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Mixed sleeping arrangements on youth camps

Mixed sleeping arrangements on youth camps / Bild Nr. 29957897
Mixed sleeping arrangements on youth camps? | ©: SBW - Fotolia

This "essay" comes from Maik Riecken, composer and webmaster of who gave his kind permission for publication of this text.

This article is written from a German point of view and is based in German laws. There are other laws in other countries. Therefore the contents are not always comparable or should at least be adapted to suit your own laws. However this article deals more with the position a youth leader should take if boys and girls want to spend the night together.

The subject "Mixed sleeping arrangements on youth camps" is a “hot" topic on co-education camps. No youth leader will manage to around it. This hot potato is also a popular topic for making yourself very unpopular. Lots of youth leaders shy away from the subject or are unsure how to tackle this topic. For this reason, it is important that you read the text through and take a firm position.

Let’s tell the truth now: Lots of respective experiences with the opposite sex take place on holiday. Young people’s holidays are generally limited to holiday camps recognised agencies. With “experience” I really do not mean the final consequence of “sleeping together", but mainly the whole spectrum which comes before this. Who didn’t sneak into the girl’s tent “in those days"? The interest was usually just doing something “forbidden”; sometimes the “new discovery” of the day was awaiting a visit under the cover of darkness.

The government expressly requires every recognised agency to take part in education in liberalness and independence. An unimpaired sexual development somehow belongs to liberalness and independence. It is forbidden to allow girls and boys to share sleeping arrangements, and with good reason. However it is not forbidden to organise a mixed group visit to a neighbouring village. As if it is only possible to “do it” at night! (==> This is often an illogical thought by many parents).

The state threatens

First of all, it is absolutely necessary to take the legal situation for this topic under the magnifying glass. You will find the relevant regulations in the penal code. Any reported offences can involve potentially sensitive consequences. Let’s take a closer look:

(German legislation)

§180 StGB sec. I – Promotion of sexual handlings by a minor

(I) Anyone who has sexual dealings with a person under sixteen years, or from a third person, in front of a third person or causes the sexual handling of a third person under 16 years
(1) Through his mediation
(2) By granting or providing opportunity to carry out a motion carries out, can be punished with imprisonment up to three years or with fine. Sentence 1 No.2 is not to be used, if the person in custody has acted accordingly; this does not apply, if the person in custody aids and abets through gross negligence.

For us, this quite clearly means: If we allow a group of males and females to sleep in the same conditions and if only one member of group is under 16, we make ourselves liable ("providing opportunity"). The passage with the custody authorisation does not apply to us. Usually only parents have custody of a child. What we have when in charge of a camp, can really only be called "educational authorisation".

(German legislation)

§182 StGB sec. I und II – Sexual misuse of youths

(I) A person over 18 years of age, who thereby misuses a person under 16 years of age, which
(1) By using a position of enforcement [...] to undergo a sexual handling or intends to do so
(2) [...] – hopefully not relevant in youth work
…will be punished with imprisonment up to five years or with a fine.
(II) A person over 21 years of age, who thereby misuses a person under 16 years of age, which
(1) By using a position of enforcement [...] to undergo a sexual handling or intends to do so
(2) [...] – hopefully not relevant in youth work
..and uses the victim’s lack of competence for sexual self determination, will be punished with an imprisonment up to 3 years or a fine.
(3) In cases of the paragraph II the act is pursued only on request, unless the prosecution authority considers an intervention is officially required because of the special public interest in the prosecution.
(4) In the cases of the paragraphs I and II the court can foresee from punishment according to these regulations, if with consideration of the behaviour of the person against whom the act is directed, if it is a small injustice of the act.

This means: A person over 18 who touches the breasts of a fifteen year old girl (it can happen), does make himself liable, whereby you can almost count on a "process of mutual consent" in the case of an announcement on the application of the sentences (3) and (4). In any case, a report leads to an awful lot of stress...

(German legislation)

§223b Sec.I und II – Mishandling of the protected

(I) Anyone in charge of persons under eighteen years or persons who are frail, ill and defenceless, which are subordinate to his welfare service or care [... ] or anyone in charge of the welfare services of a person or through an employer-employee relationship which is dependent on it, [... ], who damages their health due to deliberate gross negligence, will be punished with imprisonment from six months to five years, in less heavy cases with imprisonment up to five years or with a fine.
(II) In particularly heavy cases, imprisonment from 1 year up to 10 years can be enforced. A particularly heavy case is usually the case if the culprit brings the protected person with his act into danger of
(1) Death or a grave physical injury (§224) or
(2) Which leads to significant bodily damage and hinders physical development.

The participants are our fledglings whose welfare is entrusted to us workers while they are under our charge. Now imagine the following situation, for example: you start a relationship with a participant but she lives far way from your home town. She has very snooty parents who notice that something is wrong with their “child” since getting home and that she is very sad, because something has happened on the trip, which she cannot forget.

The parents report you - oh, oh, oh. Even without a conviction, you will have a lot of trouble and sleepless nights. It was probably the last camp for the whole youth work team in your constituency. Unlikely? There have certainly been such cases where things have gone wrong.

