Amid Summer Camp Sexual Abuse Lawsuit, Experts Say Policies, Oversight Needed
Eight women recently filed a lawsuit against a Virginia summer camp, claiming they were sexually abused by staff. The complaints raise questions about training and prevention across the industry as camps reopen for the summer.
Many former campers say Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment camp in Southwest Virginia was a welcoming place to enjoy nature and make friends. But others, including Hannah Furbush, say a cult-like culture led to abuse.
“You were coerced into thinking that camp was full of well intentioned people, a community of love and light where bad behavior can be meditated and hugged away,” she says.
Another survivor, who goes by Jane Doe 1, says she was assaulted numerous times at the camp named for the early 20th century clairvoyant. She says the camp’s message of unconditional love blurred the lines between right and wrong.
“Many of the camp's physical daily practices such as giving everyone hugs and massages made it impossible to set personal boundaries or avoid unwanted physical touch from adults,” she says. “Abusers use this erosion of boundaries as a grooming process that normalized sexually coercive behavior.”
Attorney Steve Estey represents the women named in the lawsuit. He says it appears there was no oversight at the camp.
“From what we can tell, all of the counselors were trained by A.R.E themselves,” Estey says. “They didn’t have any mandated reporter training up until probably the last few years. And even then, we’re not sure exactly what the nature and extent of the training was.”
Estey says if camp leadership were made aware of potential sexual abuse, they had an obligation to report it to law enforcement.
“I think that we're going to be able to prove that for sure,” Estey says. “And that would be in violation of the law.”
Rahel Bayar is a consultant for summer camps around the country and a former sex crimes and child abuse prosecutor based in New York City. She advises parents to feel comfortable asking camp administrators about their policies, and says a big “red flag” is getting defensive answers instead of a clear explanation.
“In the same way that you would ask the camp if they were peanut free, if your child had peanut allergies, in the same way that we don’t play around with life and death when it comes to allergies, it is important to empower parents to ask questions,” Bayar says.
Bayar says all camps are different, so there is no set standard for training. But there are plenty of resources and training opportunities available to camps, whether they’re public, private or religious.
Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment did not provide a comment for this story.