Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

A Prominent Sex-Abuse Survivor Hopes #MeToo Finally Gets Her Rapist Fired

Joelle Casteix at a news conference in Los Angeles in 2014. Image via AP.
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For the past 16 years, Dr. Thomas Hodgman has taught at Adrian College’s Music Department, where he currently serves as the choir director. He enjoys a tenured position at the school even though, in 2005, the Catholic Diocese of Orange County, California paid a $1.6 million settlement to Joelle Casteix, after she filed a civil lawsuit alleging that Hodgman repeatedly sexually assaulted her and gave her an STD in the late 1980s. Back then, Casteix was his student at Santa Ana’s Mater Dei High School. She was 15 years old. He was 25. Documents released as part of the settlement show a 1989 letter signed by him and Mater Dei’s principal that stated Hodgman “not only admitted to dating” an underage Casteix and another student, “but having sexual intercourse with them.”

Hodgman still teaches at the private, Methodist-affiliated Michigan college even though for the past 12 years, Casteix has repeatedly asked Adrian College to fire him, going so far as to post his Mater Dei confession online and meet with school officials (an Adrian College spokesperson told the Toledo Blade in 2005 that Hodgman had suffered “personal harassment” by Casteix, and that “we’ve supported Tom Hodgman since we hired him.”).

But in the tipping point of #MeToo, when powerful men are seeing consequences for decades-old abuses, Casteix hopes her rapist will be held accountable.

In November 2017, she published an open letter addressed to Adrian College President Jeffrey Docking, and cc’ed the school’s Title IX coordinator and the former president of the school’s Association of Professors. Casteix once again called for Hodgman’s dismissal, but added that she would be no longer play their victim. “The blame is not mine to bear. It is his and it is yours—for condoning the molestation of children,” she wrote. “With the recent scandals involving Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and other powerful men in media and Hollywood, the dam is breaking.”

And for her efforts, Docking blocked Casteix on Twitter, as did Adrian College’s official account.

“I was so proud to be blocked,” Casteix laughs, speaking via phone from her Newport Beach home. “I feel like I’m queen of Twitter!”

I’ve known Casteix for 14 years and, in 2009, covered her story in-depth for a feature in OC Weekly. By that time, she had become the public face of sex-abuse survivors in the Orange diocese sex-abuse scandal, which ended with church officials settling with 90 plaintiffs for $100 million—at the time, the largest such settlement in the history of the Catholic Church. Her story was especially compelling: Casteix had volunteered her PR skills in 2003 to help the Diocese of Orange navigate the controversy, then quit in disgust from an advisory board just six months in. “One priest would bitch and moan [about] public records of priests... that it was ruining their names,” Casteix said then. “Another would blame the media and say it was anti-Catholic. Everyone blamed greedy lawyers. Not once did we discuss an allegation of sex abuse.”

Since then, she has become one of the most prominent sex-abuse survivors in the United States, a media favorite for her insightful quotes and vibrant sense of humor. She eventually became Western Region director for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), the group highlighted in the Academy Award-winning Spotlight that has proven crucial to publicizing the cases of Catholic sex-abuse survivors. But all along, Hodgman—who has never faced criminal charges for his abuse of Casteix—continued to teach. As a result, Casteix felt that she had to play the role of a meek victim at the mercy of her lawyers and church officials.

“As an advocate for other survivors, I was able to stand up and punch back [against critics] twice as hard,” she says. “I could go toe to toe. But in my own case, we were relegated into secondary positions I didn’t like—nice, quiet, docile.”

In 2005, for instance, shortly after the Orange diocese’s $100 million settlement was announced, Casteix sat next to then-Bishop Tod D. Brown before a throng of reporters and tearfully accepted his apology. It was a photo-perfect op that hit the national wires and offered a way forward for survivors and the Church. Four days later, a diocesan spokesperson threw away any goodwill by telling a reporter, “Under no circumstances does the settlement imply any guilt on anyone’s part.”

