Last Thursday, Jefferson Jerome Fietek, a former teacher and theater director at Anoka Middle School for the Arts, was arrested on multiple charges of sexual abuse perpetrated against four students between approximately 2009 and 2019. Just a few weeks prior, a courageous survivor sexually abused by Fietek came forward and reported the abuse to law enforcement. A criminal investigation led to the discovery of more survivors who also courageously shared their truths. This cascade of courage is admirable, and we respect each individual who overcame the extraordinary internal and external challenges that stem from child sexual abuse in order to come forward. Each survivor added urgency, power, and velocity to the criminal investigation, which led to Fietek’s arrest and charges involving seven counts of criminal sexual misconduct.
The circumstances of Fietek’s ongoing sexual assaults of children in the arts educational community is unfortunately a familiar one to me and our work: charismatic artists, teachers, mentors, and leaders leveraging access, power, and opportunity to gain the trust, and ultimately the control, of talented children entrusted to their care.
We represented a group of survivors sexually assaulted while minors at Minneapolis’ Children’s Theatre Company who, although abused decades ago, courageously came forward as adults to demand truth-telling, accountability, and justice. There, the highly-regarded and charismatic co-founder and former artistic director created a culture in which he and numerous other actors and teachers sexually abused numerous minors over many years. Similarly, Fietek drew on his reputation as an esteemed, respected, and commended leader in the community – a leader who spoke out in support of gay students during a time of controversy in the district and started a non-profit, Young Artists Initiative – to gain the trust of parents and access to children. Through his work and position of power, he too fostered a culture that allowed him to manipulate and sexually abuse students and aspiring artists.
Artistic educational environments are fueled by children’s hope, aspirations, and vulnerabilities, as they should be. These children are uniquely vulnerable to charismatic leaders who encourage vulnerability as a means to develop artistry, who seemingly hold the fate of a child’s artistic future in their hands. Fietek, like other perpetrators, used this to his advantage. In so doing, Fietek committed crimes against children, and, in many cases, likely extinguished any artistic passions that brought these children to him in the first place.
Fietek’s abuse of power and criminal acts against children, however, have been met with a power that every survivor has – the power to speak the truth.
Fietek was an active educator of children in the Anoka area for many years. Unfortunately, from what we know about charismatic perpetrators in positions of power, it is likely there are dozens more who he harmed and assaulted as children. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse by Fietek, we encourage you to reclaim your power, further expose his crimes, and seek accountability by speaking your truth (publicly or anonymously). By coming forward, you can ensure other children will not be harmed as you were. It’s time.