A recent Jezebel story profiling survivor advocate Joelle Casteix is an inspiration and reminder to everyone fighting on behalf of sexual abuse survivors, that persistence pays off. For over a decade, Joelle has repeatedly demanded that her abuser, Thomas Hodgman, be fired from Adrian College in Michigan where he works as a music professor – a similar position he held when he sexually abused Joelle at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana when she was 15 years old.
Joelle was inspired by the #MeToo movement that has swept the country in recent months, to write an open letter to Adrian College and the school’s president, Jeffrey Docking, again calling for Hodgman’s dismissal. Unfortunately, the school has refused to fire Hodgman, citing his contract and tenured status as excuses to retain him as a professor.
Historically, the Catholic Church and other powerful institutions like it, have fostered a culture of silence and secrecy surrounding sexual abuse. Secrecy looks like moving known offenders from parish to parish without notifying the community of allegations. Secrecy looks like withholding documents that hold the key to justice for many survivors. In Joelle’s case, documents accidentally released by the court revealed a 1989 letter signed by Hodgman admitting to “dating” 15 year-old Joelle, and another student, and having “sexual intercourse” with them. The sexual abuse grooming process mirrors the Church’s culture in that offenders strategically develop relationships with victims grounded in secrecy; their goal is to increase the likelihood that the victim will remain silent.
Joelle shattered that silence in 2003 when she pursued a civil lawsuit for the abuse by Hodgman and received a settlement from the Diocese of Orange in 2005. Decades later, Adrian College stands behind Hodgman – further cultivating the silencing of victims. Joelle has demonstrated that she is no longer a victim and she will not be silenced. Her voice is commanding and if you have ever had the honor of witnessing Joelle speak, you will find that it seems unquestionably natural for her to be a voice for others. Each time she uses her voice, Joelle lifts the burden of secrecy and silence and she gives other survivors the permission to speak their truths. Joelle holds the power to protect other children, and she doesn’t take that lightly. From authoring countless books on child abuse prevention, to advocating for survivors across the county, to exposing abuse and institutional cover-up – Joelle is the definition of persistence and power.