A dozen additional young women have joined a lawsuit against a new-age Virginia summer camp alleging “a dangerous cycle of sexual abuse and cover-up.”
“We realized that the problem was much bigger than we initially expected,” said attorney Steve Estey in an interview on the Law&Crime Network program Brian Ross Investigates.
The camp, located in the mountains of southwestern Virginia, was considered by generations of families as an idyllic place to send their children.
But the lawsuit led to the closure of the camp and the forced retirement of the executive director of the group that runs the camp, Association for Research and Enlightenment, A.R.E..
Two former staff members have also come forward to allege senior management knew a lot more than they had initially let known.
When the claims first emerged, Lora Little, the chair of A.R.E, said she was unaware of the alleged sexual assaults until the lawsuit was filed, and promised a full investigation.
“I feel that there were many opportunities that the administration was given to prevent actually some of these incidents from happening,” Karen Boldt, a former employee at the A.R.E. headquarters in Virginia Beach, told Brian Ross.
“And all along the way, no one was willing to take responsibility or accountability. And even after it was exposed over a year ago, all of these things that happened, there was still this denial. There was a lack of urgency to really find out the truth,” Boldt said.
Boldt said she was eventually terminated when refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement that she considered a “gag order.”
Tyler Dewey, a former camper and counselor at the camp, says A.R.E. always put the survival of the camp over the needs of young people who had been sexually abused.
“I noticed a very toxic pattern of talking to the families and saying this is a one-off occurrence when in fact it was happening every summer or summer,” Dewey said.
“It was actually systemic and a pattern, but nobody named it that way. And nobody knows who realized it didn’t speak up and those who didn’t,” he continued.
Dewey also said some of the older males who were accused of wrongdoing were rehired at the camp regardless of the reports.
The lawsuit cites Dewey as one of the camp counselors who failed to take action after hearing reports of sexual abuse. He denies that.
Some former campers who brought the lawsuit say they are only now realizing the twisted nature of the activities that they participated in.
Hannah Furbush, now 27, said she started to notice that the female campers, including other teenagers like her at the time, were being preyed upon by older male staff members.
Furbush said she was coerced into participating in a “liberated underwear movement.” During the event, minor female campers would strip down to their underwear and run through the camp.
Other allegations include the so-called “Massage Trains,” where campers and staff allegedly gave each other massages and back rubs.
“You had no say in who touched you,” said Furbush. “And oftentimes when you are a tall woman like myself, being hugged by somebody from behind, you’re being touched in a place that you don’t want to be touched.”
It is not clear when, or if, the camp will reopen.
“I feel it’s important to move forward with retiring and transition out of my leadership role by the end of the year to facilitate the healing process of the organization and the camp community,” retiring executive director Kevin Todeshi told the Law&Crime Network. “However, it is important to note that I was not involved in any infractions at A.R.E camp, nor did I participate in any suppression of information about any camp incident, as confirmed by the Board’s internal investigation and third party external investigation.”
A.R.E. declined to comment due to the pending litigation.
[image/ courtesy of Tyler Dewey]
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