This is a terrible story of the American legal system getting it really wrong.
Nan-Hui Jo is a single mother of 6-year-old daughter Hwi. Jo is currently imprisoned in the Yolo County jail facing trumped up child abduction charges after she made the impossible decision to take her daughter home to South Korea, in hopes of escaping the physical and emotional abuse inflicted upon her by the child’s father, Iraq war veteran Jesse Charlton.
For five years, Jo cared for Hwi in South Korea; for that same five years, Charlton sent over a hundred emails to Nan-Hui that ranged from concern to threats of hiring a bounty hunter. Unbeknownst to Jo, Charlton also filed charges against Nan-Hui for child abduction. When Jo — a Korean national in the process of applying for permanent residency — applied to travel to Hawaii to check out schools for the American-born Hwi, ICE was notified by the US embassy in Seoul and Jo was arrested and sent to Yolo County to stand trial on the child abduction charges. Meanwhil, Hwi was sent to live with Charlton — a father she didn’t know — who has since denied Jo a chance to see her daughter.
Jo’s first trial last December on the child abduction charges ended in a hung jury. Now, she faces retrial and, if she loses, will likely be deported without ever having a chance to see her daughter again.
Cho came to America in 2002 to study film at the University of Southern California, and transferred after a semester to Los Angeles Community College — she currently works as a writer of children’s books. In 2005, Jo moved from California to Connecticut after marrying another man who was a US citizen; however, after he physically abused her, the man was arrested and convicted of domestic assault charges and Jo filed for divorce. Although her ex-husband has withdrawn his sponsorship of her marriage-based green card, Jo is currently in the midst of obtaining permanent residency status based on her status as a survivor of violent crime related to this earlier assault case.
Upon leaving her first husband, Jo returned to California where she met Jesse Charlton, who had been recently discharged from the Army after serving two tours in Iraq. Charlton returned stateside after surviving a number of roadside bombs. In America, Charlton was homeless and with PTSD so severe that the Veterans Affairs Department determined him to be 70% disabled manifesting as erratic behaviour, memory loss, depression and other symptoms of traumatic brain injury.
Jo and Charlton were romantically involved between 2007 and 2008, and conceived Hwi. Charlton testified in Jo’s first trial that he was originally dismayed by the pregnancy, and didn’t want Hwi; he also became physically abusive against Jo — sometimes so severely that police were called. From the Sacramento Bee:
In the first trial, Charlton also testified that in a separate incident, he had once grabbed Jo by the throat and thrown her against a wall. Police were also called to respond to that incident, but only told Charlton to “leave for awhile”.
In 2009, Jo made the decision to return to Korea with Hwi to escape the relationship; but, when Jo took steps to try and secure a better educational future for her American child, she was arrested and now faces trial and possible deportation. Meanwhile, Charlton — who now works as a substitute teacher — has already been granted full custody for Hwi, meaning that even if Jo beats the child abduction charges, it’s possible she may still never regain custody of her child.
California’s domestic violence survivor groups and Korean American community have rallied behind Nan-Hui Jo, viewing the case as a punitive misapplication of criminal and immigration law against a survivor of domestic abuse who was attempting to escape a dangerous, potentially life threatening, situation. This statement is currently being circulated through social media:
Local activists are asking for your help in supporting Nan-Hui Cho:
In micro-studies, nearly two-thirds of Asian or Asian American women surveyed said they had experienced or witnessed physical or emotional abuse committed by husbands or loved ones. The vast majority of these crimes likely go unreported, particularly when complicated by factors such as the survivor’s undocumented or unnaturalized visa status or limited English language proficiency; over 60% of Asian Americans are foreign-born, and 30% of Asian Americans speak little or no English. Cases like Nan-Hui’s can only serve to drive victims and survivors of domestic violence further underground by sending the message that the legal system will not protect survivors who take steps to escape their abusers. Instead, Nan-Hui’s case sends the clear message that a woman who seeks to protect herself and her child will be treated as a criminal.
I strongly urge you to #StandWithNanHui and take part in the actions outlined above. Also please share this post to help share Nan-Hui’s story.
Update: An earlier version of this post had Jo’s last name mis-Romanized as “Cho”. I apologize for the error.
You Might Also Like...
Since 2001, Reappropriate has been the web's foremost Asian American activism, identity, feminism, and pop culture blog!