Today, the Stand With Nan-Hui group launched a letter-writing campaign urging supporters to write letters of support to and for Nan-Hui Jo, who was recently found guilty of child abduction for escaping an abusive relationship with her daughter. This is my letter to Nan-Hui Jo; you are invited to write yours.
You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. In many ways, our stories are different. I am ethnically Chinese, not Korean. My first language is English. I have not (yet) been married. I am not (yet) a mother.
But in many ways, our stories are similar. Like you, I am an immigrant and an Asian American woman. Like you, I’ve had to navigate the complex web of U.S. immigration law just to maintain my life here, and like you, I’ve felt the fear that comes with the possibility of falling out of status. Like you, I’ve lain awake at night terrified that I have run out of options; that I am trapped; that there’s nobody who will help, or will even understand what’s happening.
I can only imagine how much harder trying to survive U.S. immigration law would be when also a survivor of domestic violence. As immigrants and women of colour and with already so few options available, I can only imagine what it’s like to have the possibilities further limited by having to secure not only your own physical safety, but also the physical safety of your child.
They say that domestic abuse is about exerting power. I think it is about weaponizing fear.
Over the last month, you have stood trial against a prosecution that seems to fundamentally misunderstand the dynamics of domestic abuse. They argue that ‘it wasn’t that bad’. They argue that ‘it only happened once.’ They say what he did to you was normal, or understandable, or brought upon by you.
Domestic violence cannot be normal. It can never be understandable. Violence is never a victim’s fault.
They don’t understand that domestic abuse is not just defined by what happened, but about instilling the fear of what could happen next. They don’t understand that this is terrorism. They don’t understand what it’s like to live everyday in that fear. They don’t understand that children grow up sensing that fear, too. They don’t understand that just being forced to witness domestic abuse between parents is, by itself, traumatizing for a child.
I believe you were right to want to escape your situation, and to save your child from what that life could have become for her.
What makes me angriest about your story is how little people understand about domestic violence, and how much less they are willing to learn about it and its survivors. What makes me angriest about what is happening to you is how they are trying to make you look like a bad partner and a worse mother. What makes me angriest is that in your trial, they blamed you for surviving your abuse.
I want you to know, Nan-Hui, that there are people — lots of people — who stand with you. There are many of us who believe that you were trying to find the best of a limited number of terrible options: one that would not only guarantee your safety, but the safety and care of your daughter. I want you to know that there are many of us who believe you were convicted not because you are a bad mother; rather, that you were convicted because you are an amazing mom, and the justice system was wrong to find you guilty because of it.
It takes courage to see the danger in someone you love, and this country makes it almost impossible for women to act even when they recognize that danger. You made the difficult choice to escape; in so doing you acted to save yourself and your child from a situation you believed was dangerous. Then, you rebuilt your life – one that your daughter has not only been safe in, but has also thrived in – from the ashes.
I am amazed and inspired by your story, and your obvious, fierce love for your child.
I can only imagine how dark the future looks for you right now. But, while I know this letter can never substitute for a reunification with your daughter, I hope my words can serve some tiny comfort and reminder to you right now.
You are understood. You are believed. You are not alone.
Yours in strength and love,
Jenn of Reappropriate.co