Domestic Violence Survivor Faces Child Abduction Charges, Deportation | #StandWithNanHui


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 Although her ex-husband has withdrawn his sponsorship of her marriage-based green card, Jo is currently in the midst of obtaining permanent residency status based on her status as a survivor of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:

[Jo] said she worked at two local Korean restaurants and had a student loan, but had received a letter from the U.S. government telling her her visa had expired, her American husband no longer supported her green card petition and she would have to leave the country immediately.

“I didn’t have a working permit, I didn’t have a driver’s license, and Jesse didn’t care,” she testified. “I couldn’t survive here.”

Jo gave Charlton a ring, according to Korean custom, but he said they couldn’t get married because her divorce wasn’t final. He admitted Jo called the police a second time after he broke his hand hitting the wall and punched the car’s steering wheel. “Usually, Jesse is a fairly peaceful person, but Jesse explained to me sometimes his personality or characteristics just completely change. … You can see it from his eyes,” she testified.

Jo also said she was worried about her baby daughter watching when Charlton viewed porn on her laptop while Jo was at school.

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:

Friends, we really really need your help. Nan-Hui Jo, a single undocumented Korean mother and survivor of domestic violence is facing potential deportation by ICE. As a desperate final push, we’re asking all of you to put pressure on ICE to use their prosecutorial discretion to drop the charge.

In 2009, Nan-Hui Jo and her daughter fled to South Korea to escape her then abusive partner and child’s father, Jesse Charlton. He then falsely charged her with “child abduction.” When she returned to the States in 2014, her daughter was taken from her and given over to the custody of the abuser without any oversight by Child Protective Services. She was arrested and has been in jail for six months, and has not been allowed any contact with her daughter. This is the SECOND TIME that she has been forced to stand trial to defend her actions. The first trial resulted in a hung jury, even though the abuser admitted in court to having choked her and thrown her against the wall (which doesn’t even give a tiny glimpse into the scope of violence she experienced from him). Now, the DA, from the historically hyper-conservative Yolo County (Sacramento, CA), is attempting to re-try her. This time she faces deportation charge by ICE, which would forbid her from returning to the States and separate her from her daughter indefinitely.

Local activists are asking for your help in supporting Nan-Hui Cho:

We’re asking you to support Nan-Hui in one or all of the following ways:

Sign and circulate this petition for Nan-Hui.

We are asking a group of supporters to court watch while trial is in session from 8:30-4:00. It is public session, so people can enter and leave at any time. Supporters will be wearing purple ribbons and sit in the rows directly behind Nan-Hui to show her visible, but silent support.

Contact if you’re interested in attending and carpooling from the East Bay.

Nan-Hui will start her testimony on Wed at 10AM. We are asking folks to show their solidarity by sharing Nan-Hui’s story + speak out to tell your own family stories around domestic violence at the same time that she testifies. Use hashtags #WeSurvived and #StandWithNanHui. As we stand with Nan-Hui, we stand with all survivors of domestic violence and their children.

Guidelines for how to share your story can be found at this Google Doc.

All of them. Yes, all of them.

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.

Read More: The Unseen Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence in the AAPI Community 

Update: An earlier version of this post had Jo’s last name mis-Romanized as “Cho”. I apologize for the error.

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  • Solargreenman

    I read the article you provided a link too and also this reply to it.

    Victims of Domestic Abuse – both male and female victims – need to immediately get out of the abusive relationship. I don’t understand why so many men and women stay in such relationships.

    Once out, and if their is a child involved they parents needs to work out a plan that protect the child including the child’s right to both parents. If the courts need to be involved because the parents can not work it out on their own or believe their is a risk of the child being with the other parent then the courts need to be involved and the courts need to get other professional involved.

    The parents never needed to physically see each other again (other than perhaps in court). All communications can be using a tool such as or All custody exchanges could be done using a friend they both agreed on or a professional custody exchange service. Point being there were some very simple steps that could have been taken to protect all parties.

    The article you reference does not seem to apply to this case as per Jo’s own testimony their was only physical violence one time when Jo shoved the baby at Jesse and the babies head hit Jesse’s chin. It appears their was bilateral DV. This should have ended the relationship for both partners and dictated that they get counseling and other professional help. This also should have dictated that safeguard were put in place to protect both parents and the child.

    Her is a question for you. Considering the epidemic of false DV allegation should an allegation of domestic abuse be a “silver bullet” that mothers posses to gain full custody and remove a father from the child’s life without due process?

