Child Victims Allege Multiple Molestations at N.Y. Deaf School

Children as young as 4 were sexually abused by dorm dad, say accusers.

May 7, 2013, 7:55 AM

May 7, 2012— -- Marlene Hodge was only 7 when her dorm supervisor, the man responsible for looking after 25 girl boarders at New York School for the Deaf, allegedly crawled into her bed at night and molested her.

Joe Casucci was the dorm father at the White Plains school known as Fanwood, and he allegedly did the same to an untold number of girls, some as young as 3, over the course of the 1960s and 1970s.

The school fired Casucci, who is now dead, in 1979 after three girls reported being touched by him, but Hodge and a group of nearly 12 other victims are speaking out, asking for an investigation into how the school handled his dismissal, saying Fanwood never notified law enforcement of his alleged crimes.

A former school official acknowledges he fired Casucci for pedophilia, but the current school administration claims they know nothing of the past accusations.

"I would pretend to be asleep hoping he would eventually go away," Hodge, now 52, told the New York Post, which first reported the story. "He would start by French kissing me and eventually move down to play with my vagina. I hated his stinky breath, a heavy smoker's breath."

In an email exchange with Hodge, who lives in Stockton, Calif., she said the abuse lasted for three years.

"I had counseling on and off over the years but for some reason, I had never felt comfortable revealing this dark secret to anyone," she wrote. "I was ashamed."

The school is highly regarded, the second oldest deaf school in the nation and poised to celebrate its 200th anniversary. Hodge's lawyers say she doesn't want to hurt her alma mater, one that she says helped her learn sign language and made her the person she is today. But she wants answers and accountability.

Hodge attended the school from 1966 to 1974.

New York School for the Deaf Executive Director Janet Dickinson told in a statement: "We have absolutely no knowledge of the activities that have been asserted by these former students. Our dormitories have been closed for many years. Nonetheless, we intend to investigate as best we can, because we take these accusations very seriously."

Those close to Hodge said she went public after a group of deaf men sued the Catholic Church because of abuse they allegedly suffered at St. John's School for the Deaf in Milwaukee. Father Lawrence Murphy was accused of molesting at least 200 boys there in the 1950s and died in 1988. In 2011, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee filed for bankruptcy and paid out $29 million to settle the cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that approximately 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18, an estimated 300,000 children each year in the United States. Research shows those with disabilities are the most vulnerable.

A 2010 study at Rochester Institute of Technology reports that the incidence of maltreatment, including neglect and physical and sexual abuse, is more than 25 percent higher among deaf and hard-of-hearing children than hearing youths. The research also indicates a direct correlation between childhood maltreatment and higher rates of negative cognition, depression and post-traumatic stress in adulthood.

Hodge's group has hired New York City lawyer Eric Richman to look into civil action against the school for the lifelong trauma associated with the alleged molestation.

"It's an unspeakable crime," said Richman. "Children have a hard time speaking up -- multiply that a thousand times for deaf children. It's so unbelievable and despicable. There are no words to really articulate what these women are going through.

"Firing someone isn't enough -- just getting rid of a guy, out of sight, out of mind," he said. "These girls need psychological help. They need counseling for a lifetime.

"What we are trying to find out in an investigation is what the school knew, when it knew it, and when they found out, what else they did besides fire [Casucci]," he said. "Did they have an environment conducive to the abuse happening? Pedophiles are everywhere."

Despite Fanwood's claims that they knew nothing about the firing of Casucci, former dean of students Richard Stelle told that he was responsible for firing the man after two 14-year-olds told him the dorm supervisor had sexually molested them.

Casucci worked at the school from 1961 until his firing in 1979. He and his wife, Marie, lived in an apartment on the same floor as the girls and were paid to supervise the dorms, which accommodated five-day boarding students. The school closed its residential program 10 years ago, according to Stelle.

"I was in a brand new position and within two weeks of September when two girls came to me and told me this horrible story," said Stelle, now 62. "They said they had been touched and fondled. There were games he played with the girls and he made them wrestle or whatever in their pajamas. Things like that.

"They pretended not to be aware of what was going on," he said. "They were afraid if they told their mothers, all hell would break loose."

Hodge was not one of the initial whistleblowers, but Stelle said he knew her well as a student and her mother was head of the Parent Teacher Association. "She was a wonderful kid," he said.

Stelle said that day three more girls came forward to accuse Casucci and he interviewed others to verify their story and to make sure he was on "solid ground."

"I was totally shocked," he said of the allegations.

The alleged molestations were reported in the morning and by afternoon, Stelle said he had found replacements for Casucci and his wife Marie that evening and arranged to talk with them in the morning.

"Before noon that next day, both were terminated," he said. The late Kenneth Litchfield, school superintendent at the time, fired the couple and Casucci "went down denying all the charges."

"Why it was not reported, I don't know," Stelle said. "It was above my authority level. Sensitivity to child protective services was different from what it is now."

Stelle said he didn't "even dare calculate" how many girls have been molested by Casucci over his 18-year tenure at the school, but had no doubt the man would have "continued" after leaving Fanwood.

"The police, law enforcement and child protective services should have been notified," Stelle said.

Also advocating for Hodge and the other victims is Kevin Mulhearn, the lawyer who in 2009 won a case against Brooklyn's Poly Prep Country Day School, which had covered up decades of sexual abuse by football coach Phil Foglietta, who died in 1988. The school agreed to a settlement in the case.

He credits Fanwood with "immediately getting rid" of Casucci, but said administrators did not go far enough.

"Part of the investigation is finding out whether anyone at the school had any notification this occurred and what the response was," said Mulhearn. "And what happened after he was fired? Did he lose his pension or was he rewarded and went in his merry way?

"These were 4, 5, and 6-year-old girls," he said. "They were really young babies and deaf."

But Mulhearn said Hodge does not want to see the school "hurt" by this investigation.

"We want to emphasize how great the school was and how pivotal it was in terms of their development," he said. "We welcome constructive dialogue. ... We just want answers."

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