members of the “K.I.D.” about 10 years ago. Bočarovs did not deny correspondence or harassment in the post on Facebook, calling it a mistake himself: “I view the events described as one of the most serious mistakes of my life.”

Bočarovs disagreed with interviews, but the journalists of “Delfi” and “Latvian Radio” managed to meet him at a science event. Bočarovs told reporters that text messages saying a girl had a "sensual" back or mouth should be considered a compliment, not an erotic statement. And when asked if it was acceptable, he replied: “Definitely yes at the time. That was before all the “Me Too” and things like that. ”

Bočarovs will no longer run “K.I.D.” camps.

Police call for victims to report now

None of those involved had reported the “K.I.D.” to police. Other leaders did not pay proper attention to adult men's connections to those in the camp. In the autumn of 2022, police responded to an entry on social media. One complaint was forwarded to the police by the National Inspectorate for the Protection of Children's Rights (VBTAI). Both investigations ended with nothing.

“In fact, in both cases, it was also impossible to get testimony from those girls. In one case the girl was overseas, so, in fact, we could only evaluate what was on Facebook,” Marija Soldatova, deputy head of Division 3 of the Criminal Police Bureau No 1 of the State Police Riga Region Administration, told De Facto.

Kurova said the girls didn't have the strength to do it all anymore:

“As far as I'm aware, the girls had no confidence that approaching the police could somehow help with this situation and there would be some sort of reaction from the police at all.

“And it also significantly lowered the motivation to approach the police at all because it takes a lot of energy, a lot of time and a lot of resources. And this is what girls need to restore their psychological stability after what happened.”

Police do not plan to launch a new inspection at this time based on what journalists have studied because there is no indication of apparent violence. However, police are still appealing for victims to turn to police, which could potentially help launch a new investigation.

If a person is at least 16 years old, criminal liability arises if the sexual acts were committed against the will of the victim, besides the “no” must be made clear, police admitted. But the question remains whether a teenager can say such a clear “no” and can stand against someone in position of power. “Then yes, if using authority, it could also be treated as one of the signs of a criminal offense,” Soldatova said.

Controversy over raising requirements for camp leaders

Inspection of camps and how children feel in them is in the hands of VBTAI. However, as soon as a student turns 18, their protection becomes police competence. There has been no inspection at the “K.I.D.” camps because there have been no complaints about them, nor have they fallen among randomly checked ones. Now an inspection is no longer justified since a long time has passed after the alleged events.

However, it was stressed that participants in each camp should be informed how to approach the Children's Rights Protection Inspectorate, and telephone numbers should be visible to all. Police spokeswoman Soldatova added that making sure a child knows how to report violence should start on the part of the parents.

The Camp Registry shall be maintained by the State Education and Content Center (VISC). It also certifies camp leaders - you can get a certificate by listening to a 72-hour course on first aid, on children's rights, and the like. Such a certificate is still valid for Bočarovs. It is not defined anywhere how to annul it.

“At the moment, external legislation does not prescribe concrete, precise action, but I think what needs to be considered here is how, at what point, the VISC can respond to this news [..],” said Diāna Šavalgina, head of the VISC Department of Education content.

In the aftermath of the event, the VISC calls for discussion on raising education requirements for camp organizers and for a more precise definition of what may justify preventing the organization of camps.

“And together, we need to build some sort of understandable, unified mechanism, as well as let the public know where to approach them in situations like this, not be indifferent to report it and draw attention,” Šavalgina said.

Currently, convicted persons are banned from working with children, or persons to whom police has applied a security measure. But there is no unambiguous definition of what to do if a teacher sets up a relationship with a pupil. One school fires, another hires.

“What we are missing is, in my view, the kind of strong internal code of the teachers' community like, say, in medicine - how I treat my patients. Similar codes exist in the Scandinavian countries – what is my internal code as a teacher, how I treat a pupil, how I treat those I teach. [..]  Also in terms of relationships, how to form them with pupils. Because you always have to understand that a student is in a weaker position with fewer opportunities to protect themselves. And here we, as adults, have to be on guard to prevent this from happening,” noted Education and Science Minister Anda Čakša (New Unity).

The University of Latvia (LU), where Bočarovs is a lecturer in the physics department, has already responded to what happened. It has also conducted an internal investigation, also interviewing the students whom Bočarovs lectured. New instances of harassment have not been revealed by these interviews. LU will call on the Ethics Commission to assess his background and relevance to teaching work. But until then he will not work with young people – he will not lecture at the university or organize physics competitions.

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