PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — At 90 years old, the Virginia Beach-based Association for Research and Enlightenment is responding to serious allegations of sexual assault at a summer camp operated by the nonprofit just outside Roanoke.
The allegations are contained in two lawsuits filed on April 28 in Virginia Beach Circuit Court. The lawsuits name several defendants including A.R.E., which was founded by Edgar Cayce in 1931, and the organization’s Executive Director Kevin Todeschi.
The complaints, prepared by a San Diego-based law firm, allege eight teen girls were assaulted and harassed in a camp culture that set the stage for abuse and a coverup.
The details of the lawsuit were revealed in a live Zoom news conference where the plaintiffs, now adults, shared stories of how they were allegedly sexually abused and harassed.
A plaintiff described as “Jane Doe” offered a comment to reporters.
“I did not understand that what happened to me qualified as rape or abuse,” said Doe. Five plaintiffs are named as Jane Doe, one uses her full name and others used first names only in the lawsuits.
WAVY-TV 10 has launched an investigation into the organization and learned several employees at A.R.E. last summer called for top-to-bottom immediate resignations long before the lawsuits were filed. The demands for resignations were presented to A.R.E after the allegations of sexual assault were exposed in a Facebook post last summer.
Dr. Tera Mcintosh, then-chair at A.R.E’S Atlantic University, was one of four employees who added their names to the letter; others are listed as anonymous staff contributors.
“There were a lot of red flags, from blatant racist comments to sexual harassment, to even the hiding of sexual abuse. As a teacher, I am a mandated reporter, so I knew this was a crime. So I wasn’t just collecting rumors, I verified the stories of a lot of these survivors and victims,” said McIntosh in a Zoom interview from her home in North Carolina.
Two lawsuits filed last week in Virginia Beach paint not the bucolic charm of Rural Retreat, Virginia, but accounts that include predator grooming, sexual harassment of teen girls, and rape.
McIntosh, as a survivor of the sexual assault scandal in the Catholic church, offered this assessment of the allegations. “The courage and the strength it took just to share their stories is commendable. I want to thank them for coming forward and I want to thank everyone who has talked to me, as I wanted to get the story and report it because it’s not easy to share your story in a culture that is embedded with toxicity,” said McIntosh.
The lawsuits state sexual assault cases at the camp date back to the 1980s. McIntosh called the camp a breeding ground for predator behavior.
“I know that there are more victims. I know that there are more victims of abuse, of sexual harassment. I know that there are more victims of discrimination in this toxic workplace and that’s just from my own investigation,” said McIntosh.
The lawsuits state victims were subjected to groping, nudity, sexual harassment, and sexual assault and A.R.E failed to report assaults to law enforcement. Before the lawsuits were filed, McIntosh and others wrote there was… “negligence the disregard for safety and welfare of staff, students, members, and visitors..”
“That letter was written and sent to the board in June . There was little response, to be quite frankly honest. They said that they would explore further and interview those that signed the letter. They sent us a generic email saying they are going to create some ad-hoc committees to address these issues… We all responded the same way, we even sent the board secretary emails back saying this is not OK. This is disappointing this hurts our soul.”
McIntosh says months later, she was demoted. In February, she resigned. WAVY-TV reached out to A.R.E. to ask about the assault allegations and the letter that demanded the immediate resignations of Executive Director Kevin Todeschi, the director of Human Resources, and others.
Board of Trustees Chair Lora Little issued a response: “The leadership at Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment is 100% committed to fostering an environment of diversity, inclusivity, equity, and awareness. Upon learning of allegations contrary to those ideals, the Board of Trustees thoroughly investigated those complaints, ensured confidentiality at every step in the process, and implemented a number of systemic changes including:
- “a new human resources director
- organization-wide diversity and sexual harassment training
- creating a safe environment for staff to communicate concerns
- holding leadership responsible for ensuring a workplace that is diverse, supportive, and inclusive.”
Little went on to say A.R.E encourages any staff with concerns to come forward — and they can do so with confidentiality.
WAVY-TV also contacted the Virginia Beach Police Department to determine whether it has launched an investigation into A.R.E based on information in the lawsuits.
Public Information Officer Linda J. Kuehn issued a statement: “There was a report filed on April 20, 2021, for a report of a sexual assault, however, the victim stated that she did not wish to prosecute at this time. If the victim chooses to pursue prosecution in the future, then the case will be reopened.”
As for Smyth County where the camp is located, an unidentified spokesperson for the sheriff’s office sent a statement saying “I’m sorry we don’t comment on possible criminal investigations.”
Little also issued a statement directly addressing the allegations in the two lawsuits.
“We take these very troubling allegations extremely seriously, and upon hearing of them this past June (prior to any lawsuit), we immediately commissioned an independent agency to conduct a comprehensive investigation to uncover the truth. That investigation is still ongoing and we encourage any victim who has experienced any kind of harm to confidentially come forward as well as access our counseling resources. Once the investigation concludes, we will outline next steps to not only ensure full accountability but to make sure that A.R.E. is a safe and welcoming place for all,” wrote Little.
The San Diego-based law firm that’s representing the eight plaintiffs told reporters a similar third lawsuit is pending.