Additional potential victims and witnesses claiming sexual misconduct emanating from the Colorado Springs-headquartered Christian ministry Young Life are contacting Denver law firm Rathod / Mohamedbhai LLC for assistance, according to lead attorney Iris Halpern.
Meanwhile, four claims recently submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are working their way through the investigative process.
“A regular stream of survivors or witnesses are calling us, and the communications and context show there’s a national problem happening here, and the organization really needs to take harassment and discrimination seriously,” Halpern said Wednesday.
“It has policies and practices that don’t encourage survivors to come forward, and they don’t seem to address the heart of the problem — there’s a culture problem across the board.”
In a statement to The Gazette, Young Life contends: “The safety and well-being of all participants is a top priority for our organization, and abuse is not tolerated.”
Alleged victims from around the nation claim the 80-year-old organization, one of Colorado Springs’ largest Christian ministries with revenue of $361 million in 2020, according to financial documents, for decades has covered up complaints of sexual assault and harassment involving members, staff and volunteers.
The ministry provides youth groups and camps for nearly half a million middle school, high school and college students around the world through 2,300 field offices.
Victims who say they faced sexual assault, unwanted touching or unwanted sexual attention while working for or participating in Young Life activities began speaking out in an investigation published in October by Business Insider, a New York City-headquartered financial and business news website.
At least one of the alleged cases occurred in Colorado.
A lawsuit filed in federal court in Denver in June 2020 claimed Laureana Arellano was racially and sexually harassed at a Young Life summer camp in Colorado in 2019. The case reached a settlement agreement in September, with undisclosed terms, Halpern said.
Arellano, who lived in Colorado at the time, describes in the legal complaint how a coworker assaulted her by “shoving his hand down her apron and groping her genitalia.”
A manager told her it was “God’s plan,” court paperwork states.
Arellano says she was let go from her volunteer position in the kitchen of the camp after reporting that she witnessed male campers grope a female camper’s breasts.
Young Life is a mandatory reporter in all jurisdictions, the organization said in its statement to The Gazette, meaning it is required by law to report to authorities reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect.
“Sexual conduct, anti-harassment and mandatory reporting policies, along with rigorous training, are designed to equip Young Life staff and volunteers to recognize improper or criminal behavior and to take immediate and appropriate action,” Young Life said.
“This is my story” begins descriptive posts from former Young Lifers on the recently formed @metooyounglife on Instagram.
One anonymous woman said she felt like she and other Young Life staff and volunteers led a double life in college. They’d hold Bible studies during the week and “party on the weekends.”
One night she got drunk and went with a male leader to his house, where she thought she’d sleep it off. Instead, he undressed her and “everything but sex happened” — without her consent.
When she reported the incident, she said area directors told her she wasn’t supposed to drink that much and “made me feel as if I had some responsibility.”
Since 2000, at least eight Young Life staff members and volunteers have been charged criminally, following claims of sexual abuse, according to Business Insider.
Among them, a volunteer leader in Michigan pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual misconduct after five men accused him of years of sexual abuse when they were teenagers. And an adult employee in California received jail time for allegedly having sex and impregnating a 15-year-old in his Young Life group.