A brutal rape and sexual assault was not enough. Now the NY Post has turned its vicious sights on the woman who brought assault charges against IMF leader Dominique Strauss. Positive Women's Network demands an apology.
A brutal rape and sexual assault was not enough. Now the NY Post has turned its vicious sights on the woman who brought assault charges against IMF leader Dominique Strauss.
Rather than focus on the issue of this young woman’s assault charges against a high-powered diplomat, the NY Post chose to break a sensationalist, unfounded story speculating about the young woman’s HIV status. A young, West African working-class immigrant and single mother, she surely experiences multiple forms of marginalization in our society and has shown commendable courage in coming forth with her story. Like anyone, she is entitled to justice, and physical and psychological safety for herself and her family during and after the process of justice.
The NY Post’s irresponsible coverage exacerbates the power dynamics of racism, sexism, and classism inherent between the woman who has brought charges of assault and Strauss-Kahn, a man in a position of great power. The coverage creates a chilling effect for women who may need to bring assault charges in the future against powerful people, especially for women of color, low-income women, and immigrant women.
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These irrelevant and potentially false statements serve to intensify existing struggles that young women face daily and could result in violence or discriminatory treatment towards both the young woman in this case and her child. This type of reporting is irresponsible and downright dangerous. It perpetuates an environment in which people cannot feel safe coming forward as survivors of violence without having their sexual history, health status, and ultimately their credibility, questioned. What was the Post’s real motivation in breaking this story? Would the story have been the same if she were not a young, working-class West African immigrant?
The U.S. Positive Women’s Network (PWN), a national membership body of HIV-positive women and a project of Oakland-based women’s HIV organization WORLD, is outraged by the NY Post’s vicious attack on the woman who brought assault charges against IMF leader Dominique Strauss
“She is a woman of color who may have been raped physically and is now being raped again,” says Minister Antoinettea Etienne, an HIV-positive woman, and member of the NYC HIV Planning Council.
“The young woman who came forward with rape and assault charges deserves safety and respect from the law enforcement community, media and advocates for her courage in speaking up for her rights.”
PWN demands the NY Post publicly apologize for this story, not engage in this type of sensationalist journalism, and engage only in coverage that is relevant to the case.
Who we are:
The U.S. Positive Women’s Network (PWN) is a project of WORLD (Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Disease) in Oakland, CA. We are a national membership organization that exists to strengthen the strategic power of all women living with HIV in the United States. For more information visit: www.pwn-usa.org and join the PWN mailing list by emailing pwn(at)womenhiv.org.
On April 28, a Korean immigrant and domestic abuse survivor named Nan-Hui Jo was sentenced to 175 days in jail and three years of probation after being convicted of misdemeanor child abduction. Now, she faces the threat of deportation and permanent separation from her daughter.
On April 28, Nan-Hui Jo was sentenced to 175 days in jail and three years of probation after being convicted of misdemeanor child abduction. Her crime? Taking her then 1-year-old daughter, Vitz Da, with her when she followed orders from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to leave the country in 2009. Although Nan-Hui Jo was released on time served after spending more than nine months in jail, she is currently still detained on an immigration hold. Furthermore, she continues to face the threat of deportation without having seen her daughter face-to-face in ten months.
Jo’s decision to return to Korea with her infant daughter, in part out of concern for her daughter’s well-being, brought a combination of the criminal justice, immigration, and family court systems crashing into her family’s lives. Involvement in any one of these systems increases the risk of losing the right to parent, either temporarily or permanently. Tangled together, they can present a seemingly insurmountable hurdle. Nan-Hui Jo’s experience illustrates how immigrant abuse survivors are often failed—and sometimes re-victimized—by these various institutions despite the existence of legislation designed to protect them.
For Jo, and many other mothers, these agencies can threaten to tear apart their families as they risk permanent separation from their U.S.-born children. They also raise the reproductive justice question: Does not having permanent status in the United States, or taking actions that one believes to be in the best interest of one’s child that jeopardize one’s immigration status, warrant banishment from the child’s life?
