She was sentenced to die in prison because she couldn’t control her abuser.

Nationwide, sixty percent of people in women’s prisons are survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. In some prisons, the number is over ninety percent. This is hardly surprising in a society that refuses to believe survivors and treats incarcerated people as disposable.

Ny Nourn went to the police hoping the abuse would stop. Instead, she was sent to prison for life when she was only a teenager. Believing the experience and humanity of incarcerated survivors is the first step in ending the cycle of violence. That is why the Asian Law Caucus along with domestic violence and immigrant rights organizations are fighting alongside Ny. Sign the petition to free Ny — https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/help-release-a-domestic-violence-survivor

Ny with her sister during a visit at the Central California Women’s Facility

Violence impacted Ny’s life before she was even born. In 1965, the United States began secretly carpet bombing Cambodia. Over the next few years, the United States dropped more bombs on Cambodia than all bombs dropped by Allied forces in Europe, Asia, and Africa during the entirety of World War II. In the chaos that followed, a rebel group called the Khmer Rouge came to power. They promised protection from the US bombs and a new utopian agrarian society. In reality they created a hellish nightmare of mass starvation, cannibalism, and mass executions of anyone who did not fit in the new society — people who could read, had soft hands, wore glasses, or were not ethnically Cambodian. In all, two million people — one-third of the country — were killed.

Refugees at the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp in Thailand. Ny was born here. (Photo by Jack Dunford)

Ny’s mother fled the genocide in Cambodia, traveling for weeks on foot without food or water, to a refugee camp in neighboring Thailand. That is where Ny was born. Ny came to the United States as a child and grew up in San Diego. Her mother remarried. Ny experienced constant verbal abuse from her stepfather and witnessed him physically abuse her mother. Violence against women became a constant occurrence for her.

Ny turned to the internet to escape from violence at home, talking to strangers in chat rooms. She was only 17 years old when she met Ronald Barker, a much older married man. Ny began dating Barker hoping to feel affection and support that she was not getting at home. However, the relationship turned into a nightmare. Over the next few years, Ny was beaten regularly and sexually assaulted. One day, Barker took Ny to a desolate ravine where he debated killing her. On other occasions, she was asked to cut off her pinky as a sign of loyalty and had a gun fired next to her head in a mock execution.

When Ny was 18 and a senior in high school, she began dating David Stevens, the boss at her after school job, in yet another attempt to find some small amount of affection. Barker had repeatedly stated that he would kill Ny and her family if she ever attempted to leave him. Late one night, Barker confronted Ny outside of her home about her new relationship. Fearing for her own life and her family’s, Ny agreed to take Barker to confront David. Unknown to Ny, Barker had more sinister plans. Ny watched in horror as Barker shot David in the head and burned his body.

The murder went unsolved for three years as the abuse continued. Barker’s wife was aware of his relationship with Ny and supported it because he beat her less when he was also beating Ny. Ny attempted to leave several times, but the fear that Barker would kill her family brought her back each time. Eventually, Ny went to the police and disclosed everything in the hopes that they would protect her.

“Because I don’t want to be beaten anymore.” — Ny Nourn explaining why she went to the police.

However, neither the police nor the justice system were there to protect Ny. She was arrested, charged with murder, and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole — to die in prison. Although the prosecution and judge agreed that she did not take part in the shooting, she was accused of not controlling Ron’s violence, ignoring that she was unable to protect herself from his violence, much less anyone else.

“In weighing the culpability here, I think Ms. Nourn has more culpability than Mr. Barker because … she let this mad dog off the leash.” — Judge Frederic Link, explaining his sentence of life without the possibility of parole for Ny.

While in jail, Barker hired people to assault Ny, kidnap her family, and kill her attorney. The sentence was overturned on appeal due to failure to consider the abuse. Ny was resentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Ny’s situation isn’t just common. It is the norm for incarcerated women. Upwards of 90% of people incarcerated in women’s prisons experienced domestic violence or sexual assault before getting to prison. Survived and Punished, a coalition of organizations and campaigns, formed to demand the release of incarcerated survivors.

Recognizing the connection between experiencing domestic violence and incarceration, Ny decided to become a domestic violence counselor after prison and trained to become a state certified alcohol and substance abuse counselor. Thousands of people sent postcards, made calls, and signed petitions calling for her freedom. After 16 years in prison, Ny was granted parole by the Governor.

Even though the parole board and Governor found that Ny’s conviction was the result of domestic violence and her young age and that she posed no danger, the Governor still handed Ny over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation. Before she could take a breath of freedom, ICE agents handcuffed her and took her to a county jail pending a deportation hearing.

Supporters waiting to enter Ny’s hearing. Photo Credit: Ke Lam

Ny’s community continued to fight for her freedom. Hundreds of people sent Ny letters of support and packed the courtroom for her deportation hearing. After months in detention, a judge granted Ny protection from deportation.

Yet, ICE has still refused to release Ny and plans to appeal the decision. We are calling on ICE to release Ny. Ny will also be eligible for a bond hearing in November 2017. Supporters are raising money to pay for Ny’s bond.

Join us in fighting back:

1. Sign the petition to stay connected as we fight for Ny’s release and to stop her deportation — https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/help-release-a-domestic-violence-survivor

2. Supporters are raising money for Ny’s bond — http://bit.ly/Bond4Ny

3. Send Ny a note of support. We will print the notes out and send them to Ny — http://bit.ly/notetony