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Victims come forward in Circle C sexual-misconduct case

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Posted at 5:10 PM, Mar 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-31 19:30:44-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Three days after sexual misconduct allegations were raised about a Cattaraugus County youth camp director -- allegations the camp director denied -- additional women have come forward to say that they either witnessed or experienced as teenagers inappropriate sexual contact by Wayne Aarum.

Many say the former Chapel at Crosspoint minister and president of Circle C Ranch abused his spiritual authority over three decades -- and that the inappropriate contact with teen girls was the camp’s worst-kept secret.

“We all knew starting on Monday -- when the campers arrived -- we all could pick out which of our girls were going to receive the most attention, be the favorite and the ones we would keep an eye on,” Heather Sticht, a former employee of the camp, said in an interview with 7 Eyewitness News.

Sticht, who said she worked at the summer camp from 2000 to 2003, said she witnessed Aarum hug a girl “in a way that his fingers would be touching the underwire of her bra.”

“I’d see Wayne touching these girls, exactly the ones we knew he would, at the rock climbing wall,” Stitch said. “Keeping his hands on their bodies way too long when it wasn’t necessary at all.”

Last week, 7 Eyewitness News reported that at least 21 women have come forward to lawyers hired by The Chapel at Crosspoint to probe allegations of inappropriate touching and contact with girls by Aarum, a former employee of The Chapel who worked there in the 1990s.

MinistrySafe, the Texas organization hired by The Chapel to investigate the claims, stated that 27 people came forward to corroborate some of the alleged behaviors, though Aarum denied the allegations.

“No,” he said when asked whether he ever touched anyone inappropriately. “I have zero recollection of that. I can honestly say no.”

Aarum added, “Did someone contact them before MinistrySafe did? To more or less prime the pump?”

But the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team heard from multiple women who said they were not included in the MinistrySafe investigation, which examined claims stretching as far back as the 1990s, and who said their allegations stem from a time at Circle C Ranch between 2000 and 2016.

An alleged victim who is now 25 and who said she was heavily involved at Circle C said, “He would sit next to me and put his hand on my leg and rub my inner thigh and outer thigh. It was those subtle touches that made me scared and uncomfortable.”

Another woman who is now 29 said that when she and her friend were waiting for a ride home from the camp in 2007 or 2008, Aarum came up behind the girl and said [he] “hugged me from behind. Tight hugging. I remember looking at my friend in pure terror.”

This woman said that at times Aarum would corner her in the camp and that one time, when she was 15 years old, he told her, “you’re just so beautiful and guys are going to want to be with you and have sex with you because you’re so beautiful.”

She said, “the staff all knew about it. People brought this to his attention. It made me mad watching the interview.”

Aarum, reached by phone denies that and all the allegations, saying again he wants the opportunity to talk with "anyone who has a problem with him."

"I'm not sure who's saying it and what they're referring to," he said. "I wish I had a more accurate way to respond to some of these things people are saying."

Multiple women told the 7 Eyewitness News I-Team that Aarum would sometimes touch intimate areas and would grab their bra straps.

Another woman wrote that the hugs were so bad that “he proceeded to rub my back and hug me for an uncomfortably long time, and did not let go when I tried to pull away.”

Sticht said she brought the complaints to Wes Aarum, the brother of Wayne Aarum who was also involved in ministry at the camp. But she never saw any improvement in Wayne Aarum’s behavior, she said.

Aarum denied such behavior last week, saying, “I can tell you right now I never did that—and I would love an opportunity to talk to them.”

Another alleged victim wrote to the I-Team that the inappropriate contact such as the unsolicited long hugs and hands near or on the breasts and hips were so disturbing that the youth group she was a part of confronted Aarum and his father.

“He assured them they wouldn’t see this behavior again,” she said. “This was maybe 12 or so years ago. My youth group never went back to Circle C.”

Circle C Ranch has provided a written response on its website in response to these allegations.

In response to that written statement, Kimberly Norris, one of the founders of MinistrySafe, and the attorney who did The Chapel investigation provided the following information:

"Neither the Circle C board (or its parent corporation, Living Waters Ministries) has ever contacted me, MinistrySafe or the law firm of Love & Norris.

Neither I nor MinistrySafe (or any representative of the law firm) have ever offered information for payment to Circle C or Living Waters Ministries.

Instead, Chapel leaders offered to share information gathered in the course of the investigation IF Circle C undertook an independent investigation in good faith.

Few of the women who came forward during the investigation knew other; the behavior complained of spanned DECADES.

I found each of the women to be credible; patterns of predatory behavior emerged and grew more egregious as time passed.

My evaluation of credibility is based upon 30 years of past experience interacting with fact witnesses and abuse survivors.

The investigation yielded an extraordinary amount of corroborating evidence from third party sources, most of whom were former staff members.

In addition, a contemporaneous writing provided evidence that the behaviors were previously reported to camp leadership.

After article publication, the law firm has been inundated with calls and emails from additional fact witnesses and victims.

Finally, the notion that the allegations were ‘planted’ or suggested by counselors or ‘social workers’ is patently absurd."

7 Eyewitness News has also heard from more than a dozen people who have reached out to defend Aarum. Many of these people say he could not have possibly done what he is accused.