Nan-Hui Jo’s Case
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In 2002, Nan-Hui Jo landed in Los Angeles on a student visa. While at the University of Southern California, she met and fell in love with a U.S. citizen. After returning to Korea to obtain a fiancé visa, Jo married and moved to Connecticut with this man. He began the paperwork for her green card. According to both Jo and her immigration attorneys, he also became abusive—physically assaulting her, isolating her from potential friends, and even taking her passport and keys to prevent her from leaving. At one point, the police issued a temporary restraining order against Jo’s husband. Jo separated from him, moved to Sacramento, and enrolled in Sacramento City College where, in 2007, she met Jesse Charlton, an Iraq war veteran.
In March 2008, not long after their relationship began, Jo told Charlton that she was pregnant with his child. “He wanted me to have an abortion,” she recounted when she testified during her first trial in December 2014. Jo, who had suffered a miscarriage 15 years earlier and been told that she would never be able to have a baby, says she refused. According to Jo, Charlton dumped her. Although the two reunited again a month later, they broke up a second time when Jo was seven months pregnant.
Charlton was not present for Vitz Da’s birth. He did not meet his daughter until he ran into Jo on campus three months later, a fact that both Charlton and Jo confirmed during her first trial. Soon afterwards, he began visiting mother and daughter at home.
“The baby’s father loved the baby, it seemed to me, and he seemed to be very remorseful about dumping me. So we decided to get together again,” Jo testified. But their relationship continued to be fraught with disputes, sometimes escalating to the point where Charlton would physically lash out. According to testimonies in December 2014 by both Jo and Charlton, Charlton once punched the wall near Jo. Another time, they both say, he hit the steering wheel of her car in anger before walking out, leaving his girlfriend and baby in the car. In a separate incident, according to Jo and Charlton, he grabbed her by the throat, lifted her off the ground, and slammed her against the wall. The police were called twice. Each time, they asked Charlton to remove himself from the immediate situation. No incident report was ever filed. By July 2009, the two had broken up a third time and were living separately.
Meanwhile, Jo’s green card application was slowly winding its way through the immigration process. A background check revealed the temporary restraining order she had taken out against her husband. Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), immigration officials should have informed her about resources for domestic violence and sexual assault as well as routes available to non-citizens with abusive spouses. In fact, under the 2005 Marriage Brokers Regulation Act, upon her arrival under a fiancé visa, Jo should have been given a pamphlet notifying her that domestic violence and abuse are illegal and outlining available resources for survivors. But Jo says she never received such a thing; thus, when she returned to the United States, she was given no information on what to do if her marriage became abusive.
Zachary Nightingale, who recently joined Jo’s immigration defense, explained in an interview with Rewire that after a background check, Jo should have been informed that, under VAWA, she qualified to self-petition for a green card rather than rely on her abusive spouse. And given that the abuse occurred in the United States at the hands of her spouse, ICE should have granted her a “prima facie” determination, which acknowledges that sufficient evidence may exist of the abuse. While the petition is being decided, the immigrant spouse is eligible for certain benefits, such as food stamps, medical insurance, and cash assistance. If ICE approved her petition, no deportation proceedings would have been initiated and Jo would have become a permanent resident.
But no one informed Jo of any of this, Jo’s lawyers say. Instead, her legal team says an ICE official placed a note in Jo’s file. It read, “In light of protective order, check to see if the marriage is still valid.” Immigration officials tracked down Jo’s estranged husband, who told them he no longer wished to sponsor her green card application. ICE denied her application.
In November 2009, Jo followed the letter’s orders and left the country. She took Vitz Da with her, in part because she was afraid of leaving the child with Charlton, on whom she’d had to call the police the week prior. After she returned to Korea, Charlton contacted the Yolo County Child Abduction Unit. He also emailed her nearly every day. In at least one, according to court documents, he threatened to send “a scary bounty hunter” after her.
