On April 2, 2021, Into Account put out a statement of outreach to survivors of sexual abuse by Kent Peters, a church camp counselor, employee of Mennonite Mission Network, and a ubiquitous face at girls’ and women’s athletic events at various schools in southcentral Kansas. In the time since then, Peters has been the subject of multiple investigations and been removed from his camp and mission agency positions.
Peters’ documented pattern of abuse is a familiar one: meet young girls in a mentorship context, maintain casual friendships with many of them, and then subject some of them to escalating levels of grooming through social media (you’ll learn why Snapchat was his preferred platform), texting, and increasingly sexualized conversations. Alyssa’s story (not her real name) shows how with some victims, he went even further. Please be aware that this story includes (non-explicit) descriptions of Peters committing rape and child sexual abuse.
We hope that someday there will be more justice for all the girls and women who survived Kent Peters. Alyssa, Miya, all of you: we at Into Account are here in solidarity with you.
–Stephanie Krehbiel, Executive Director
The Safety of Summer Camp
Summer church camp was something that I looked forward to every year, from the friendships and getting to run around and be immersed in nature, to the different ways of forming connections with God, letting the troubles, distractions and hardships of the real world disappear for the time being. I had been going to Camp Mennoscah for as long as I’d been able to attend, it was something that I anxiously awaited for every year, and I treasure the many good memories made.
Camp was a way for me, and for other youth, to let our real life distractions be pushed aside for the week. For us, it was a safe space. We could be vulnerable, we could connect with one another, we could have fun and sing and run around. And when we had more serious times together, like at evening worship or campfire, we could let our emotions run their course. Many if not all of us campers, such as myself, had our own array of struggles. Things like family problems, grieving loved ones, low self esteem and insecurities, as well as mental health struggles. These hardships can be especially difficult to handle as youth, and it can be a challenge to deal with them and to navigate life without support. Counselors at camp are aware that campers deal with different difficult issues, and many times they become a part of their support system, by connecting with the campers, and by listening and helping them through. Counselors were supposed to help contribute to the safety of the camp.
Kent being Kent
I had heard of a couple stories from other campers about Kent Peters. A couple of girls that had gone to one of the camps he counseled at had mentioned how weird he was. They mentioned that he was kind of creepy, and they said that seeing him at their girls sporting events and other places around town made them feel weird about him. They said that he had said uncomfortable things to them before. Both of the girls were in junior high when they first interacted with him at their week of camp.
When I started attending senior high camp at age 15, I had been dealing with the heavy weight of anxiety and severe depression that I’d been carrying since middle school. Life was hard, but the one week of camp, my safe space, was something that helped alleviate the pain for a while. I found support from one of my counselors the summer before, and she helped me in realizing that I could advocate for myself, and that there were people who I could open up my problems to and that I could trust.
Most campers and counselors interact with one another outside of camp, mostly on social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It’s typical to keep connected, and to see one another at different camp events and around the community. Kent Peters made sure to maintain his connections with campers, particularly female campers. Most of the time, he made sure to keep in touch from junior and senior high age all the way up until we reached college age. Until we reached a legal age.
Online he maintained the persona of being the introverted, quirky counselor, who was “different” and a bit older than all of the other counselors that we knew. But that’s just how everyone knew him. Any odd or strange behavior was pushed off as Kent being Kent. Him primarily connecting with, keeping in touch, and surrounding himself with campers that were girls was just passed off as him being how he was.
A friendship with an adult
After camp, the process of him keeping in contact with me began. We added each other on various social media platforms, and he began messaging me. The conversations were lighthearted and silly at first, and while some felt strange, they didn’t cross any lines. Yet. Like with most of his friendships with campers, the quirky banter and getting to know one another helped the relationships form. I opened up to him about my struggles with my mental health as well, as he was supposed to be a trusting adult and friend. I’m sure with most of these friendships, he kept his “riskiness” at bay, but with others, including me, Kent got comfortable and started testing the waters with more adult conversations.
He would start asking more questions about dating and talking to boys, and would question about drinking and drugs and being under the influence. A lot of the time, these conversations and questions came from him in a pushy manner. He was supposedly a friend and a safe person to talk to. But really.. What adult would be asking someone 13+ years their junior these kinds of questions and why was he thinking about a minor in those situations? However, being young and naive, to me it was a friendship, and since it was a friendship with an adult, more mature themes and conversations were to be expected… Right?
As time went on, Kent continued to gain my trust and my friendship, and with him adding me on Snapchat, he continued to push and cross boundaries. Snapchat was the perfect place for Kent. He could send and receive pictures and videos that would then disappear forever, and he could also send whatever text chats he wanted… And if you tried to make it so you would save the conversations, he could see, say something, and make sure whatever was saved wasn’t. If you were to screenshot any photo, video, or text on snap chat, he would be notified. So the app where his actions and intentions couldn’t be traced became his top tool and method of contact.
We continued talking on Snapchat and things continued to get more inappropriate and adult in nature. It got to the point where a lot of the conversations were sexual in nature and he started to solicit inappropriate photos and videos from me, and would send pictures and videos of himself as well. Kent made sure to get the point across that if anyone were to find out about any of what was going on, he’d get in trouble. As if he was the victim in the situation.
Being used and going numb
Eventually, everything moved even further from our digital interactions. Kent had moved into his own house and was no longer living with any roommates, which meant it was much easier for him to do and get away with things. He started inviting me over, and would provide me with beer as well as shots of liquor— At 16, I was still very much underage, as well as a minor when this began. Kent would get me drunk and then things would progress from there.
The experience was numbing, and it made the isolation and mental struggles grow. It stripped me of parts of my youth as well as myself and my identity in general. After I turned 18, I wasn’t just coerced with alcohol into doing sexual acts by Kent, I was now being coerced into having sex since I was the “legal” age. Getting drunk and having my body used in that way numbed me to my core, and tore a hole into my self esteem and sense of self as a whole.
A few months into college I finally decided I wanted nothing else to do with Kent and that I wanted to cut him off and remove him from my life. I was done with talking to him and I was done with going over to his house to drink and then be used by him. Kent was still incessant with trying to talk to me, and would try to reach out to me on Snapchat or other online messengers. I wouldn’t respond and still he would try to talk to me, so I started to remove him as a friend on my social platforms, and I blocked his Snapchat. Still, he tried to follow my accounts and interact with my posts. Why couldn’t he just leave me alone? Were there not people his age he could talk to and bother?
Even a few years after I cut him off, I noticed him lurking and interacting on my accounts on other social platforms like TikTok. Even though I had blocked him on my other socials at this point, it still had me wondering if Kent found ways to still be lurking and seeing what I was doing with myself. It made me feel trapped and cycled my brain into being reminded of my past interactions with him that I didn’t want to think about. It wasn’t fair that he could still run around and keep tabs on me and be fine, while I had to be traumatized and on edge. It wasn’t fair that he could take advantage of me and ruin my youth in such a harmful and isolating way.
The inquiry that Into Account opened up on Kent finally shed light on the kind of person that he really was, and with survivor accounts, what he was doing to MULTIPLE vulnerable people. What he was doing to CHILDREN. It showed that his pattern of inappropriate behaviors had begun years before I knew him, and it also showed that it was still happening after I cut him off. While him losing his job, as well as his ties to Camp Mennoscah (both of which provided him with access to prey on young and vulnerable people) is a good thing, it still doesn’t make up for all of the damage that he had done. Kent Peters is a predator, and has sexually abused minors, me being one of them. He’s not a safe person and he shouldn’t be allowed to sneak by and hide amongst the community. If anything, he deserves to be put on a sex offender registry and to rot away behind bars.