Meant to assist troubled adolescents, wilderness therapy programs that thoroughly follow industrial standards, can be promising. Even studies find that such therapy programs have a positive outcome, especially in terms of psychological well-being, academic achievements and family dynamics. Perhaps, it focuses on nature to be the therapeutic backdrop and comes as a kind of experiential therapy.
Seeing the effectiveness, parents willingly send their kids to such camps. Meanwhile, they hope their kids return with a changed personality, like being less distracted, build a new connection with themselves and nature, find skills, become more self-confident and so on. Acquiring all of it is possible as enrolled teens get support, including guidance from trained professionals only. However, the infamous trails carolina “abuse” hints at a different side of the story. That is because the camp is far from having proper regulations while making residents suffer even more than before.
About Trails Carolina “abuse”
Following the headlines of intense trails carolina “abuse” allegations, parents have lost their faith in wilderness therapy programs. Well, the framework of Trails Carolina was initially designed to heal troubled youth with the help of nature therapy, but overturned into a place of abuse. As such, many participants and even ex-employees stepped forward to share their part of the story while accusing the camp of misconduct.
Much of it began after Linda, in 2022, wrote a blog and did an interview with USA Today, specifically mentioning the horrors of Trails Carolina. Perhaps, Linda was a worker herself and joined as a counsellor in 2015. According to her, the camp was filled with ignorant staff, while sexual, physical, and emotional abuse had become apparent. With a distressing shock, Linda tried to report the sick incidents to management, but they simply dismissed her point of view.
Well, Linda’s voice is very significant in this matter, yet she wasn’t the first to share tales of Trails Carolina. That is, the ex-employee only revealed her experience in 2022 following a news article, the writer of which accused the camp of musconduct. It was this article that influenced Linda to be brave enough to do what she did. She even mentioned that such a horrific experience was the first of its kind, and had never witnessed a likewise culture in her 20 years of career.
Trails Carolina: Background Information
Trails Carolina, the infamous wilderness therapy program was founded by Graham Shannonhouse, who’s also the current Executive Director of the camp. Before Trails Carolina, Graham worked at SUWS of Idaho. Well, SUWS happens to be another abusive Aspen Education Group wilderness program that made its way to headlines after having a participant killed. Moving on, in 1999, the camp owner was assigned the position of Program Director but eventually resigned in 2008. This decision to resign was in correspondence with building her own camp — Trails Carolina.
Coming to the functionality, the course duration can be anywhere between 2 to 4 months. The highest number of teens in one program is 36 participants, who are further divided based on gender and age. Meanwhile, the camp is meant for troubled youth between the ages of 10 – 17. Anyone of that age group, suffering from the following situations can join the camp, in the hope of betterment:
- Social isolation
- Family conflict
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal ideation
- Gaming and technology obsession
- Substance abuse
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder
- Poor academic achievement
- Learning differences
- Attachment issues
- Manipulative behaviour
- School refusal
- Mood dysregulation, and
- Autism (“high functioning”).
Trails Carolina rules and punishments
Trails Carolina, supposedly, is extremely strict when it comes to rules. A few of what participants have to note include:
- Talking while hiking is forbidden.
- No sneaky conversation should be carried out.
- Be monitored every time, without any special considerations.
- Using the bathroom means you must keep talking or counting while doing the business.
Whenever a rule is broken by participants, they are met with harsh punishment. Examples of the same, as per the participants, are as follows:
- Have to sleep late, while wake-up time is before the usual time.
- Made to carry heavier or additional stuff.
- The rule breaker gets humiliated before everyone in the group.
- Conversation thereupon will be cut to an extent.
Trails carolina “abuse” deaths, allegations and lawsuits
Many participants of the camp graduated from the program as abuse survivors, and strongly suggested the program to be abusive. According to them, things like medical neglect, attack therapy, emotional abuse, malnourishment, and torturing to punish were common. The cruelty was at its peak, with many survivors contracting PTSD among other trauma-related conditions after coming out from trails carolina “abuse”.
Let’s start with a case that is as old as 2011. That is, almost a decade ago, a lawsuit came from the heartbroken parents of June Doe. Well, Jane and John, who are the parents of June, sent their kid to study at New Leaf Academy in North Carolina. However, things didn’t go as planned as June was transferred to Trails Carolina, by the academy without any kind of permission from the parents. At the camp, June Doe attended the program with a co-ed group. Her group, where most participants were male, went for a “camping trip” in South Carolina. An unfortunate news occurred when June was raped by a male student from her group itself. But this case was dismissed eventually, due to jurisdiction.
Another gruesome news surfaced of a 17-year-old Alec Lansing. Perhaps, it was on 10 November 2017 when Alec, coming from Atlanta, went missing. It is said that he walked away from the counsellor in charge, near an area called Heady Mountain Church Road. Alec even had a reflective vest, meant for tracking purposes but discarded it soon after going away. The boy then went missing for about 14 days, until his body was recovered on 22 November by rescuers around the Pisgah National Forest. As per the autopsy done afterwards, Alec’s hips were broken, while hypothermia was what took his life. Investigators further said that the boy had fallen into a shallow stream that broke his hip and made him stuck. Meanwhile, the staff of Trails Carolina failed to report a missing case until 5 hours had passed. Authorities said that Alec could have been saved if a missing report was filed earlier, while also requesting for immediate help.
Coming to a much more recent case; a former participant filed a lawsuit for sexual abuse on 23 February 2022. The anonymous survivor of Trails Carolina reported saying she was sexually abused in the camp. More precisely, the girl was as little as 14 years old when she entered the camp, where other participants got a chance to sexually abuse her. Even when she reported the issue, her mentor would do nothing to change the disturbing behaviour. Rather, the staff made her sleep near that older participant, the one who was sexually assaulting her.
The most important aspect, determining the effectiveness of any wilderness program is the program quality alongside the professionals. Meanwhile, a severe case where both these factors are lacking is Trails Carolina. So, multiple trails carolina “abuse” allegations, stirring on the internet day after day is not as surprising.
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