  • Solargreenman

    Here are some more from the Davis Vanguard:









    So far as your point about Charlton being responsible even when he is away. I have not found anywhere that states that the CPS call resulted in a finding of abuse. The call itself is not evidence of anything but the call being made. It is really unclear what happened other than the child had a panic attack and her paternal grandfather hugged her tightly thinking it would help her. It is not a substantiated as abuse or that she was harmed in any way and certainly does not appear to have been an attempt to abuse the girl. If you have more information please share it. It is unfortunate that the child did not have a relationship with her father and grandfather and the fact that she did not have a relationship seems to be a choice the mother made exclusively without consent of the father.

  • Thanks for sharing the links.

    You’re right. That’s why I said citing the CPS call is more prejudicial than materially relevant.

    I take issue with your concluding sentence however because again the central question is whether a victim of domestic abuse should be held to a legal standard of needing to obtain parental consent from an abuser when removing a child from an environment the parent has reason to think is dangerous.

    That’s the central legal question that still demands address.

  • Jo testifies to additional displays of violence and intimidation. And further the important point here is whether you are establishing that victims of abuse should not be permitted to remove a child when they flee, which effectively forces the choice: leave and abandon your child, or stay and tolerate the abuse. You simply seem to ignore the situation –applicable here– for what to do when one parent has reason to believe that the abuser poses a danger, or simply will not provide dequate care for, a child when the DV victim leaves.

    Also, there’s no really convincing evidence here for bilateral abuse.

  • Solargreenman

    Several things going on here.
    Some of the central question are turning into:
    Does a victim of abuse have unilateral right to decide to remove a child from their mother or father in a situation when they believe the abuser poses a danger or simply will not provide adequate care for a child when the DV victim leaves?

    After the victim and the child are removed from the danger situation are there any more responsibilities the victim has? For example can the victim and child just disappear to New Zealand without clear notification and consent of the child parents? Does the victim have a responsibility to inform the authorities the child has been removed from the abusive situation? Does the victim have the responsibility of working with the authorities to resolve the issue? Do the mother or father or both of the child have any rights if it they committed any abuse? Does the child have any rights?

    I have not been given access to any evidence in this case, just what is posted in the news and media about the case. I think I would have found the case very interesting had I been there for the evidence as it was presented but for me just hearsay on the internet. In all that hearsay it does seem that bilateral abuse was an issue here as was some level of child abuse.

  • Solargreenman

    The answer is …… drum roll…..

    A victim or domestic abuse or any other competent person should not need to obtain consent from and abusive parent to remove a child form an environment the child’s parent or any other competent person has reason to think is dangerous.

    Does this answer your “central legal question”?

  • Solargreenman

    Reading your question again, the one that has been asked as the central legal question numerous time I think the answer can be further simplified.

    Any competent person does not need to obtain consent from a parent to remove a child from an environment or situation the competent persons has reason to think is dangerous to the child.

    Does this answer your “central legal questions”? Can we agree to this? If not what is your disagreement with it?

  • Cool. We agree then.

    Then how do you reconcile that with this statement which appears to argue that Jo should have sought consent or not removed Hwi from a situation she deemed dangerous?

    the fact that she did not have a relationship seems to be a choice the mother made exclusively without consent of the father.

  • Solargreenman

    I don’t see that any reconciling is necessary as they statement does not conflict.

    I believe we agree that any competent person has a right to remove a child from an abusive parent or other situation the competent person thinks is dangerous. I did not say the competent person (whom may not be a parent) has the right to decide the child does not have a right to a relationship with the parent.

    One situation deals with getting a child out of an immediately dangerous situation.

    The other situation deals with a child’s right to have a relationship with the child’s parent or parents and who has authority to terminate a child’s right to a relationship with a parent or parents and what causes justify terminating a child’s right to a relationship with a parent or parents.

    In the statement I made “It is unfortunate that the child did not have a relationship with her father and grandfather and the fact that she did not have a relationship seems to be a choice the mother made exclusively without consent of the father.” I should have either stopper at the word ‘exclusively’, or added the word ‘or court of jurisdiction’ after the word ‘father’

    Do you think that if a competent person removes a child from his parent or parents that the competent person has any further obligations? If so what are the obligations?

  • Do you think that if a competent person removes a child from the childs parent or parents that the competent person has any further obligations? If so what are the obligations?

    I believe that a parent has the right to remove a child from a dangerous situation without the consent of the other parent. I believe that in cases of DV this removal doesn’t stop at the front door, and part of this removal may require maintained distance through the period that the child still requires legal guardianship. As a concrete example, Charlton testifies that he attempted to threaten Jo’s life (“to be mean or intimidate her”) by threatening to send a bounty hunter after her; this substantiates Jo’s concern that even just maintaining contact with Charlton and informing him of their location posed a physical danger to both mother and child.

