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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

Pin the Tail on the Victim

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It’s rare that a news story makes me angry. But this one managed to get under my skin and infuriate me.

A teacher in California has been fired after her abusive and threatening ex husband showed up at her school, violating his restraining order. The school was forced to go into lockdown until the ex was apprehended by police.

After the incident, the private school put her on leave (and removed her children from the school) and refused to issue her a contract for the next school year. They cite their fears of the potential threat that the ex has to the students and faculty of the school once he is released from jail.

Deep breath.

I get the fear. It is extremely frightening to have an unstable person show up at the school, threatening students and faculty. I know. I’ve been there.

I’ve been there with the biological father with no parental rights shows up and tries to kidnap his daughter from the school cafeteria.

I’ve been there when the parent lashes out at the child in a conference, breaking his arm.

I’ve been there when the mom comes in to change the address of record to a battered women’s shelter and files the paperwork to remove the father from the approved pick up list.

I’ve been there as one who had to alert her principal to the possibility of an unstable ex showing up at the school. I felt so embarrassed and so ashamed having to tell my principal about my marital issues and making sure that the front office staff knew his name and what he looked like.

Schools are large organizations with hundreds if not thousands of people that come from all types of backgrounds. It’s only logical that domestic situations sometimes bleed into the school. It is a romantic notion to think that we can insulate our schools from this sort of episode, but unless we remove all of the people – faculty and students – from the school, it is an impossibility.

From everything we know about this particular story, the teacher did everything right. She divorced him, secured a restraining order and alerted the school when he threatened to approach her there.

Yet the school pinned the tail on her.

I worry about the message implied in the school’s response. It may encourage the abused to not seek help. To stay quiet. To stay a victim. By firing her, the school reinforced the ex husband’s power. They may have gussied up their threats on letterhead and refrained from foul language, but they are just as abusive by punishing someone asking for help.

It’s time to stop blaming those who try to get out. To get help. To speak out. Let’s pin the tail on the real asses.


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20 thoughts on “Pin the Tail on the Victim

  1. I have a huge problem with this one. I am a teacher also, and have had to alert school authorities of my ex-husband. I didn’t have to do this, but I wanted to protect the school as well as myself. If anything had happened, and I had been suspended…I don’t know what I would have done. It wasn’t my fault that any of this happened with him. All I ever did was try to protect the innocent parties. I think I smell a lawsuit with this one.

  2. This one got under my skin too. I was appalled. As a not-teacher, I thought I kind-of, maybe, could understand the “protect the children” reasoning (only, really, in theory, not in actuality having had to be the one to alert an employer to my abuser), but I could not, could not, understand the outright firing of this teacher. This is the arch-diocese of San Diego. A religious corporation – they had other positions, non-teaching positions if that really was their concern, they could have placed her in and not thrown her out in the streets with four children and no income.

    1. Pretty much. Also, as far as the “protect the children” idea, in my 11 years in education, every single domestic issue that came into the school was from a parent of a child in the school. What’s next – throw out any kids with parents that have a history of abuse? Grrrr….

      1. They’ve set a bad precedent for their school. I wonder how much of their decision was a result of the other parents threatening to remove their kids of this potential for a threat wasn’t removed. As a private school relying on tuition, I wonder if this decision wasn’t more motivated by the potential loss of revenue rather than a potential threat from the abusive ex-husband.

  3. “I worry about the message implied in the school’s response. It may encourage the abused to not seek help. To stay quiet. To stay a victim.”

    This is a problem in society in general. I once got approached by a student claiming her cousin had tried to rape her. I had a female teacher escort her to the police station to make a statement. Then her family kicked HER out for laying charges against a relative. The school ended up housing her in the hostel for the rest of her senior year.

    What is worse is that it reaches a point where the victim starts believing she deserves to be punished.

    A serious overhaul of people’s perceptions is needed.

    1. Agree! I think so much of it has to do with people wanting to believe that it cannot happen to them, that they could not be a victim. If we paint the victim as somehow culpable, it means that we can feel safe from suffering the same fate as long as we don’t make those same choices. We don’t want to identify with the victim because then we have to accept that it could be us.

  4. Excellent points! You are so right. Her ex will likely be delighted by the chaos that he has caused her, yet again. It’s a very sad situation and one that should be reviewed by the School Board. She might have to lodge an official complaint….but she likely is exhausted from the divorce never mind having to now deal with work conflict.

  5. Wow – I echo previous commenters. That is appalling. It is both infuriating and very sad the ways in which societal institutions can actually support abusers by penalizing their victims.

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