RURAL RETREAT, Va. – The Association for Research and Enlightenment describes itself as a 90-year-old organization for people to explore meditation, holistic health and the meaning of life. But eight women who filed lawsuits against the organization Wednesday allege they were sexually harassed, abused or raped as children while attending its rural Virginia summer camp.
In the lawsuits, filed in state court in Virginia Beach, where the organization is headquartered, the women describe what they said was a decadeslong camp culture that let adult male staffers sexually abuse young female campers with impunity.
During a virtual news conference, four of the women described the alleged abuse and a cult-like atmosphere at the camp, where they said they were taught unconditional love and forgiveness, even toward their abusers.
“The organization made a rape culture possible,” said one of the women, identified in the complaint only as Lynsey Doe.
The A.R.E. organization was founded by Edgar Cayce in 1931. On its website, the association says Cayce, who died in 1945, has been described as the “father of holistic medicine” and “the most documented psychic of the 20th century." The organization describes its mission as creating opportunities for personal change in body, mind and spirt using Cayce’s readings.
The A.R.E. Camp opened in the early 1960s and is located in Rural Retreat, a small southwest Virginia town.
The women said the sexual abuse led to a variety of emotional and psychological problems for them, including substance abuse, anxiety and depression. Stephen Estey, one of the attorneys representing the women, said the lawsuits seek $10 million in damages for each.