    Thus, I argue that if you believe that Nan-Hui Jo was within her rights to remove Hwi from the situation, and you further agree that there was reasonable fear that Charlton posed a threat even when Jo was no longer living with him, then you must further acknowledge that a complete removal of a child from a dangerous situation may involve full cessation of contact — to literally go into hiding. Your argument seems to assert that Jo was right to first remove Hwi but was then obligated to continually, and knowingly, re-expose Hwi to the very circumstances Jo thought was dangerous in the first place. These are conflicting statements.

    You and I would probably agree that Jo doesn’t have the right to stop Hwi from establishing a relationship with a parent who was abusive to her other parent, once Hwi is old enough to make that choice and exercise that right for herself. But since Hwi is currently about six, and therefore is equipped to make a meaningful choice on this particular question, that hardly seems like a reasonable discussion to be having at the moment.

    Also, just to be precise about our language, we’re really talking about Charlton’s parental rights, not Hwi’s “right to have two parents” which is not a legal right.

  • BTW, Solargreenman, you should know that using a second account after your first is banned for comment policy is pretty sketchy online behaviour, and that you are treading on thin ice. Given the nature of your original violation, I am holding you to a very strict standard of abiding by this site’s commenting guidelines.

  • Solargreenman

    There was reasonable reason to believe that Nan-Hui posed a threat to Hwi. Neither Jesse nor Nan-Hui have been prosecuted for domestic violence in relation instance that began with Nan-Hui forcefully shoving or throwing the child at Jesse and Jesse grabbing Nan-Hui and throwing or pushing her into a wall so we do not know what would have come out at such a trial.

    This reminds me of an episode of South Park when the kids would see an endangered species and scream “It’s coming right at us.” and then they would kill it. The premise being all the had to do is create to illusion to circumvent the law. What prevents this premise from being abused as it so frequently is to tragic consequences.

    It is a human right for a child to have 2 parents if the child has bonded with two parents. The child had bonded with Jesse and Jo both as parents before being abducted.

    Why would Jo not attend the court hearing by phone even from Korea?

    Let’s also have a different discussion. How could Jo have felt better protected? The system can be improved. As a father it is really scary going into the family court system knowing it is setup against you and in the mass majority of cases as the father the children will be taken away from you in a significant way. There is still tremendous gender bias against father having shared or full custody of their children in separation and divorce. Tragically the system has been creating a fatherless society where fathers are no longer valued as parents and are labeled as visitors and non-custodial parents, and children have been the victims.

    Could Jo have been served by her cultural community whom seems to be stepping up now? If she had went to the Court Hearing that I recall was on the same day she absconded with Hwi perhaps a schedule and parenting plan could have been worked out. Perhaps a community could have supported her in some way? Perhaps laws needs to be changed? How specifically do they need to be changed?

  • Solargreenman

    Asked and answered above.

  • She did not throw her child. She handed the child to Charlton (perhaps roughly) and he not expecting it banged their heads together. Both parents testify it was an accident and unintentional. So let’s cease with the ‘throwing’ narrative.

    How could Jo have felt more protected? Well, maybe a system of not blaming victims of DV and providing realistic, legal and practical options that aren’t punitive to survivors for surviving would be a start. Jo was not offered, to my knowledge, an over-the-phone court appearance, nor was the threat on her life via bounty hunter ever treated seriously.

    The DA says he offered help, but none of that help seems to have been in a form that would have really protected Hwi from Charlton. And the point here is that Jo had reason to believe that CONTACT with Charlton endangered Hwi.

  • Solargreenman

    Per the reporting of Ms. Smiths testimony in the Davis Vangaurd she was offered to be at the court hearing telephonically and she was also provided with a Korean interpreter. This was also reported by the Scaromento Bee.

    Here is the statement from the Davis Vanguard that Ms. Smith made “In response to Ms. Jo’s statements, Ms. Smith emailed Ms. Jo the court documents from Mr. Charlton and an order to appear in court on February 9, 2010. She also suggested that Ms. Jo telecommunicate so that she could still make an appearance at the hearing. Ms. Jo could contact someone named “Amy” to set up the telecommute. Ms. Smith also added that if Ms. Jo believed Mr. Charlton to be a danger, she could contact a women’s shelter for assistance. The shelter could help Ms. Jo fill out court papers and try to explain why the child should remain with her.

