A Christian summer camp leader has been accused of inappropriately touching multiple girls during his time on staff there. It comes, coincidentally, just months after another major Christian camp was exposed for similar reasons.
The latest story involves Circle C Ranch in New York, founded in 1968 by Wes Aarum Sr. Circle C Ranch hosts summer camps each year and church retreats in the winter, and for many years, it was run by Wayne Aarum, son of the founder and a former youth pastor at a church called The Chapel.
Wayne Aarum is the man accused of the inappropriate behavior, according to Sarah Taddeo and Georgie Silvarole of the USA Today Network.
He touched girls without consent — on their breasts and thighs and crotches — in a way that was so common to his victims, they eventually had a name for it: “Getting Wayne’d.”
Fourteen women across the U.S. shared their stories on the record for this report; two others declined to share their names publicly but said they experienced similar conduct. Nineteen others — 14 of them speaking on the record, including former camp staff members, their family members and pastors in the region — said they personally witnessed Aarum’s actions, or heard about them from staff or loved ones.
Leadership at both The Chapel and Circle C Ranch, and also Aarum himself, have been confronted with concerns about his conduct at least 20 times since 1997, according to excerpts from Aarum’s employee personnel file at The Chapel, and interviews with youth group members at The Chapel, Circle C staff and pastors in the western New York area.
Aarum denies all of this. Yet the complaints became so overwhelming that The Chapel hired an independent investigator last year to check out these claims… and the verdict was that the complaints could not be ignored:
“I found each of the women to be credible,” said attorney and founder of MinistrySafe Kimberlee Norris, who has practiced law addressing child sexual abuse for over 30 years. “Patterns of predatory behavior emerged and grew more egregious as time passed.”
Those results were serious enough that the church decided to cut all ties with the Circle C Ranch. Meanwhile, the camp’s leaders (including Wayne Aarum and his brother) said they conducted their own investigation… and found nothing to worry about. Shocking.
A couple of months ago, before the USA Today Network article named names of the victims who were willing to describe their experiences, Aarum claimed he couldn’t even respond to the accusations because he said he didn’t know who was making them.
No wonder some of those victims stepped forward and ditched their anonymity — an incredible act of courage.
So what is Aarum doing now? Well, just this past week, he filed a defamation lawsuit against The Chapel (his former employer) and its executive pastor John Camardo, seeking more than $3 million in damages.
Whether or not that lawsuit has any merit, what seems clear is that Aarum met with underage girls privately, touched them in ways they didn’t want, and still refuses to admit any wrongdoing. In fact the camp’s own report (dismissing all the allegations) didn’t deny the touching; it just blamed the victims for taking it the wrong way:
[The women] misinterpreted Aarum’s gestures of good will because of a “common type of trauma in their past … that makes them ultra-sensitive to certain kinds of verbal Bible teaching or certain physical actions such as hugs that are entirely appropriate and not at all offensive to other women in the same circumstances.”
If well over a dozen women had similar unwanted experiences with Aarum, it’s hard to imagine they were all just misinterpreting a hug. Especially when those hugs allegedly involved groping their butts and inner thighs…
While Aarum’s alleged actions may not rise to a level of criminality, partly because the statute of limitations has expired, how many women have to come forward before there’s any accountability? It’s clear the people running Circle C Ranch don’t care. All the more reason to spread these stories so that families are aware of happens there before they decide to put their children in the camp’s trust.
(Thanks to Rob for the link)