California teacher Carie Charlesworth was fired for the “crime” of being a victim of domestic violence, according to letters obtained by NBC San Diego.
The firing was prompted by Charlesworth’s abusive ex-husband Martin Charlesworth, who invaded the Holy Trinity School parking lot after a weekend where Carie had called the police on him three times, sending the school into lockdown.
Martin was sent to prison, but Carie herself was also punished. On April 11th, the school sent a letter to her informing her of her dismissal. The grounds? Her husband was dangerous:
We know from the most recent incident involving you and Mrs. Wright (the principal) while you were still physically at Holy Trinity School, that the temporary restraining order in effect were not a deterrent to him. Although we understand he is current incarcerated, we have no way of knowing how long or short a time he will actually serve and we understand from court files that he may be released as early as next fall. In the interest of the safety of the students, faculty and parents at Holy Trinity School, we simply cannot allow you to return to work there, or, unfortunately, at any other school in the Diocese.
Charlesworth cited the decision as an example of the pervasive stigma domestic violence victims face on top of the abuse itself. “That’s why women of domestic violence don’t come forward,” she told NBC. “They’re afraid of the way people are going to see them, view them, perceive them, treat them.”
Though a recent federal study of gendered violence found that over a third of American women experience intimate partner violence over the course of their lives, the fear Charlesworth describes deters reporting of these crimes with depressing frequency. According to one survey of the relevant data, “because of the stigma associated with intimate partner violence, the fact that it is an illegal activity, and the very real fear of potential retribution from a violent partner, respondents perpetrating or being victimized are less likely to answer questions about intimate partner violence than those who are not.” What goes for answering survey questions goes double for reporting a crime.
Victims can even face legal consequences for calling the police. If a victim generates enough nuisance citations (as defined by the local nuisance ordinance), calling in the ostensibly-protective authorities will often lead to the victim’s eviction. A study of one such ordinance in Milwaukee found that roughly a third of nuisance citations were responses to domestic violence incidents, and the most common landlord remedy was to evict the battered woman.
Charlesworth is planning to challenge her dismissal in court, but the school appears to have the upper legal hand as a consequence of a broadly worded religious exemption.