Even as NJY Camps, the embattled New Jersey network of JCC Association of North America-affiliated summer camps, focuses on moving forward with a new board, two alleged victims have come forward.
They include the first victim to claim she was a minor when she was allegedly sexually abused by the network’s former executive director, Len Robinson.
Joanna — who requested that her full name not be used to protect her privacy — was 17 and working at the library of Camp Nah-Jee-Wah during the summer of 1994 when Robinson first sexually assaulted her, she claimed.
Meanwhile, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office confirmed that it is reviewing materials related to other allegations that have arisen against Robinson and NJY Camps’ handling of the matter.
“We are determining if there is basis for a criminal investigation,” a spokesperson from the Prosecutors Office told NJJN on April 8.
An NJY Camps spokesperson said the camp has not been contacted by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, but “we will cooperate fully” if contacted.
According to a police report filed in 2000, Joanna said Robinson sexually assaulted her eight times over the course of the summer. She was working at the camp as a library assistant under the supervision of Robinson’s wife, Carol Robinson, according to the police report.
Len Robinson did not respond to requests for comment.
The first alleged sexual assault took place when Robinson drove her to a deserted location under the guise of taking her out for a drive and a drink.
“His repulsive behavior had a psychological impact on me until this moment,” recalled Joanna, now 42, in an interview with NJJN. She said she struggled with self-esteem and had difficulty navigating relationships throughout her young adulthood because of the experience. “He stomped on my soul, and I was left to pick up the pieces.”
The alleged assaults continued during the fall of 1994, when Robinson continued to call and visit Joanna’s home to solicit sex, according to police records. She said he would give her alcohol and money.
When she was 19, Robinson introduced her to cocaine, Joanna alleged. She told the police she was “depressed and did not feel strong enough to tell [Robinson] to leave her alone.”
A middle school teacher today, Joanna said she chose to speak out when she heard that one of her students was going to be attending NJY Camps this summer. “I had to make sure this couldn’t happen to another camper,” she said.
Marci Hamilton, a national expert on child abuse prevention and CEO of Child USA, said it is “very common” for young victims of sexual assault to re-engage with the alleged offender.
“A minor is not old enough to withstand a perpetrator’s grooming tactics to find his or her way out of the loop,” she said. “Child victims can carry guilt for their whole lives for ‘going back,’ and perpetrators encourage that kind of thinking. It allows them to maintain control.”
NJY Camps said in a statement that the organization is working “aggressively” to reinvent itself in the aftermath of Robinson’s removal and the entire board’s resignation earlier this year. Abuse prevention policies and reassessments are on hold until the new leadership assumes responsibilities, expected to take place this month. A spokesperson said that until then the camping network is “following all the necessary procedures called for by our bylaws.”
Joanna reported the incidents of sexual assault to the Ramsey Police Department when she was 23. Though the detective bureau began investigating the matter at the time, the criminal statute of limitations had expired and Joanna “did not wish to pursue the matter,” according to the report. The case was considered closed.
Joanna was not among the 11 women who reported being harassed, abused, or otherwise harmed by Robinson over the course of an independent investigation commissioned by NJY Camps last year. She spoke exclusively to NJJN after the paper first published a report of allegations against Robinson. Her claims were corroborated by her college roommate, who recalled Robinson picking up Joanna from her dorm room in college.
In addition, Amy, a former associate director at NJY Camps, is alleging that Robinson, then her boss, sexually assaulted her in his car during the winter of 1999. At the time, she was 42 and a separated mother of two. (Amy requested that her full name not be used for privacy reasons.)
“I felt paralyzed,” she told NJJN. “It was the worst experience of my life.”
Amy said she did not have the financial means to leave her job and felt she had no recourse to report the incident, as Robinson was the organization’s executive director. She remained at the camp, but refused to be alone with Robinson going forward.
Her story was corroborated by two contemporaneous NJY colleagues, including Ellen Goldner, the former president of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. Goldner previously told NJJN that she reported the incident to the former president of NJY Camps, who dismissed the allegation and declined to investigate the matter further. The former president did not respond to requests for comment.
Amy, whose story was included in the investigative report commissioned by NJY Camps last year, is further alleging that she was “subjected to retaliation” by NJY Camps for participating in the investigation and disclosing that she had been sexually assaulted by Robinson, according to her attorney, Richard Swartz.
Responding to these new allegations, an NJY Camps spokesperson said: “Amy was a valued member of the NJY Camps staff for many years. We don’t comment on personnel matters.”
Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer for The New York Jewish Week, NJJN’s sister publication.