Former student tells all about alleged Faribault Shattuck-St. Mary's teacher's abuse - Faribault MN: News

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Former student tells all about alleged Faribault Shattuck-St. Mary's teacher's abuse

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Posted: Friday, April 5, 2013 9:00 pm | Updated: 2:39 pm, Fri May 17, 2013.

Despite allegedly being sexually abused by a teacher during his first summer at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the man who turned Joseph Machlitt in to authorities last fall says his time studying at the private boarding school were four of the best years of his life.

And now that the sexual abuse charges filed against Machlitt have been dropped, 47-year-old Joel says his only regret is not having the courage to come forward with his story earlier.

Joel spoke exclusively with the Daily News recently. His last name is being withheld to protect his identity.

Joel was just 14 years old when he says Machlitt, then 31, sexually abused him. He began summer school at S-SM in June 1980 as a way to introduce himself to the campus and way of life before fall classes began.

Joel had been swimming in an on-campus pool and hit his head in late June 1980. It was Machlitt, he said, who brought him to the hospital and then offered to take care of Joel that evening because there was a risk of a concussion.

Joel told police last fall that he fell asleep while on a couch in Machlitt’s apartment and awoke to find Machlitt massaging his legs. Machlitt then allegedly sexually assaulted him.

Machlitt never entered a plea in court, but he admitted to the incidents during an interview with investigators, according to court documents. He declined to comment on the resolution of the case earlier this week.

Machlitt left before the school year began. But Joel said he was left dealing with a dark secret.

“I had a very difficult time maintaining normal relationships with girls,” Joel said recently while at a restaurant in a northern metro community. “I had this dreadful secret and it was very hard to just be a kid.”

While his friends and classmates spent their teenage years experimenting with intimacy, Joel held back.

“It was always at the front of my mind, that this had happened,” he said. “It made me dirty, disgusting, undesirable.”

But Joel said he still enjoyed many other aspects of S-SM: the small class sizes, the focus on academics, the camaraderie, and the challenges that prepared him for the real world.

Burying the past

Joel graduated from S-SM in 1984 and joined the Army. There, he excelled.

“It was like I had four years of college already compared to my peers who were coming out of public high school,” Joel says. “I was academically more prepared. I already had experience in leadership, communication, presenting something in front of a crowd.”

Joel spent 10 years in the Army, ending on a high note — ranked Sgt. 1st Class. He was a drill sergeant, an expert linguist in German and Polish, a master parachuter and a senior non-commissioned officer in a branch of special operations.

Looking back, Joel said he knows his dedication to the Army was also a way of hiding the dark memories of his past.

Instead of dating, he buried himself in his work.

Instead of a core group of male friends, Joel kept his distance. He didn’t know how to trust men or engage in normal friendships with them.

“I had few relationships with women and very few significant friendships with men,” he said. “I dreamt about women. I fantasized about women. But that was it … I still had this secret.”

Joel married at the age of 30, after leaving the Army. But the loss of a daughter at birth, he says, laid the foundation for divorce. The issues with intimacy remained.

He married again in late 2008. At 47 years old, Joel has no children of his own. Though his face lights up as he talks about his three stepchildren, it’s a disappointment for a man whose one goal in life was to have a family of his own.

“There’s still some underlying shame and sadness felt for the years I lost,” he said.

Coming forward

Joel first talked about the alleged abuse while in therapy at the age of 29.

The therapist never reported the admission to authorities, though Joel says today he wished the therapist would have.

“I could have healed and moved forward much faster,” he said. “I suspect my life would have gone down a different path. Maybe I could have had a child.”

Revelations of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Penn State in 2011 were the first tipping point for Joel, who had become adept at keeping his secret. As he watched the incessant coverage of case developments, Joel said memories of Machlitt’s apartment began to broil.

But when news broke in October of former S-SM department chair Lynn Seibel’s alleged sexual misconduct with at least six male students, Joel searched Machlitt’s name online to see what had ever happened to him.

What Joel found startled him: Machlitt was recently employed as a tutor for Hispanic students in Edina.

“When I found out he was still working with children, what choice did I have but to come forward?” Joel asks. “I think back and wonder how much of this was my fault by not coming forward? How much pain and suffering have I caused?”

Machlitt is no longer employed at the school. Meanwhile, Joel says he’s certain he wasn’t the only victim.

“He showed me pictures of other boys who he said were ‘special’ to him,” Joel said. “There was no doubt, based on the atmosphere, that he was communicating that this had happened before in an attempt to normalize the behavior to me. It was a classic move of grooming.”

A disappointing resolution

Machlitt, who now lives in St. Paul, was charged one day before Thanksgiving 2012 with third-degree criminal sexual conduct and fourth-degree attempted criminal sexual conduct.

But on Wednesday, after months of investigating whether the statute of limitations on the case had truly expired, the Rice County Attorney’s Office dropped the charges.

“It’s not [a decision] that you want to make but the statute of limitations dictates whether or not we can file and that’s driven by the facts of the case,” Rice County Attorney Paul Beaumaster said Wednesday. “When [Machlitt’s] attorney came forward with facts that substantiated that he was back in the state of Minnesota by a certain time, and once we could confirm that, there wasn’t any choice at that point.”

A month earlier, Assistant Rice County Attorney Nathan Reitz had told Judge John Cajacob that he was trying to prove a timeline that would have Machlitt living in Minnesota for less than six years in the 1980s. According to court documents, Machlitt left Minnesota in August 1980 and returned in 1985.

The statute of limitations law — and its changes over the years — are complex. But if Reitz had been able to prove that Machlitt did not live in Minnesota for about six years during the 1980s, an extension added in 1989 could have been taken advantage of and the case could have moved forward.

Joel walked out of that Feb. 27 court hearing with tears in his eyes. While he doesn’t wish a jail sentence on his alleged abuser, Joel said he wants to make sure Machlitt is never allowed near children again.

“I do feel like he’s a marked man now – that his circle knows what he did,” Joel says. “But there’s still some disappointment.”

‘This is happening ... everywhere’

Cases of sexual abuse against children will not go away, Joel says, until an environment is created that makes victims feel comfortable coming forward.

Even he faced embarrassment and scrutiny from friends, former classmates, and family members after his initials were mistakenly left in the criminal complaint that was distributed to media around the state.

And even though it turned out this case couldn’t be prosecuted, he hopes other victims of old crimes choose to come forward to shed light on the issue.

Joel said he still struggles with memories of the alleged abuse as well as now with what’s transpired over the past six months. He remains devoted to S-SM, and said he wishes the school hadn’t become a showcase for such crimes.

“This is happening, literally, everywhere,” he says. “It’s in our neighborhoods, in our school systems, in our churches, and anywhere there are people, really. People are the problem.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Rodenborg at 333-3128, or follow her on Twitter.com @FDNRebecca

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1 comment:

  • steena posted at 1:24 pm on Sat, Apr 6, 2013.

    steena Posts: 1

    This case speaks to the need for change in these laws. Most victims of childhood sexual abuse do not report at all, but those who do are often well into adulthood. Boys/men are even less likely to report than women. The accused man Joseph Machlitt, certainly did this before and after this one student's assault occurred. Machlitt is now in his 60's. How many dozens or hundreds of wounded children are now out there due to his perversion? Even in the last few years he has still been working with children in a teaching capacity. But, yet, there is likely only this one victim who has stepped forward. Please, parents, teach your children to speak up and let's work together to end these blatant assaults on innocence.

     

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