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

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

ByABC News
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.