In 1980 a girl named Ny Nourn was born, only to live a life shaped by violence.
Nourn’s mother fled Cambodia causing her to be born in a Thailand refugee camp. Five years later, they both moved to the United States as refugees. After settling in San Diego, Nourn’s mother began dating her daughter’s future stepfather. This man became verbally, physically and sexually violent towards her mother, going as far as threatening to deport them if they ever called the police.
Nourn’s mother eventually became verbally and physically abusive towards her. Words like, “I wish you’d never been born” became the norm in their relationship. Nourn grew up learning and seeing this behavior on a constant basis. This abuse unfortunately became her model for relationships.
“I never would have a man hit me,” Nourn told Broadly in a series of phone calls. “But I didn’t know the warning flags.”
The years passed and it was not until she was 16 that Nourn discovered dating – online dating.
Instead of concentrating on her violent home situation, she used internet dating as a form of escape. When she was 17, she met 34-year-old Ron Barker online. They met and began to have an intimate relationship. After months of sex and dating, Barker became very manipulative toward Nourn. She was restricted from seeing her friends and family.
“He told me that I was being watched, that I was being followed,” Nourn said. “At 17, I took it as ‘This guy is really giving me attention. He really wants me.'”
Eventually, Barker’s behavior worsened. He began name-calling her and making notions as if he was going to hit her. He became a bad influence in her life, convincing her to help him open credit cards in her stepfather’s name. They racked up tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
If she ever contemplated leaving him, he would threaten to kill her. So, Nourn stayed with him and internalized the blame for his poor behavior.
“Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe it’s because I’m not the best girlfriend,” she recalled to Broadly.
The big 1-8 came and Nourn began working as a telemarketer for a dating service. It was at her workplace when her 38-year-old boss, David Stevens, expressed his interest in her. Nourn, growing up with screwed-up models for relationships, figured sex with her boss would be okay if her then-boyfriend did not find out. So, the two had sex. Shortly after their involvement, Nourn admitted to having sex with Stevens to Barker.
As soon as he heard her confession, Barker hit her, raped her and threatened to leave her. This was the first time he was physically violent with her. Nourn was scared and instead of agreeing to a break up, she begged him not to leave. Barker gave her an ultimatum – he would only stay if they both killed Stevens. She agreed, and eventually told the police she did so in fear of her own life being taken.
“I felt so powerless,” Nourn said over the phone. “He was not going to let me out of his car until I agreed. He had already put his hands on me and raped me.”
The plan was straightforward. Nourn called her boss, telling him she needed help because her car had broken down. Barker followed the two, gained Stevens’ trust by posing as Nourn’s brother. Then, he shot him two times in the head and set his car on fire.
After the murder, Nourn said Barker threatened to kill her and her family if she ever told anyone what had happened. She kept this to herself for three years before going to the police. After her confession, the authorities arrested both her and Barker.
Barker and Nourn were tried separately.
Barker never admitted to ever having killed or hurt anyone in his life. However, he is currently serving a life sentence in California.
In 2003, Nourn was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. This was appealed with documents stating she suffered from Battered Women’s Syndrome. After the appeal, she was sentenced to 15 years to life. In January 2017, she was granted parole. Four months after that, she left CDCR custody, but was then at once driven to detention by an ICE agent.
The Criminal Alien Program (CAP) is ICE’s largest deportation program to date. More than two-thirds of all deportations come from the CAP. CAP immigration officials have access to jails and prisons to search for immigrants.
Similar to Nourn’s case, many abuse survivors are underrepresented. The ACLU reports that almost 60 percent of American women in prison have a history of physical or sexual abuse.
Immigrant survivors without convictions can seek relief under the Violence Against Women Act, however, survivors with criminal convictions are not.
The issue with these laws are unequal representation. Criminalization does not affect all people the same, and neither does immigration enforcement. The pattern we see in this flawed system is those with less access to resources and opportunities usually get the short end of the stick.
“What purpose is deportation serving?” asked Anoop Prasad, a staff attorney for Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus and Nourn’s current attorney. “It’s not supposed to be punitive. The governor, the parole board, everyone who reviewed her file agree that she deserves a second chance, that she was put in an impossible situation as a kid.”
While imprisoned, Nourn pursued a substance abuse certification for counseling. She wants to share her story and her experience to help other abused women. Nourn also aims to highlight how domestic violence can be an unfortunate path to incarceration, and for immigrants, deportation.
“No matter what I do, I can never bring David back.” Said Nourn. “For me to speak my truth is helpful. I just want to help the next person.”