PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Beach-based Association for Research and Enlightenment is facing allegations of covering up and facilitating generations of sexual assault that allegedly took place at the organization’s camp in southwest Virginia.
Eight women have come forward in a lawsuit filed in Virginia Beach Circuit Court, alleging they were harassed and sexually abused for years, and it started when they were teenagers.
At the camp in Rural Retreat, Virginia, victims say they were taught that love, light and service were essential. But, that’s not all. According to two lawsuits, the camp included hugging circles, massage trains, and the “Liberated Underwear Movement.”
In a Zoom news conference hosted by a San Diego-based law firm, several plaintiffs offered disturbing details on what they say happened at the camp over a period of years.
“Instead of spirituality, we learned about the Liberated Underwear Movement, where the female and male campers marched through camp in the bras and panties and boxers. A trusted counselor took our photos and posted the photo on Facebook,” said plaintiff Cheyenne Doe.
One plaintiff added nudity was also part of the culture.
“I witnessed male counselors send love notes to female campers and regularly participated in events that involved camper and counselors being naked together. This is A.R.E camp culture, said a plaintiff identified Hannah Furbush.
Another plaintiff said she was raped at the camp, apparently, more than once. “The first time I was raped by an adult I was 13 I reported it to the camp manager and nothing was done,” said plaintiff Lynsey Doe.
In the news conference, plaintiff’s attorney Mary Bajo described a cover-up and a cult-like culture.
“Some of the perpetrators are people who filtered through the camp and grew up in this culture of no boundaries, no limitations [and] no checks on their behavior. So they began sexually assaulting at a young age and it continued as they became adult staff members,” said Bajo.
The San Diego-based law firm representing the victims says a third lawsuit is pending and it encourages other potential victims to come forward.
The law firm says the allegations date back to the 1980s and one incident occurred at the A.R.E massage school at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
10 On Your Side has reached out to law enforcement officials in Virginia Beach and Smyth County Virginia to determine if criminal investigations are pending.
Kevin Todeschi, the director of A.R.E., told the Associated Press the allegations are contrary to everything the organization stands for and an internal investigation is underway.
The lawsuits name Todeschi and A.R.E. as defendants. A.R.E. was founded in 1931 by spiritualist Edgar Cayce.
Each victim is demanding a trial by jury and $350,000 in punitive damages. Each lawsuit seeks a judgment against each defendant, jointly and severally, in the amount of $10 million.