RURAL RETREAT, Va. (WFXR) — Four women who say they were sexually abused as children at a spiritual camp in Rural Retreat have filed a $41 million lawsuit.
The camp is owned by the Association For Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.), which is based in Virginia Beach.
The A.R.E. follows the teachings of Edgar Cayce, a self-proclaimed psychic who died in 1945.
One of the women suing A.R.E. says she was first raped at the camp when she was just 13 years old.
A woman — identified as Lynsey — says counselors convinced underage girls that they were on the path to enlightenment, saying the organization’s teachings on reincarnation helped some justify the abuse of minors.
“Unfortunately, this false sense of security made underage campers like myself even more vulnerable to manipulation and abuse,” she said. “The older I get, the more often I saw how the A.R.E. teachings set the stage for a silent epidemic of sexual assault and violence against young children and women, including myself.”
The lawsuit also alleges camp leaders failed to report decades of incidents of suspected child abuse as required by law.
It claims sexual assaults date back as far as the 1980s.
The camp closed in the summer of 2019 and the Executive Director for Edgar Cayce’s A.R.E., Kevin Todeschi, said in a statement on Wednesday, April 28 it will not reopen until they have addressed all the concerns.
“Since we do not know what the legal papers say, or what the precise allegations are, we can’t provide any detailed response at this time and decline your offer of an interview.
Last summer, on the Camp’s Facebook account, we became aware that out of the thousands of individuals who have attended Camp over the past half-century or so, a number posted that they had experienced or had seen inappropriate behavior, and even sexual assault. Our Board immediately responded, ultimately commissioning an experienced and independent outside investigation agency to look into all these allegations, and to encourage anyone who experienced harm to come forward. That opportunity was posted on the Camp’s Facebook page and everyone who attended camp in the past decade was contacted. Those who responded were assured of confidentiality by our Board and by the independent investigation agency, and we have kept that promise.
That investigation continues and the Board began receiving interim reports in March. Two Board committees were established last June, one to address any systemic or policy-based changes needed, and the other to review camp personnel. These committees are currently reviewing the investigative reports. We are asking the independent investigators to formulate their recommendations as to any needed changes. We have also retained the independent agency to offer separate, stand-alone, confidential healing and remediation services, of which some former campers have chosen to take advantage.
No Camp activity has occurred since the summer of 2019. None will occur this year until we are satisfied we have addressed any still-existing concerns.
We continue to be extraordinarily distressed by these allegations. The camp has been in operation for decades. Sexual assault or assault of any kind has never been even remotely acceptable. Such conduct is contrary to everything we believe in. The Camp is a Family Camp that focuses on healthy living for body, mind, and spirit.
We will respond more directly and in detail in the course of the proceedings, after we have seen the lawsuit.
Executive Director & CEO”