Effects on IPCA – International Parental Child Abduction plus when is a victim parent is NOT a victim parent?
We have come to realize that many children are missing but we rarely learn what happens to them. On those few occasions when we do, headline news stories tell about a murdered child and a suspect being sought. Other times we rejoice when a child is found alive and is reunited with his or her family. In such cases we see, or imagine, visions of tearful reunions with hugs and kisses. What about the thousands of children around the world who are victims of Parental Child Abduction? The world’s unmissed amongst the missing…..
While we all might wish for happy endings with reunited families living happily ever after, the truth is that the lives of abducted children and their families are forever changed.
Parental abductions lack society’s recognition of its devastating and long-term impact. Even the public’s reaction to family abduction declares that the child is “fine”, which is far from the truth. This is because the child is with the other parent. They may believe the left behind parent must have deserved to have the child removed or that the matter is “just” a custody dispute between two battling parents. The public’s view of abducted children is defined by “stranger” abductions like Madeleine McCann. Statistics and evidence clearly shows that the majority of abducted children are taken by family members both domestically and internationally.
Why do family members take children? Parents may abduct their children for several different reasons. Is it for love? In our experience usually not, the typical motivation for family abduction is power, control, as a power play, using children as tools or weapons and revenge.
Some parents believe that they have not been treated fairly in a custody battle and may feel misrepresented in court. They will take their child both to hurt the other parent, and simply to assert that they are capable of doing so in other words to show they have the power over the other parent. Some parents abduct their child out of fear for the child’s safety. This is common in cases where a spouse, usually the wife, is abused by her partner. She will usually take her child to protect him or her from abuse. Shares custody parents may fear that their child is subject to neglect and endangerment when with the other parent.
CARI has seen and heard everything in the book. Unfortunately many allegations against the other parent are unjust and unfair. Meaning lies created by the abducting parent in order to support the wrong they have committed. These characteristics are also prevalent in domestic violence cases. In fact, family abduction is really a form of family violence and has been recognised as a form of child abuse. Some abductors even believe they are rescuing the child, but rarely do they resort to legal approaches for resolution. Many abducting parents are so narcissistic they do not have the ability to view their children as separate entities from themselves. These abductors believe since they hate the other parent, the child should as well. Sometimes abductors feel disenfranchised and have a culturally different perspective regarding child rearing and parenting. They may miss and want to return to their country of origin with the child and in doing so start to plan their abduction and create false allegations against the other parent to support their abduction.
In extreme cases and something CARI has seen a number of times abducted children whose identities are changed may be told that the left-behind parent is dead or did not want them. Moving from place to place to avoid being found, they are compelled to live like fugitives. They receive little or no medical care or schooling out of fear they can be traced through medical or school records. These children are at risk, and society’s perception must be changed to recognize that the majority of family abduction victims live in dangerous and undesirable locations and conditions.
The impact on child victims will differ. Each child is an individual with different reactions to the circumstance and with different coping styles. The impact will be affected by the pre-stressors in the child’s life, the relationship the child has to the abductor as well as the relationship the child had with the left behind family and community. The child’s age, character, how they were taken, length of time missing, what they were told, and their individual and cumulative experiences while abducted will also effect the child.
The left-behind family members, which include the parent(s), siblings, stepparents, step and half siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and others, will suffer as well. The left-behind parent often has an incredibly difficult time maintaining work commitments while searching for their child. Feelings of anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, despair, loneliness, and guilt are common emotions. Most left-behind parents also suffer from disturbances in sleep patterns, loss of appetite, and severe depression. The emotional turmoil might also manifest in physical symptoms such as re-occurring headaches and nausea. Feeling helpless and searching for correct information over the internet on what to do and who to turn to is another mind field victim parents are left to deal with. And in some situations, the parent may turn to drugs or alcohol to handle the pain which in our experience is very rare but we have heard of parents doing this.
The abducted child’s siblings become forgotten victims. They have not only lost their brother or sister but in many ways their parent(s) too. Searching parents often put their focus and energy into finding the missing children and have little focus and energy left for the other children. Sometimes the siblings parent their parents. These children experience conflicting emotions. On one hand, they love and want their brothers and sisters back, and on the other hand, they are angry and resentful of the attention their brothers and sisters receive in absentia. CARI also sees new relationships suffer due to the stress involved in finding and returning abducted children. It’s very tough for new partners to victim parents to take on such a massive burden as they often feel.
Families of abducted children experience serious emotional distress. The siblings appear to be forgotten, the families- history significantly influences how they handle this crisis (Hatcher, et. al, 1992) and the personality of young children who are abducted will be greatly impacted.
Most families live for the moment when they will be reunited with their children. When reunification occurs certainly one nightmare will end but it is not the end of the story.
When is a victim parent NOT a victim parent?
So saying all this, when is a victim parent really the abuser? There have been numerous cases during and after CARI’s due diligence on parents contacting us for help to find and recover their children, that we have discovered evidence and or signs of abuse. This abuse can either be to the other parent or the children both mentally or physically. This is why CARI takes our due diligence when initially contacted extremely serious. We need to be clear even with court papers that our client has not abused the abductor or their children. In our now 17 years in operation recovering abducted children we have had 5 cases where we have found evidence of abuse and in those cases we simply refuse to help the parent. We never take on a case just because a parent has a return order. We know perfectly well even judges and the system can get it wrong.
There are cases we know very well where the victim parent really being the abusing parent, tries to use The Hague Convention in order to bring back the abducting parent and the children. Unfortunately it comes down to a single judge to make the tough decision and often without sometimes seeing facts which the ‘victim parent’ (abuser) easily hides. There has been one case in the UK where a UK father abused his Philippine wife often and out of fear for herself and child decided to leave. She abducted their child. She was than branded the ‘Abductor’ by the father who promoted it in the UK media and acted like the victim parent. A classic case of the abductor really being the victim parent.
This is something the authorities are also to blame for as the reporting methods and criteria to make a report to police is more than often abused. As are DVOs (Domestic Violence Orders) which can be obtained by a person by simply going into their local police station and crying victim of abuse that many times never actually happens. This is something that has been happening for many years. In one case CARI was involved in we actually assisted a mother who had run away with her child from domestic abuse and was trapped in Turkey unable to leave and on the run from a very abusive and aggressive partner. It was very clear during our due diligence that the evidence was there to support what the mother was claiming about her abuse. CARI safely and quickly assisted the mother and her child to leave Turkey and return home away from the abuse.
No two cases are ever the same in parental abductions even though they may have a lot of similarities each individual parent does and reacts differently.
This is why CARI vets our clients more than we vet the abductor so we are confident both morally and legally we are helping the correct parent and child away from an abusing environment.