Senn High School Theater Director Charged With Sexual Assault

Courtesy of Chicago Police DepartmentEwing was taken into custody Sept. 16, officials said.

A former Senn High School teacher and theater director was charged with sexually assaulting a former female student beginning when she was 15 years old, prosecutors said.

Joel Ewing, 40, was charged with felony criminal sexual assault after admitting he’d assaulted her on school property, documents show. He couldn’t be reached for comment by The Phoenix.

Prosecutors said the victim, now 21 years old, first met Ewing as an eighth grader when she auditioned for a theater program at the Edgewater high school — located less than a mile from Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus. She went on to attend the high school from 2012 to 2016, documents show.

Ewing and the victim began texting “all hours of the night” her sophomore year when she was 15 years old, and prosecutors said the texts were “of romantic nature.” 

The victim was a high school junior in fall 2014 when she and Ewing ate lunch together alone daily, prosecutors said. They also met in hidden rooms throughout the high school where he would grope and touch her inappropriately, documents show. This happened more than 10 times, prosecutors said, and he instructed her not to tell anybody. 

Ewing and the victim traveled downstate to Normal, Illinois in January 2015, for a multiple-day acting festival, prosecutors said. Ewing had the victim come to his hotel room and lie naked with him in bed, documents show.

After the trip, Ewing and the victim began to meet secretly throughout the school behind locked doors where he performed sex acts on her and he had her perform sex acts on him, documents show. When they met up, he instructed her when to leave or had her leave a few minutes after him, prosecutors said.

The victim also went to Ewing’s house several times her junior year and left before his wife got home, prosecutors said.

In spring 2017 when the victim was a college first-year she stopped seeing Ewing, documents show, and she confessed the assaults to a therapist in 2018 as a 20-year-old. The therapist was a mandatory reporter — someone who’s required to report allegations of sexual assault — and filed a police report at the time but honored the victim’s wishes to stay anonymous. 

In July 2019, the victim filed a police report and was upset Ewing still worked with students at the school, prosecutors said.

Senn High School’s principal, Mary Beck, sent an email — obtained by The Phoenix — to parents Sept. 5 stating that Ewing is leaving Chicago with his family to “pursue another opportunity” and that his departure was “bittersweet.”

Beck didn’t reply to multiple requests for comment from The Phoenix.

Emily Bolton, a spokesperson for Chicago Public Schools, said in an email to The Phoenix Beck’s characterization of his departure was “inappropriate” during an investigation into the allegations against him.

Beck sent another letter Sept. 17, also obtained by The Phoenix, stating that administrators notified parents of the allegations against a school employee at the end of July. He was removed from the school as soon as school officials were made aware of the allegations, Beck wrote.

Ewing was active in the Chicago theater scene. He’s the artistic director of LiveWire Chicago and has worked with the Strawdog Theatre, New Leaf Theatre and Next Theatre, according to an artist bio on the Steppenwolf Theatre website.

He was arrested Sept. 16 and was ordered held at $150,000 bond. If he posts bond, he’ll be placed on electronic monitoring and will be required to stay away from the victim, witness, the high school and anybody under the age of 18 except his son, officials said. His next court date is Oct. 7.

Correction: The original version of this article said Senn High School administrators were made aware of the allegations and charges against Ewing at the end of July. That was incorrect — the school was made aware of the allegations at the end of July but not the criminal charges until this past week.

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