In July 2014, Jo and Vitz Da, then age 6, returned to the United States, landing in Hawai’i. Jo was immediately arrested and charged with child abduction. She was also placed under an immigration hold, which required the jail to inform ICE before releasing Jo so that she could be taken from jail into immigrant detention. Charlton flew to Hawai’i to pick up Vitz. That fall, a family court judge granted him full custody rights. Given the charges against her, the judge ordered that Jo not be allowed visitation until her criminal kidnapping case had been concluded. “No one knew how long it would take for the criminal case to be sorted out,” explained John Myers, a professor at the University of the Pacific and Jo’s family court attorney, to Rewire. But Jo, not wanting her daughter to visit her in jail or see her mother in jail clothes, did not challenge the judge’s ruling.
In December 2014, Nan-Hui Jo went to trial on charges of child abduction. The jury was unable to reach a verdict, resulting in a hung jury. Jo remained in jail.
After the trial, Myers filed a Request for Order in family court asking for Jo to be allowed to receive written letters from Vitz Da. The judge approved and, Myers noted, the father did not object. Since then, Jo has written three letters to her daughter and, in response, received one picture with some writing.
In February 2015, two months after the hung jury, the prosecutor retried the case. One juror recused herself, stating that she could not find Jo guilty of intentionally committing a wrongful act. After her recusal, the jury unanimously delivered a verdict of guilty. She was sentenced to 175 days time served and three years of probation on April 28.
Deportation Still a Danger
But Jo’s fight to stay in her daughter’s life is far from over. Even if a judge grants her supervised visitation through family court, the immigration system may still rupture her relationship with her daughter: Jo is currently in detention and faces deportation.
ICE officials could have decided to let Jo stay in the community while she awaits her day in immigration court. In fact, ICE’s Parental Interests Directive instructs agents to consider not unnecessarily disrupting parents’ ability to participate in family court proceedings when deciding whether to detain a person. For now, however, ICE seems to be ignoring the directive: Minutes after her sentencing hearing ended, ICE took Jo into custody, where she remains. Jo, who has belatedly been informed of domestic violence resources available to immigrants, has filed for a VAWA cancellation of removal, which allows an immigration judge to cancel deportation proceedings against an abused immigrant and grant her permanent residency.
But while Jo’s case illustrates the tangled web of domestic violence, criminal justice, immigration, and family court, her story is not unique—or even uncommon. “There are thousands of people who apply [for relief] under VAWA laws, so that tells us there are probably many more who don’t,” Nightingale pointed out. The VAWA Cancellation of Removal can only be applied to people who are facing deportation, a category of people who now include Jo. If the system had worked according to the various laws passed since VAWA in 1994, though, Jo would have been informed of available resources for domestic violence survivors long before deportation ever crossed anyone’s mind—from the minute she stepped off the plane and went through customs that first time in California.
She would have been reminded of these resources when ICE officials discovered the temporary restraining order she had filed against her husband. Rather than allowing her husband to withdraw his petition for her green card, ICE officials would have reminded Jo that she could petition for herself. Then, after she and Charlton had split up, she could have applied for public benefits and gotten a work permit to support herself and her daughter. What would have come in the mail could have been her paycheck rather than an order to leave the country. While she and Charlton might still have conflicts about Vitz Da and his ability to be safely involved in their lives, her immigration status would not affect her actions. Nan-Hui Jo could now be attending PTA meetings and chaperoning Vitz Da’s class trips instead of hoping that a family court judge will allow her supervised visitation at her hearing on May 11.
But the system doesn’t work perfectly. In fact, it doesn’t even work the way that it’s legislated to. And so, Jo’s next immigration hearing will be in August 2015. But that isn’t her day in court—it’s merely a five-minute scheduling hearing in which Jo and Nightingale will ask the judge to schedule an individual hearing so that she can present her testimony and evidence.
“As long as we can tie her action [of taking her child out of the country] back to the abuse, she qualifies for a VAWA cancellation,” Nightingale said. But, he cautions, immigration courts are backlogged, so her hearing will most likely be scheduled at some even further future date.
