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More than 1,200 sexual assault survivors helped since 2023.

Trails Carolina Wilderness Therapy Abuse Allegations & Lawsuits

Allegations of abuse have plagued the program, with several lawsuits accusing the organization of enabling the sexual assault of students while ignoring victim’s reports of abuse. If you have suffered from abuse at Trails Carolina, we can help you understand your rights and options to pursue justice.

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What Is Trails Carolina?

Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program based in western North Carolina. It admits teens and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 17 who struggle with behavioral and mental issues. Founded by Graham Shannonhouse in 2008, the program is also licensed by the North Carolina State Health Department and accredited by major organizations in the industry.

According to its website, Trails Carolina uses individual and group therapy, yoga movements, adventure programming, accredited academics, and family involvement to help teens and adolescents.

Trails Carolina says it has been running a research study since 2014 that follows teens’ progress up to 12 months after leaving the camp. These reports claim improved mental health, increased positive behavior, and better family relations.

However, recent complaints, lawsuits, and death reports within the camp have raised a lot of concern regarding the safety of participants.

What Are the Trails Carolina Abuse Allegations?

Social media posts, online reviews, lawsuits, and news reports document allegations that teens and adolescents suffered from neglect and physical, psychological, and sexual abuse during their stay at Trails Carolina’s camps.

According to a Reddit post by a former camper, the living conditions are often unhygienic and lack basic needs, such as a functioning toilet and bathroom. Contrary to the promises given to parents, most of the staff assigned to the students lack training as therapists, lack the skills to deal with troubled teens, and receive minimum wage. They often use humiliation, manipulation, and other emotional abuse tactics to punish students.

Trails Carolina Sexual Abuse Allegations

Last Date Modified
May 20, 2024

Complaints on social media, online reviews, and lawsuits filed against Trails Carolina also allege sexual assault occurred in different forms:

  • Unwanted fondling and touching: Older campers reportedly preyed on the younger ones through inappropriate touching. When reported, Trails Carolina did not investigate or take disciplinary actions, and victims were forced to continue sleeping alongside the offenders.
  • Invasion of privacy: A former minor camper claims participants were sometimes forced to shower in makeshift bathrooms under the constant watch of an adult staffer. Upon arrival in the camp, another minor victim alleged they were forced to strip naked with a staffer in sight. Those who refused had their clothes physically stripped off by the workers.
  • Peer-to-peer rape: Former minor participants also recount how older campers and staff often escalated the unwanted touching to forced sexual contact. Like in numerous other cases, the staffers and authorities in charge of the campers don’t investigate or report the cases or take any action to prevent similar events.

If you or someone you know has suffered sexual abuse while attending a Trails Carolina camp, Helping Survivors can help you understand your rights and legal options and connect you with experienced and compassionate sexual assault lawyers.

Trails Carolina Abuse Lawsuits in the Headlines

Several civil lawsuits have been filed over sexual abuse at Trails Carolina camps in the last few years. The lawsuits all have one thing in common: the staff to whom these cases were reported failed to take any action and allowed the abuse to continue.

  • 2024: On February 10, 2024, a lawsuit was filed in the federal court alleging the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl in 2016. The complaint claims the student was raped and assaulted by a fellow student a few weeks after admission into the program. According to the lawsuit, the perpetrator had sexually abused two other girls before assaulting the plaintiff. All three cases were reported to staff members and the resident therapist, but the victims were punished and silenced instead. The lawsuit names Trails Carolina and the therapist as defendants, accusing them of neglect and wanton misconduct, including noncompliance with North Carolina laws that require the reporting of abuse to law enforcement.
  • 2023: Another camper filed a complaint in federal court alleging sexual abuse and assault at the Trails Carolina program during their stay in 2019. According to the lawsuit, an older camper who had a history of sexual abuse touched the plaintiff inappropriately and later assaulted them more than once. The staff ignored the victim’s requests to be moved to another sleeping area, and the facility did not report these incidents to law enforcement.
  • 2022: The father of a former camp attendee filed a sexual abuse lawsuit in February 2022. The plaintiff alleges his daughter was 14 years old during her stay at Trails Carolina. The lawsuit states the girl was sexually assaulted and physically abused by an older camper with a history of abuse known to the staff members. The victim allegedly pleaded to be separated from the perpetrator but was ignored. The father is suing

Trails Carolina for perpetuating an environment enabling the abuse. The complaint includes counts of wanton misconduct and negligence.
Trails Carolina has also made headlines for the deaths of two students who were undergoing the wilderness therapy program. In 2014, 17-year-old Alec Lansing went missing from the camp after wandering off from a group of students hiking in the forest. He was found dead a few days later with a broken hip.

Most recently, in February 2024, a 12-year-old student was found dead a day after arriving at the camp. While the cause of death is still unknown, investigators have mentioned that the death appears to be from unnatural causes.

What Individuals Who Attended Trails Carolina Should Know

If you or someone you know suffered sexual abuse, harassment, or assault while attending the Trails Carolina program, you have several options to seek the justice you deserve.

Filing a civil lawsuit allows you the opportunity to receive financial compensation for the economic and non-economic damages from the abuse. These losses include medical bills, counseling or therapy costs, loss of work, physical pain, suffering, and emotional distress. While this settlement doesn’t undo the abuse suffered, it can alleviate financial stress and allow you to focus on healing. A lawsuit also empowers survivors to expose institutions that enabled the abuse, ensuring the safety and well-being of others.

You can also report a sexual assault case to law enforcement. Sex with a minor is a crime in North Carolina, and penalties depend on the difference in age between the victim and the perpetrator. Failure to report the sexual assault of a minor is also a criminal offense under North Carolina laws. Trails Carolina workers who received reports of abuse from the victims and failed to report to the authorities may be guilty of this crime.

Most states also have a deadline for filing a lawsuit or the state pressing criminal charges for sexual assault cases, known as the statute of limitations. Learn your options and take legal action as early as possible.

What's the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Abuse in North Carolina?

The statute of limitations for filing a sexual assault lawsuit in North Carolina depends on the survivor’s age when the abuse happened. In the case of minors, such as the Trails Carolina abuse, victims have up to 10 years from when they turn 18 years of age to file a civil lawsuit. Other guidelines and deadlines may also apply depending on the unique circumstances of your case, which is why speaking to an experienced attorney can make a difference.

If you suffered sexual abuse at Trails Carolina, Helping Survivors can explain more about your options, including how to file a civil lawsuit. We can connect you with an experienced and compassionate sexual abuse lawyer. An attorney who knows how to handle such cases with care and skill can make a big difference when seeking justice.

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