San Diego elementary school teacher, Carie Charlesworth, opened up about her history as a survivor of domestic violence ... and was fired as a consolation.
According to NBC News, Charlesworth, mother of four, spoke to the school principal at Holy Trinity School in El Cajon, Calif., asking him to "be on the lookout for her ex-husband." Charlesworth had a history of domestic violence riddled with restraining orders and 911 calls. Charlesworth said she had a difficult weekend with her abusive ex-spouse, Martin Charlesworth, and in addition to alerting the principal, she called the sherrif's department to report the turbulence.
When Charlesworth's ex-husband arrived at the school's parking lot, Holy Trinity entered lock-down. The next day, the school sent out a letter to families that explained the lock-down and assured that Charlesworth and her children were being put "on an indefinite leave.”
Three months later, Charlesworth received a letter firing her from her teacher's role and asking her to find another school for her four children. The letter stated that her dismissal was "in the interest of the safety of the students, faculty and parents at Holy Trinity School."
The letter expressed deep sorrow for Charlesworth and expressed the difficulty of such a decision. Still, Holy Trinity felt that Martin Charlesworth's "twenty-plus year history of violence, abuse and harassment of people" and "threatening people, including those whom he believes are interfering with his intent at any time" put the members of the school community at risk.
In addition to the school's decision to fire Charlesworth, "several parents mentioned being part of a movement to 'pull kids out of the school' if Charlesworth returned," reported NBC News.
Martin Charlesworth was sentenced to jail for two counts of felony, but the victim of the abuse said "she felt like a criminal too." The community's reaction to the incident made Charlesworth feel like "the kids and I were being punished for something we didn’t even do,” she told NBC.
At the end of June, Martin Charlesworth will be released from jail and free to walk. As Charlesworth finds herself without a job and without a school for her four children, her situation is extremely fragile.
There exists a strong stigma against female victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Many women feel discouraged to open up against a history of abuse because they feel it is humiliating, shameful or that they will be labeled as weak. In addition, some women choose to stay quiet about abuse because they believe that speaking out will open them up to a new host of threats and consequences. Charlesworth's experience at Holy Trinity certainly perpetuates these stereotypes and serves as a terrible precedent to other female victims of abuse.
Charlesworth said that she did not originally intend to speak out about her job termination at Holy Trinity, but did so "in hopes of bringing attention to a larger problem." She said that many women in her situation would not speak out "because they’re afraid of the way people are going to see them, view them, perceive them, treat them."
Society should encourage women to speak out against domestic and sexual violence, but the Holy Trinity incident is just one example of the way in which our current system encourages them to stay silent. Understandably, the school felt that keeping Charlesworth employed could pose a security risk to the community, but turning away a victimized woman and her four innocent children is hardly the answer. The way in which the larger community turned against Charlesworth is equally as disappointing.
The statistics are striking: a 2011 study by Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center revealed that "nearly 40 percent of survivors in California reported being fired or feared termination because of domestic violence." Therefore, employers in particular must alter the ways in which they deal with domestic violence cases; they must offer support and protection for these women rather than abandon them.
Rita Smith, the Executive Director for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence came to Charlesworth's defense. She condemned the entire community for turning against the victim. "Communities must stand up to these bullies and say No More!" she told the Huffington Post.
Many women suffer from domestic and sexual abuse, but only a small fraction of those women speak out for justice. Society must help these women understand that they are not weak or shameful, but innocent victims. We must reverse the unfortunate trend that women like Charlesworth are punished for bravely speaking out against abuse.