What is exceptional, however, is the amount of public attention and support that Jo has received. “For people who have very complicated cases, what frequently happens is that they happen without a sound and no one hears about it,” said Hyejin Shim of the Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse (KACEDA).
But in Jo’s case, people did hear about her. No one is sure how word originally got out, but once it did, it spread. Spearheaded by Misun Yi, a woman whom Jo briefly met when she first arrived in Sacramento, the area’s Korean community began rallying to support Jo as a Korean woman and domestic violence survivor. They held fundraisers for her legal defense at their churches. They attended each day of her trials. “A lot of the people don’t really speak English, but sat through the day [in a show of support],” Shim recalled.
At the same time, younger queer Koreans and other Asians, some of whom work in advocacy against domestic violence, formed the Stand with Nan-Hui Campaign, urging people to call and tweet at ICE demanding that they follow their own directive and release Jo while she awaits her immigration hearings. They’re also fundraising so that, if ICE relents and allows her out on bail, the money will be ready.
While Jo’s story was the starting point for the campaign, though it isn’t solely about her. Members of the campaign are also using her case to further awareness about the intersections of domestic violence, immigration, and law enforcement. Shim, who works at the Asian Women’s Shelter in San Francisco, pointed out that the combination of domestic and state violence frequently isolate people, preventing them from learning about or accessing resources that would enable them to escape.
The combination, for many other immigrant mothers like Jo, can also mean losing their children. Separately, either imprisonment or deportation affects Nan-Hui Jo’s chances to play a meaningful role in Vitz Da’s life. Together, they might mean a lifetime of banishment from her daughter.
If Cornell truly wants to see a reduction in incidents of gender-based violence like the one that ended the life of Shannon Jones on Thanksgiving, the school needs to do more to change the culture that has allowed this sort of violence to persist on campus.
This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.
As my fellow Cornell University students and I returned to campus from the Thanksgiving holiday and started our final week of classes, we were heartbroken to learn that one student would not be returning.
Reports of Shannon Jones’ death by strangulation at the hands of her boyfriend, Benjamin Cayea, 32, on Thanksgiving evening spread throughout campus. Jones, 23, hailed by her peers as a bright student, was expected to graduate with a degree in engineering next May.
In the days after her death, my classmates spoke of “the girl who was murdered” with bewilderment and frustration. In classrooms, students could be heard expressing confusion, muttering things like, “This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to people like us. It’s not supposed to.” Many of them believed that intimate partner violence wouldn’t enter the ivory tower. But in reality, intimate partner violence is extremely rampant on college campuses. It’s also not getting the attention it deserves nor being dealt with adequately.
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If Cornell truly wants to reduce intimate partner violence and other forms of gender-based violence against its students, the university needs to do more than create another program aimed at addressing violence and sexual abuse; it needs to get the entire campus involved in changing the culture that has allowed this sort of violence to persist. We must have an ongoing conversation about healthy relationships, consent, and intimate partner violence, not only during orientation week, but throughout the school year and students’ entire time at Cornell. The school must also stress how serious gender-based violence is as an issue—attending this campus is not a right; it is a privilege that should be taken away when you assault or rape another human being.
According to police reports, Jones and Cayea had an argument at Jones’ off-campus apartment at approximately 6:30 p.m. In a police interview, Cayea admitted to strangling Jones during the fight, then drove her car to a friend’s apartment and told him, from the parking lot of his apartment, what he had done. Jacob Ives, Cayea’s friend, then called the police, and Cayea was arrested. “She would not stop coming at me, she would not stop yelling. I did it; I choked her,” Cayea reportedly said, according to Ives. When police arrived at Jones’ apartment, she was found without a pulse and pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Cayea was arrested and charged with one count of second-degree murder without bail, and his case has been transferred to Tompkins County.
“I feel that Shannon’s unfortunate death has been a surprise to most people in the Cornell community,” said Runjini Raman, Cornell University graduate student and intimate partner violence advocate, told Rewire. “We tell ourselves stories about women in abusive relationships so that they can feel like far away faceless women, that it only manifests in bruises and blood, and that makes us blind, not realizing it happens to someone we may know.”
