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The first time Carie Charlesworth’s husband abused her was six years and four children into their marriage. It was 2006, Carie’s birthday. The California mom had gone to a concert with her sister to celebrate and, on her way home, texted her husband Martin to let him know she was stuck in traffic. By the time she stopped by her parents’ house to pick up the couple’s 1-year-old daughters, it was almost 1 a.m.
“When I got home, all my clothes were on the front lawn,” says Carie. Her husband would tell her later that he knew she was lying. She hadn’t been at the concert or stuck in traffic. She had been talking to other men, probably with the intent of cheating on him. It’s something he had accused her of many times before, even though she says she never gave him any reason to think she was unfaithful.
That night, his anger boiled over. Before she could even get out of the car, Martin was by her window. He grabbed her keys so she couldn’t drive away before he started striking her repeatedly in the face while she sat in the car. Their daughters were sleeping in the backseat. One of his blows left a deep gash near Carie’s eye and it was only when Martin saw blood pouring down his wife's face did he finally snap out of his rage.
Later, Carie would tell people that the five stiches across her face were a result of getting hit on the head during the concert. Her husband never apologized, and Carie never reported the incident. She was in total shock, she says. “You don’t want to admit that this is happening by the person who is supposed to love you the most.”
She says there were never any red flags to give her pause when she was dating Martin. Instead, the abuse started after the wedding. It was a slow progression of emotional, then verbal abuse. “There was name-calling; he would put me down. He would go through my phone and say every guy in it was someone I was texting. He was constantly accusing me of cheating. Every time he asked me a question, my answers weren’t what he wanted to hear. He would intimidate me into saying something he wanted me to say. He said if I didn’t tell him the truth, he would kill me.”
This would go on for years. Carie remembers nights she slept locked in their bathroom, afraid for her safety. But as quickly as it began, the abuse would stop for a while. There were phases, she says, where everything was picture perfect.
And then, that birthday night. The hitting. The blood. The stiches. But Carie says she couldn’t leave. “I didn’t know how to handle it. We had four children together—I don’t think it ever crossed my mind to leave him.”
She stayed with him for five more long years. “I didn’t want to lose my family. I never wanted to be a divorced mom.” After “a really bad, physical day,” in 2009, where Carie says Martin tried to strangle her, the couple separated for 10 months. They went to counseling. Carie says she did “everything I thought we needed to do to fix what was wrong.” She eventually went back to him, children in tow, and told him if he ever touched her again, she would leave forever. In 2011, he did just that, attacking her with a wooden hiking stick.
“I left him and I never returned.”
What Carie Endured After Leaving
At the time, she was teaching second grade at Holy Trinity School in El Cajon, Calif., the same school where the couple’s children attended. She let the principal know about her husband’s abuse, the divorce and the 10-year restraining order she took out against him.
But Martin wasn’t happy about the split, says Carie. “He said we would still be married in the eyes of the church. Even if we divorced, I was still technically his wife, he would say.” She says he was determined to catch Carie with another man. “That’s partly why the stalking started.”
In January 2013, two years after the couple divorced, Martin showed up at Carie’s school, which was put on lockdown before he could go inside. Martin was arrested. His lawyer says he claims he wasn’t able to get ahold of his wife and was worried about their children, but Martin ended up pleading guilty to “stalking or making a criminal threat.” He was sentenced to a year behind bars, plus four years probation, but was released from prison that June.
Three months after the incident, Carie received a letter from the school informing her they would not be renewing her teaching contract. “They said I made the school unsafe,” she says. School officials also asked that her four children, the youngest two who were in kindergarten and the oldest in 8th grade, not return the following school year.
“I was devastated. My whole life was teaching.” To lose her job, her source of income, and to have the school turn their backs on her and make her feel like the criminal, Carie says, “felt like a stab in the heart.”
Enter Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who was serendipitously pushing for legislation in California prohibiting discrimination of or retaliation against domestic violence survivors by employers. Carie quickly became the public face of the bill. She went to the capital to share her story with the Assembly Judiciary Committee, telling them that, upon being fired, “All those feelings I had as an abused woman came flooding back. In my time of most need, I was made to feel that I committed the crime.”
Carie wanted to fight for other survivors. “I was so happy to be able to go there and tell them that this really does happen and this is how it affects people. Survivors who are unable to financially support themselves can’t leave their abuser, and that’s why they stay. And if they come forward with their story, they can get fired because they’re often seen as unsafe.”
But when Carie’s story garnered national media attention, backlash followed. She took the brunt of strangers’ judgment. “People would comment, ‘She married him. She chose to stay. She chose to have kids with him.’ There was never, “Why is he making these decisions?” I was asked why I allowed it. I was being blamed for his choices.”
In October 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Jackson’s measure into California law. “It puts employers in a place where they’ll need to be supportive,” says Carie. Shockingly, in 43 states, one can technically be fired for being a victim of domestic violence. California is only the 7th state to enact an anti-discriminatory measure. Survivors are also protected against job discrimination in Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island.
Carie says she still hasn’t been able to find a full-time teaching job and is substitute teaching while applying for nursing school. Her ex-husband, who was sent back to prison for violating his probation, will be released this month and Carie is hopeful that he has reformed enough to be a part of their children’s lives again, who are now ages 13, 11 and 9. “He hasn’t seen his kids in two years. They miss their dad and want him to be in their life even though they know what he’s done. But I don’t know if they’re ready. I don’t know how he’s going to be when he gets out.”
ATTENTION SURVIVORS: Each year in honor of Mother's Day, The Pixel Project collects short inspirational interviews from survivors of any form of violence against women from all over the world for their Survivor Stories Blog Interview Project. To be considered for the project, download and return an interview sheet found here by March 31, or email The Pixel Project team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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