The Association for Research and Enlightenment is facing two lawsuits from eight rape and sexual assault survivors for allowing counselors and staff members to sexually abuse underage campers at camp programs and other A.R.E.-sponsored activities.
The charges are outlined in two lawsuits filed in the Second Judicial District Court that serves Virginia Beach.
The lawsuits were filed on behalf of eight sexual assault survivors, who are represented by the California law firm Estey & Bomberger.
The civil lawsuits target the Association for Research and Enlightenment that runs the summer camp program in Rural Retreat, Virginia. A.R.E. was founded in 1931 by spiritualist Edgar Cayce, who was a clairvoyant once known as “The Sleeping Prophet.”
The women named in the lawsuits allege that A.R.E.’s decades-long sexually abusive culture, in which campers were expected to participate in hands-on activities like daily “Hugging Circles” and “Massage Trains,” ultimately leading to their being sexually abused.
The “Liberated Underwear Movement” provides yet another example of how A.R.E. subjected young girls to abusive activities. The campers were expected to run through camp partially clad in their underwear.
And an activity known as “Goddess Night” also contributed to the camp’s sexually abusive culture, with young female campers expected to run naked through a field as male staffers and campers cheered them on.
Camper Lynsey Doe was sexually assaulted by two A.R.E. camp counselors starting in 2009 and continuing through 2014.
“I was 12 years old the first time I was sexually assaulted by an A.R.E. counselor,” Lynsey said. “I reported the assault to camp authorities, who did nothing. When I was 16, I returned to camp and I was forced to participate in a so-called ‘Forgiveness Circle,’ which meant I had to hug my abuser and say I forgave him. It was a horrible, degrading experience.”
Lynsey was a third generation A.R.E. camper and the first A.R.E. sexual assault victim to come forward in this lawsuit.
“The association’s practices were often passed down through generations, so entire families, including parents, bought into their beliefs. That created a false sense of trust and allowed sexually abusive practices to be perpetuated for years,” attorney Stephen Estey said.
A.R.E. managers were aware of sexual abuse complaints as far back as the late 1980s. The lawsuit says that additional reports of childhood sexual abuse continued to be received by management through June 2020, when a Facebook post exposed the long-simmering scandal.
While most of the victims named in the lawsuits were abused at A.R.E.’s summer camp in Rural Retreat, one victim was abused at A.R.E.’s massage school in Virginia Beach.
“They chose to cover it up instead of reporting it,” Mr. Estey said. “Their coverup and negligence demonstrate a pattern of systemic abuse that has traumatized my clients – they’re all suffering emotional anguish and anxiety as a result of being abused. They’re holding A.R.E. responsible for its negligence and demanding that A.R.E. establish strict policies to ensure children’s safety going forward.”
Estey urges other victims of A.R.E. sexual abuse to contact his office at 1-888-579-5648.