In contrast to her past approach, Casteix credits Rose McGowan with inspiring her to write the open letter. Her husband told her to “expect crickets,” but the opposite happened; it has since been been shared over 9,000 times on Facebook. On November 20, a dozen people held a candlelight vigil in her honor on Adrian’s campus. “People aren’t taking it anymore,” Casteix says, “and I’m just so stoked.”

Casteix’s case is a reminder that sex-abuse survivors don’t always get the justice they deserve, even with cases involving documented judgements and legal-proof facts. While the public and activists have rightfully, collectively helped to shame media and government perverts out of their jobs and are now working to eradicate the systems that enabled such abuse, they have stayed strangely silent on the ultimate molester-protection racket of them all: The Catholic Church.

Despite the billion-plus dollars in legal settlements reached with sex-abuse survivors nationwide, only a handful of the hundreds of cardinals, bishops, monsignors and other men who protected admitted molesters like Hodgman ever faced criminal charges for their cover-ups. The same has happened in other religion-based sex-abuse scandals, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Calvary Chapel evangelical movement, and even the Boy Scouts. It’s as if many activists, more than happy to attack Hollywood and politicians, are too intimidated to take on traditional institutions that long formed a bedrock of “respectable” American life, even though their cover-ups and crimes are a violation of public trust.

Adrian officials continue to stand by Hodgman. A press release sent to the Blade and Jezebel stated that while the school “has never and will never condone sexual abuse, harassment, assault, or imposition of any kind,” they would continue to employ Hodgman since he was a tenured professor and because of the “remoteness of [his] misconduct.” It read:

From time to time during Dr. Hodgman’s employment at the College, including recently, various individuals and groups have demanded that the College discharge Dr. Hodgman because of his prior misconduct. Given the circumstances in Dr. Hodgman’s case including the remoteness of the misconduct, the absence of any additional evidence of misconduct while at Adrian College, and the contractual obligations that the College must follow, the College will take no action at this time concerning Dr. Hodgman’s employment.

Meanwhile, Hodgman told the Blade he was “surprised” the paper was “re-running a story that [they] published more than ten years ago.” He said that Casteix’s “statements... are false and misleading” and that the documents that out him as a molester are “false and unofficial.”

Hodgman also, bizarrely, requested that if they published Casteix’s high school photo, that they publish his Mater Dei faculty photo “out of fairness”—as though his youthful demeanor might dilute the fact that he was a decade her senior, and her teacher when the alleged events occurred.

That quote infuriates John Manly, who represented Casteix in her 2005 settlement. “Hodgman was and is a liar and a coward,” says Manly, who is also a Mater Dei alum. “By continuing to allow him around students, Adrian College is overtly ratifying his molestation [of Casteix] and giving him moral and legal cover. The school should be ashamed and make this right by immediately terminating Hodgman without delay.”

Manly, a lawyer in Newport Beach, has represented hundreds of sex-abuse victims in lawsuits against the Catholic Church and Los Angeles Unified School District. He has won clients hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and—more importantly for him—the release of thousand of pages of personnel files that proved the existence of cover-ups. (Manly currently represents more than 100 former gymnasts who allege abuse by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.)

The documents Casteix published online are all stamped with a number on the bottom right corner, because the Orange diocese introduced Hodgman’s Mater Dei personnel file as evidence during settlement talks. Hodgman successfully fought to keep them sealed, but a court clerk mistakenly released them to the press.

Hodgman did not return repeated request for comment. But he has never let his past get in the way of campus life. Adrian’s collective amnesia about Hodgman’s molestations is such that an October 19 opinion piece in the school’s student newspaper, The College World, titled “Raising Awareness for Sexual Assault Victims” made no mention of Casteix’s story. And he was a finalist this year for Adrian’s Creativity Award, which “encourages students, staff, and faculty to submit their most creative ideas for enhancing the College,” according to a school magazine that featured a photo of Hodgman surrounded by other finalists. All were women.

Gustavo Arellano is an award-winning reporter who used to be editor of OC Weekly and wrote a column called ¡Ask a Mexican! More importantly, he has covered sex-abuse cases for over 15 years.