Kanakuk responds to calls to release victims from NDAs

Branson News [Hollister, MO]

March 1, 2022

By Jason Wert

The CEO of Kanakuk has released an open letter as part of an updated response from the camp to continued allegations related to the abuse of a former camp director.

An in-depth investigation released in March 2021 by former ACLJ and Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel and National Review author David French and his wife for the online journal The Dispatch revealed a number of victims of Kanakuk were under non-disclosure agreements which were signed as part of legal settlements. 

“Recent articles have accused Kanakuk of using Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) to hide details of abuse and silence victims,” Kanakuk Ministries President Doug Goodwin wrote in the letter. “This is simply not the case. The awful details of what transpired is part of the public record. The criminal component was equally public and local television stations and newspapers covered this for many months. Kanakuk’s focus is on supporting victims’ privacy and healing. The overwhelming majority of confidentiality agreements were established in cooperation with the victim to protect their privacy.”

Now Kanakuk has responded to further calls for releasing victims from NDA with an update to their website pages related to abuse which includes an open letter from Kanakuk CEO Joe White.

The camp’s updated page states Kanakuk desires to “support victims” and “help them in their healing journey.” The web page includes an email address for victims to contact Kanakuk directly, as well as links to victim advocacy groups like ChildHelp.org and RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.)

The updated page also states Kanakuk’s position is victims can share their story “in the pursuit of healing” but they do not specifically state they are releasing anyone from an NDA, freeing the victims to talk publicly about their trauma.

“We also recognize that an essential part of healing is the ability for victims to share their stories. We support this right and will not stand in the way of any who wishes to do so,” the updated Kanakuk website reads. “We know now that we have added confusion and frustration when we have spoken on this topic. We were wrong in our understanding of the language of many of these agreements, and we failed to recognize the restrictions – both real and perceived – that many victims are under. We absolutely want to clarify this. We support the right of victims to share their story in pursuit of healing. Some victims have signed settlement agreements negotiated by insurance companies which prevents them from sharing the terms of their agreement, which they should keep confidential. Our stance is simple – every victim deserves the right to share in the pursuit of healing.”

Kanakuk CEO Joe White also responded to the calls to release victims from NDAs in his first public letter on the issue.

White’s letter says he is “deeply, profoundly sorry” for the pain the victims of Pete Newman’s abuse have experienced through the years. Newman was convicted in 2010 on seven counts of child sexual assault charges and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus 30 years.

“In hindsight, I wish I would have understood what I was truly dealing with, and I am devastated by your pain and suffering under my watch,” White writes. “It also breaks my heart to realize that I have not been clear in my support for victims and their families.”

White also does not specifically state in his letter he wants victims released from the NDA agreements to speak freely in public about their experiences, stating he would be open to victims talking to those “who can support your healing.”

“We failed to recognize the restrictions – both real and perceived – that many victims are under,’ White writes. “Victims of abuse should never carry an extra burden of fear for sharing their experiences. You may feel that you cannot share your story out of fear of legal consequences. If this is you, know that Kanakuk and I will not object to you sharing your story with those who can support your healing. The freedom to tell your story should not be a question – and to us, it’s not. I am opposed to any legal maneuver or action meant to suppress the voice of victims.”

White then goes on to say insurance companies may “defend their interests” and advised settlement terms should stay confidential.

White claims he has spoken with several victims of Newman’s abuse.

“Listening to the pain and anger is tearful, heart-wrenching, and humbling, but I am forever grateful for the privilege to share my sincere sorrow,” White writes. “In these conversations, it has become abundantly clear that I have often added to your pain through my words, and this fact is devastating to me.”

White went on to say he understands “emotional pain is far worse than physical pain” after suffering through health issues in recent years, although he said his pain “pales in comparison” to those of the victims.

White concludes his letter asking for “personal reconciliation and forgiveness” while asking to meet with victims face-to-face. 

Evan Hoffpauir, a local Branson resident who says he met Newman in 1999 through YouthLife ministries which turned into K-Life, told Branson Tri-Lakes News about some of his experience. He said he was part of Newman’s weekly “Bible studies” and then was groomed for years by Newman “mostly on Kanakuk property.” While Hoffpauir was never enrolled as a camper, Newman took him to his residences, in the camp’s minivan, and to K-Kountry, K1 and K2 programs.

Here is Hoffpauir’s statement:

While I appreciate Joe’s gesture to reach out to victims and make an attempt to apologize, this letter is not that. It’s filled with emotional language that still lacks authentic brokenness and a confession to failing victims and their families 12 years ago.

There was no confession to failing to fire Newman, no confession to using the lawyers and insurance companies to protect their assets by using NDAs in settlements, and no confession to ignoring the warning signs that were reported by parents and others.

White says he wished he would have understood what he was dealing with. He knew he was dealing with an adult who was naked with children on multiple occasions. He knew exactly what he was dealing with, he chose to cover it up and do the wrong thing. That is what I need to hear.

The letter is also confusing because it says they want victims to share openly but also say they should honor their agreements with insurance companies and not share. These companies are hired by Kanakuk with the first priority to protect Kanakuk, not children.

This is the same type of stuff we have already heard from Kanakuk.

If he was truly heartbroken for 12.5 years, he should have stepped down and realized he was not fit to lead an organization that is supposed to protect children.

White should never use his suffering in relation to the suffering of child sexual abuse victims that he enabled. That is disgusting. 

His suffering is natural, my suffering was done by the hands of someone he hired, promoted, protected, and defended. How dare he compare the two.

White says he is grateful to share his sincere sorrow. He will never know what it’s like to have the sorrow of a child sexual abuse victim. He does not share my sorrow, I promise you that.

Branson Tri-Lakes News requested via email an interview with Joe White, but did not receive a response by press time.

The link to Kanakuk’s response and White’s letter is not prominently displayed on the Kanakuk website; visitors must click the “press” link at the bottom right corner of the front page, and then click the link for “see our response” under the “Our Response to Child Abuse and Safety” header.