A 2011 online survey of U.S. college students found that only 8 percent of students believe that intimate partner violence is a major problem on campus, and almost 50 percent believe it is not a problem at all. In fact, intimate partner violence is quite common among college students, though many survivors are reluctant to come forward due to retaliation. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in five students have reported experiencing violence by a current partner, and 32 percent have reported dating violence by a former partner. These rates increase at the intersectionality of class, race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. For example, Black women are three times more likely to be murdered by their intimate partners than white women, according to an analysis of homicide data conducted by the Violence Policy Center.
According to Cornell’s records provided in compliance with the Clery Act, there were four reported cases of domestic violence and one stalking case last year. 2013 was the first year they began recording such statistics, and of course these figures don’t reflect the number of women who feared coming forward.
One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime, and women between the ages of 20 and 24 are most at risk, explained Jessica Li, Cornell University alumni and executive director of the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (DVRP). Li says that while she attended Cornell, a classmate was in an unhealthy relationship and Li recognized the early warning signs of jealousy, possessiveness, and isolation from friends by her abuser. “As friends, we didn’t know where to refer her to on campus, and she didn’t recognize that she was a survivor of dating violence.” A college-wide effort focused on improving students’ knowledge of rape culture and campus resources might reduce this sort of confusion and increase the number of students reporting violent acts.
Recent research also shows an overlap of intimate partner abuse and violence: Among the female respondents to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey who experienced sexual abuse, physical violence, and/or stalking by a partner, about “8.7% experienced rape and physical violence, 14.4% experienced physical violence and stalking, and 12.5% experienced all three forms” of intimate partner violence. This abuse has a deep and negative impact on their health, leading to anxiety, depression, physical harm, sexually transmitted diseases, post-traumatic stress disorder, and in some cases death. Not to mention, student survivors in particular experience challenges in finishing class assignments or fear being on campus, which makes finishing their education difficult.
Title IX, the federal law that protects students from gender-based violence, guarantees a student’s equal access to education. Title IX outlines steps that colleges must take when investigating gender-based violence on campus, including: providing support to students including changing of a student’s housing, changing class schedules, and offering protection when they’re experiencing stalking, harassment, and other violence by their abuser.
In 2011, the White House issued a “Dear Colleague” letter outlining steps colleges should take to reduce sexual assaults on campus; however, little attention was paid to intimate partner violence. In a Cosmopolitan.com article, survivor and campus sexual assault activist Wagatwe Wanjuki explained that sexual assault is getting much-needed attention, though we must not forget to include intimate partner violence as part of the conversation. “Title IX can force schools to provide support for student survivors, but unfortunately the narrative around the law has focused on sexual assault to the detriment of intimate partner violence survivors,” said Wanjuki. “It is crucial for the Department of Education to provide more Dear Colleague letters to further clarify and state what schools need to do to help the abused.”
Cornell University, like other schools, has put many of the Dear Colleague letter recommendations in place to reduce gender-based violence on campus. “We have zero tolerance for intimate partner violence in any form,” said Mary Opperman, Cornell University’s vice president for human resources, in an email to Rewire. “In 2013, we established the Council on Sexual Violence Prevention to develop and implement new programs, and the group is currently developing an action plan to incorporate new educational programs, support services, reporting mechanisms, and data collection.”
But are these individual programs enough to ignite a campus-wide culture change discussion? Some students say no. Campus organizers have identified gender-based violence as a key issue that they would like the school’s first female president, Elizabeth Garrett, to tackle in her incoming administration. President-elect Garrett was instrumental in changing the sexual assault policies at the University of Southern California and passing California’s affirmative consent or “yes means yes” law.