Therefore, Maik’s number 1 rule is:

Keep your paws off participants as long as they are still participants!

Participants and participants

Which paragraphs of the law can we hide behind if someone in the group is under 16? Correct!: §180 and sometimes §182 too. This means that if participants express the desire to sleep in mixed tents, do we generally say “no” and look forward to the nightly hunting activities? You probably now know me well enough to have realised that there are a few exceptions.

There is a definite “no” if:

  • A couple expresses the desire to spend the night together
  • The "mixed night" is to take place in a closed room which I cannot permanently control
  • Just one single participant feels disturbed in their personal space or if I suspect that this could be the case

I can imagine the following situations as a clear “maybe”: If I spend the night with one or two other members of staff in a “secured” room. On our canoe tours, it can sometimes happen that the putting up of lots of tents is difficult to organise due to weather conditions. Such situations might also come about if a story telling evening is so nice that everyone falls asleep together. This is dependent upon the famous “pedagogical situation” and the level of trust between the team and the participants. A night spent together in the group can encourage the level of co-operation.
What if either parties, or everyone on the camp, are over 16 years of age? Is it then generally permitted to allow boys and girls or a couple to spend the night together? That is a very good question... Nothing can happen to you from a legal point of view, but if dealing in this way makes sense, depends on the individual situation.

Are all participants over 16 really in a position to sexual self-determination? I mean: Not necessarily. Group and peer pressure goes one step further, so that one or two experiences are not seen in such a good light at a later date. You will need lots of tact, experience and competence to react in the right way as a group leader. Make sure to ask a third party for help if you have the smallest of doubts that your decision might not be correct. In all situations, you should generally make sure that no one feels that their personal space is being invaded. If this is the case, then I must make sure that I have some alternative plans.

Members of staff and participants

Maik’s number 1 rule once again:

Paws off participants as long as they still are participants!

Otherwise law §223b threatens. I admit that this approach very conservative, especially as so many serious relationships have started life on holiday camps. Which can be done against the feeling “love”? – First of all, you should be able to tell the difference between “love“ and “being in love”. Otherwise something else threatens which we can easily forget when caught up in the whirlwind of romance:

You, as a member of staff, prioritise your relationship to a certain participant which often leads to "agreement refraction". You will certainly bring a damaging imbalance into the group and into the camp. There will lots of rumours and the stirring pot will be bubbling over.

An old man would think (grins): It isn’t worth it! The participants are entrusted to us. They should be the ones enjoying their camp and not us. There is nothing to stop you developing a platonic relationship (providing it is lawfully allowed) once the camp is over.

One other point is not unimportant: The legislator had something in mind when they thought up this law. There is a massive difference between idolisation (which always flatters the soul) and the word “love”. Someone who looks after me is generally fantastic at first. Anyone who uses the situation to their own advantage has forgotten something important: The spirit of free, independent and educative youth work.

Oh yes: and the subject “spending the night together” should not come into discussion at all here. That is simply not allowed for legal and pedagogical reasons.

Staff and staff

We have staff tents on our camps. The number of tents is always kept to a minimum because we all agreed at some point, that it is not good for a couple to work together in a tent village (key word: building of fractions). The concluding result is usually that the couple want a tent for themselves, so that they have night times together, although, on these types of camps, there is usually little opportunity and the staff is far too tired.

§223b StGB obviously does not apply to members of staff, however the application of law §182 StGB is possible and there will also be some parents of members of staff who are sensitive. Apart from this, the trip leader is in danger of breaching law §180 StGB, if he allows two people to spend the night together if one is over 18 and one is under 16. This really is a balancing act when you think about the possible consequences. Such couples really are not rare. Therefore: Always try to recognise the needs of the leader, even if he does appear to be snooty at first.

The participants should not suffer in any way just because my girlfriend/boyfriend is also a member of staff. The participants should not suffer in any way just because my girlfriend/boyfriend is also a member of staff. That is not a printing mistake, but should be taken for granted. Getting to know each other can also take place in the quieter times of the day. I do not know how things have come about in your group, but we have had a lot of couples getting together in the “heated” times and some couples are still together today. I believe that this is normal, because if we work with children and youths, we often meet people who are on a similar wavelength. It becomes difficult and problematic for the team if two members are permanently “sticking to each other like glue” and put their own needs before the needs of the participants. In this type of situation, do not be shy to speak to both of them about it – sometimes you will even be doing something good for the relationship.

Source: Supplied to with kind permission from Maik Riecken ( Translated into English by Praxis-Jugendarbeit. The text is based on German law but is bound to contain one or two tips on the correct way to deal with the subject. You should be aware of the youth protection laws in your own country. Any youth leaders who are unsure about how to handle the subject should seek advice. A clear position is very important.

On Maiks website you will find further themes, tips and ideas for youth work as well as an extensive list of links to collections of games, devotions, laws, camps, camping sites etc. (all in German language). If the above text has helped you in any way, Maik would be pleased to receive any (us too, of course).

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