Anna Nepomuceno is a Filipina immigrant and loving mother of two daughters. She is fighting to keep her children safe from their sexually abusive father. In 2013, her oldest daughter, Nichole disclosed to Anna that she was being molested by her father. Upon the horrifying realization that her husband was sexually abusing both Nichole and M—ages 17 and 5 at the time—Anna swiftly took action to keep her children safe. Child Protective Services (CPS) began an investigation, and the family court granted permanent restraining orders for Anna and her children. Anna gained sole legal and physical custody as their divorce was being finalized.
In 2014, Anna went to the Philippines with her daughter M to visit her sick father. While she was abroad, NCDA charged her with child abduction despite her having sole custody of her children, and the family court terminated the restraining orders and all her custodial rights. Fearing the worst, Anna obtained restraining orders in the Philippines for herself and M, and returned to the U.S. alone to resolve the family law dispute. At San Francisco International Airport, Anna was arrested and jailed because she refused to give her daughter to the man who had sexually abused her. Though she was eventually released on bond, NCDA aggressively pursued Anna’s criminalization, adding a special enhancement to the kidnapping charge, increasing a possible sentence of 3 years to 13 years. Now, Anna and her daughters are fighting prison time as well as the threat of state-sanctioned sexual abuse for M if she returns to the US.
As campaigns and organizations supporting survivors at the intersections of sexual violence, domestic violence and criminalization, we are enraged by the actions of the state authorities involved—particularly, Napa County District Attorney’s Office (NCDA) and Napa Family Court (NFC). District attorneys and family courts build their reputations based on their ostensible expertise in the areas of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual violence. Yet instead of supporting Nichole and M towards healing and safety, the NCDA and NFC have gone to great lengths to force contact with their abusive father and send their mother, the only protector in their lives, to prison.
Anna’s criminal trial is coming to a close and the jury begins deliberations today. Both Anna and her daughter, Nichole, testified about the abuse that the girls suffered from their father. Community members have watched closely as District Attorney Holly Quate has consistently minimized child sexual abuse throughout the trial in the effort to prosecute Anna, making light of the details that Nichole was forced to testify about in the trial that could result in her mother going to prison. We recognize this case as part of a larger pattern of our legal systems’ violence towards survivors and their families, even as they claim to protect them:
- Last year, Nan-Hui Jo, a Korean undocumented domestic violence survivor and mother, was convicted of child abduction for leaving the US during increasing physical abuse. Nan-Hui had sole custody of her daughter, but when her ex-partner reported her for child abduction, she was arrested and jailed. Nan-Hui spent the next year in jail and immigration detention and was not allowed any contact with her daughter. She was released in July 2015—but is still fighting to gain back parental rights, and is struggling against ongoing deportation proceedings.
- In 2010, Marissa Alexander’s then-partner attacked her in front of her children. Marissa, a Black domestic violence survivor and mother of three, had just given birth to a premature daughter just days before this incident. She fired a warning shot into the ceiling in self–defense, and was charged with up to 60 years in prison. She served three years before she was released in January 2015 on time served and house arrest.
- In 2015, Tondalo Hall, a Black incarcerated domestic violence survivor and mother, was denied a commutation of her sentence. Tondalo’s ex-partner severely abused her and eventually her children. Shortly after she took her children to the hospital after her son’s leg began to swell suspiciously, she and her partner were both arrested for child abuse. Tondalo, who was regularly assaulted and threatened by her partner, was sentenced to thirty years in prison for “failure to protect” her children from abuse. The man who abused them was released after two years.
Anna, Nan-Hui, Marissa and Tondalo are a few of the many stories of what happens to mothers whose survival strategies are deemed criminal by the state. Survivors are often told that they must leave abusive environments no matter what — yet Anna and Nan-Hui attempted to leave situations in which they or their children were endangered, and were punished. Survivors are also told to defend themselves — Marissa fired a warning shot and was nearly imprisoned for 60 years. And in cases like Tondalo’s, survivors are told that they must be able to both predict and prevent the unpredictable and volatile actions of their violent partners—and if they can’t, they will be unduly punished. In the midst of these impossible demands, where can survivors find justice and safety? For decades, anti-violence organizations have entrusted the pursuit of justice and safety to courts and prosecutors. This can no longer be the case if we are to truly support all survivors of sexual and domestic abuse, particularly immigrant and Black survivors.
We call for your fearless solidarity with Anna, Nichole and M in their fight for justice. In a nation where one in five girls will be sexually abused as children and 56% of Filipinas report experiences of sexual violence, it is critical that we support Nichole and M’s right to safety and healing. We demand that NCDA immediately drop all charges against Anna, and that NFC immediately restore the appropriate restraining orders and Anna’s custodial rights. This family should not be coerced into having to choose between continued sexual abuse for M or thirteen years in prison for Anna. In between these non-options, we see Anna’s courage in choosing to risk imprisonment to protect her daughter; we see Nichole’s strength in supporting her family and testifying in court about her own abuse; we see the fierce love that both women have for M. We are honored to join them in their struggle towards justice, and will be advocating on their behalf nationwide.
Signed (partial list):
Stand With Nan-Hui, Oakland, CA
Anakbayan East Bay, Oakland, CA
Asian Law Caucus, San Francisco, CA
Asian Women’s Shelter, San Francisco, CA
ASPIRE, San Francisco, CA
California Coalition for Women Prisoners, San Francisco, CA
California Immigrant Policy Center, CA
California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, CA
Chicago Taskforce on Women & Girls, Chicago, IL
Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign, US
Free Rajeshree, San Francisco, CA
Korean American Coalition to End Domestic Abuse, Oakland, CA
Love & Protect, Chicago, IL
Moms United Against Violence and Incarceration, Chicago, IL
National Day Laborer Organizing Network, US
To learn more, follow Rise With Anna on Facebook and the #RiseWithAnna & #SurvivedAndPunished hashtags on twitter.
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