The lack of discussion around Jones’ murder has left students feeling frustrated with the school and larger Ithaca community, especially in light of a recent article about what a “great” guy her killer is. “I feel disappointed and wish that more people saw this act of violence within the larger context of domestic abuse and violence against women,” said Cornell graduate student and social justice activist Johanna Zussman-Dobbins. “Refusing to do so is a way that the university and the community side steps accountability on these issues.”
During her undergraduate studies at Cornell University, Zussman-Dobbins says she served as a panelist for an intimate partner case while working on campus. “One summer they really needed a student to come sit on the panel,” she said. The case she heard was one that had already been postponed several times to accommodate the accused’s schedule and made her question Cornell’s commitment to survivors. “In my opinion, postponing the trial sent the message to me as a young undergraduate that Cornell valued the future of this man more than the future and safety of this young woman.”
When a report of intimate partner violence is filed, both students attend a hearing that consists of faculty and several student panelists who hear the case. “We think that’s a huge benefit for both parties,” explained Mary Beth Grant, judicial administrator at a recent campus event. “We don’t force students to file a report … he or she can choose which avenue they want to pursue.” Grant outlined that students could choose to file reports with Cornell, the local police, or both, and that investigations would include hearing from witnesses and sifting through texts, social media, and other documentation for evidence. Should either party not agree with the panel’s decision, they are able to appeal the decision.
Even though Cornell’s reporting process exists to support students claiming they have experienced gender-based violence, the university needs to improve how it talks about intimate partner violence with students. In class, for example, Raman, who advocates for bystander awareness and campus-wide discussion of violence against women, said the issue was often addressed in “a textbook manner” without any empathy for students experiencing violence. “The fact that we still discuss it so nonchalantly … is not OK.”
As a program at Yale University shows, educating bystanders is key to changing the conversation around intimate partner violence on campus. In 2013, Yale was in the news for refusing to expel several students found guilty of “nonconsensual sex.” The Ivy League school has publicly begun to clean up its act after being fined $155,000 by the Department of Education for failing to report gender-based violence crimes in keeping with the Clery Act. “We worked through this with a series of cases dealing with intimate partner violence and using them to enhance the wording, descriptions, and training materials for incoming and current students,” said Vanessa Lamers, who served on the Yale University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and in the Marion County Oregon District Attorney’s Office on Sexual Assault Victim Assistance.
“One of the trainings I find most helpful with college students, especially with male athletes and university fraternities, is masculinities and the bystander approach … [educating men about how the] pressures to appear masculine, strong, and in control push this status quo of violence,” she said. “Training men to be aware of these pushes in their conscious and subconscious is a great way to assist young men be leaders in college.”
Li of the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project agrees that educating bystanders is an important strategy when reducing intimate partner violence. Too often, friends, classmates, and family members aren’t aware of the warning signs, and schools could do a better job of holding campus-wide discussions of intimate partner violence and teaching students to intervene when a peer is in need of support. She says some of the warning signs to look out for are abusers checking cell phones and emails without permission, constant texting to check up on the individual, extreme jealousy, isolation from family and friends, pressuring someone to have sex, possessiveness and false accusations, putting someone down constantly, physical violence, and stalking.
Cornell University has a strong presence of fraternities on campus and has programs, such as Wingman 101, targeting men in addressing gender-based violence; however, at a recent campus event titled “State of Sexual Assault at Cornell University,” the administrative staff who spoke about the school’s sexual assault investigative process and student rights under Title IX couldn’t identify any of the programs. If the university’s chief investigator has to rely on audience members to explain what programs are available on campus, that doesn’t bode well for student confidence in the administration.
Similar to other schools, Cornell has set up websites and counseling to support survivors on campus, but they require that the survivors or their peers seek out the resources; students feel the university isn’t as proactive as it could be.
In the wake of Jones’ death, students hope Cornell will not squander this moment and finally begin to shed light on the epidemic that is campus intimate partner violence. “I hope that Cornell takes this horrible crime as a call to arms and puts serious academic and professional thought into creating a safer culture on campus,” said Lamers. Shifting the culture, educating bystanders, and supporting survivors are the only ways we will achieve campuses free of gender-based violence.