Today’s “What the hell?” moment is brought to you today by the San Diego Diocese. Carie Charlesworth, former second-grade teacher at Holy Trinity School, mother to four, and survivor of domestic violence suffered upon by her ex-husband, has had enough. Late last week, she brought her recent plight to the attention of the local San Diego NBC affiliate.
Charlesworth did everything right. She and her children suffered at the hands of her ex-husband, and so she worked up the gumption to take the children and divorce him. As happens in so many domestic abuse cases (along the lines of 75%), the violence escalated once she left. So, she did what any victims’ advocate would advise, and sought a restraining/protective order. The violence escalated even further one weekend in January, and then spilled into the workweek. Charlesworth notified the principal of the weekend’s events, and her concerns that her ex could show up at the school. Unfortunately for Charlesworth, her ex did come to her place of employment, and given his history and threats of violence, the school had to go on lockdown while waiting for the police to come and remove him. He’s currently incarcerated.
That’s when things get bad. After the lockdown incident, Charlesworth was placed on indefinite leave from her position, and she was instructed to keep her four children (who attended Holy Trinity School) out of school. That was in January. After fighting to be reinstated at her job over the subsequent months, she was summarily fired from her position, and her children were forbidden from returning to the private school. A letter issued to Charlesworth explains the reasons for her firing:
“Although we understand he is current incarcerated, we have no way of knowing how long or short a time he will actually serve and we understand from court files that he may be released as early as next fall. In the interest of the safety of the students, faculty and parents at Holy Trinity School, we simply cannot allow you to return to work there, or, unfortunately, at any other school in the Diocese.”
There’s no doubt about it, this is a bad move. The Catholic Church has had its fair share of scandal due to the sexual misconduct of its priests in recent decades (and the Church’s refusal to oust priests when they can just be reshuffled to other parishes), but this indicates an even deeper level of victim degradation may be endemic in some parts of the Church. The idea that the Diocese is not willing to provide protection and support (in the physical, emotional and the financial sense) to Charlesworth and her children leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Of course, domestic abuse survivors are often fired from their jobs. Two years ago, the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center’s Project SURVIVE conducted a study which demonstrated that almost 40% of domestic abuse survivors report being fired or fear of being fired for the actions of their abusive partners or exes. An eight year old study by the Legal Momentum Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund shows that nearly 50% of survivors have been fired, at least in part, for the violence they’ve suffered. Perhaps, if anything, Charlesworth’s plight will further the discussion on victim blaming and punishment.