    Ms. Jo thanked Ms. Smith and agreed to call Amy. On January 28, 2010, Ms. Jo asked for Amy’s email address because she did not own a phone and it was difficult for her to use a payphone while caring for the child. Ms. Smith replied that she did not know Amy’s email address and therefore Ms. Jo would have to call her. That was the last day that Ms. Smith received any response from Ms. Jo.”

    This was evidently many months before the “Bounty Hunter threat” so that excuse for not making the call into court is not valid. I do find hard to take seriously this statement which made out of frustration many months after having his daughter abducted.

    So Jo was most definitely offered an over the phone appearance which she refused. Also, why would you not think Jo could not appear over the phone. I’ve sat in a lot of family court proceeding and this happens all the time. I’ve also made arrangements to appear telephonically, It is a very simple process.

    Do you care about the rights of the accused and wrongfully accused out all?

  • re: telephone

    OK, thanks for clarifying that. I did not know that and will concede I was wrong on that point.

    This was evidently many months before the “Bounty Hunter threat” so that excuse for not making the call into court is not valid

    I disagree. Charlton had established a pattern of violence, threats, stalking, and physical abuse long before the bounty hunter email. As with the earlier issue with the visa, you seem to assume that things referenced in a written communication happen only in the instant of that communication. It’s not reasonable to suspect that only with the bounty hunter email did Jo become afraid that the danger Charlton posed would suddenly transcend national boundaries. She left for Korea because she had reason to believe that so long as Charlton could access her, she and Hwi was in danger. That fear doesn’t manifest magically the minute it was documented on (digital) paper. In the same way, Jo’s visa didn’t expire the minute she said it expired in Jan 2010.

    Appearing in court opens Jo up to the possibility of having to reveal where she is. If you’re a person who has gone into hiding to escape an abusive partner, you’re not going to voluntarily dismantle that protection you’ve built, particularly not for a prosecutor who is asking that she return to the United States to hand over her child to an abusive alcoholic person on the vague promise that she might see her child again. Yeah, right.

    Do you care about the rights of the accused and wrongfully accused out all?

    That is an extremely inflammatory question, and I’ve already told you you’re on thin ice with regard to using a second account to circumvent your first account being banned. Watch it.

  • Robert Joseph Glasco

    I am not signing it for the simple fact she kidnapped her child.. I did not see my kids for nearly 7 years and my ex made up so many lies. She told my son I was murdered and he was happy I was dead because he told me that he was told I was bad so many times. I now have the kids 24/7. I can’t feel sorry for her. She kidnapped her child and deprived the dad his parental rights. Now the child is with her dad who is a stranger and she has no one to blame but herself.

  • Alida

    We are recovering survivors of domestic violence and abuse. I have been following all the rules of the “system” and reported the incidents. It has been over 6 months and I have not met the detective assigned to the 1st case, nor the second case of attempted murder. I have protection order in place and recently had to apply for a harassment protection order as he places ads using my contact details and photos for men to call me for a good time. I have reported this to the police and even a recently stalking and public assault by the abuser but I was turned away and requested to come back on a work day as this happened over a weekend. We are not married and he has seen for baby financially since his birth. The law has failed us and the abuser does whatever he wants. The court gave me permission to move away but the abuser threatened to charge me with kidnapping too. When and where and how does a mother safe herself and her child from the dark world of violence and abuse just to face another of a criminal charge. In my area women do not have the means or time to go to the police to report the abuse, they have too much respect for their elders and parents to cause public scenes and drama by calling the police out. I believe that this lady just felt she had no other option of just taking her child and running away when the opportunity was there, to just leave and get away as far as possible and then get help. People judge other’s so easily, when you have not been in her situation you will not understand the kind of fear and uncertainty you live with from hour-to-hour. You loose yourself in this kind of environment and if not for your kids you will loose your sanity as well. We all have rights, men and women and children, unfortunately some people take advantage of this to be spiteful but not once will they place themselves in the other person’s shoes or for one moment stop to think if THEY did not drive this person to do what they did…but we cry Christian and tap ourselves on the back for being a better parent, the children will grow up and will ask questions and are we prepared to answer them truthfully WITHOUT harming the character of the other person just to feel better about ourselves and what we have done/had to do? I have created a fundraiser to raise funds for us to start over and while everything that was needed to be done to protect us is in place nobody supports us. It’s funny how people just want to comment and pass the buck on the other person or run their mouths about how to do this or that and you will manage but have you been there, are you where I am or where Non-Hui and her child is now?

  • Will S

    this is exactly whats happening to me now my babys mom is sweet girl but can get violent. she is 10years older then me and leaving me no choice to report kidnapping. i dont blame the mom. i blame the feminist who manipulated the whole situation for their own self righteousness.. they are the ones that should be punished not the mom.