Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Persistant Myths About Parental Abduction

I have to admit to being a little disheartened today.

In the course of getting ready for our 8th Annual Golf Classic to raise money for our programs, and getting materials ready for a public-awareness trip up to Lake of the Woods County Fair, I came across a pile of papers. In that pile was an article written in 1984 by Jan Russell, a pioneer in working to resolve the problem of parental abduction.

In this article, she describes the myths and realities of parental abduction, and talks about the barriers encountered by left-behind families in parental abduction cases.

Sadly, these myths and realities seem to be largely unchanged in the intervening 31 years. More sadly, Missing Children Minnesota has been around for 31 years working to change these myths and perceptions, and introduce a new reality. But it has become clear that one little organization running on a shoe-string budget cannot do much to move the needle on this issue.

We need the public will, and public support. Will you help us? Will you spread the word that parental kidnapping is a real issue, that it hurts children, devastates families, creates a financial and resource drain on communities, and (let’s say it again, because it is the most important) it hurts children.

I am reproducing the article here in its entirety for you to see. Please tell everyone you know about the realities of parental abduction.

To fix this, we need:

·       Public recognition that parental abduction is a serious crime that hurts kids, hurts (and often bankrupts) families, and that has a high economic and social cost for communities.

·       Public commitment to getting sufficient training for law enforcement officers so that they know they need to take a report of a missing child right away, and how to respond in the early stages of an investigation. Also, to add the manpower and resources to follow through and send the message that parental abduction is no longer a "free crime".

·       Public pressure to investigate and prosecute these cases to the fullest extent of the law.

Let’s not let another 31 years go by with these myths and barriers still in place. Since the beginning of the year, we have had several cases where it has taken more than a week to get a missing child report taken. A child should be considered in danger if the person who is responsible for their safety does not know where they are. Regardless of who is believed to have their child.

“You know where they are. They are with their mother.” Is not a sufficient answer if the custodial parent does not know if the mother and child are on the next block, or in Georgia. USA, Georgia in Europe, in Mexico, or in Mozambique.

Parental Kidnapping: Myths and Realities
by Jan Russel (published in 1984)

Recently a great deal of media attention has been focused on the problem of parental kidnapping. Yet the media reports, often poorly researched and inaccurate, have done little to correct the public’s misconception of this crime. Let’s review and correct the myths.

Myth: It is not illegal to take your own child.

Reality: A decade ago, this statement was pretty much true. The federal kidnapping statute (commonly known as the Lindbergh Act) specifically excluded parents from prosecution. Most jurisdictions chose to ignore the problem, while other jurisdictions , sympathetic to the plight of the left-behind parent, were forced to make do with the existing state statutes that were designed for other purposes (such as “unlawful restraint”). These efforts were, as a whole, ineffective and arbitrary.

In the late 1970’s, states began to pass legislation that in some ways prohibited interference with a custodial parent’s rights. All states have now passed laws that prohibit the removal and/or concealment of a child by natural parents.

While the passage of so many laws in less than a decade is a remarkable feat, it is important to note that not all laws are created equal. Few state laws are truly comprehensive, and some are so poorly written that they are only minimally effective. And even the best law is useless if not enforced. It is not unusual for law enforcement officers to tell left-behind parents that parental abduction is not a crime but is a civil matter. Since civil courts are unable to deal effectively with an abducting parent whose location is unknown, these parents are often left to ride a legal merry-go-round that only information or advocacy from an outside source can stop.

The effectiveness of state laws is further hampered when the prosecuting state refuses to extradite the abducting parent. The state is, in effect, rewarding parents for successful criminal behavior and signals to parents who are considering abducting their children that if you can get out of the state unapprehend, parental abduction is a “free crime”.

Myth: Parents kidnap their children because they love them too much to live apart from them; the custodial parent was unfit.

Reality: The emotion seen most often in abductions is anger. Parents abduct their children to get back at the custodial parent, to reduce or eliminate child support and/or to try to force a reconciliation with the left-behind parent.

Mothers who are declared unfit may have an additional reason to abduct their children. In our society, women are identified by their role as mothers. A mother whose child has been removed from her care is looked down on. Thus, such a mother may abduct her child because of peer pressure and the need to re-establish her identity in society.

For whatever reason a parent decides to abduct, it is never in the interest of the child.

Myth: The child is not in danger if he is being detained by a parent rather than a stranger.

Reality: While the child may be in less danger, he is not out of danger. I SEARCH, the Illinois agency created to deal with the problem of missing children, has indicated many victims of parental abduction that it helped recover in its first years of operation, were physical or sexually abused while in hiding.

Informal surveys have suggested that abducting parents are often emotionally unstable at the time of the abduction and that many such parents have a history of violent or abusive behavior, having abused their children or spouse in the past.

While on the run, the parent is under a great deal of stress. The parent is usually in a new area without the support system of friends and family; and because of fear of discovery, may not be able to get or hold a job or establish new relationships and may move frequently. The parent may begin to blame the child for the circumstances he/she is now in and take that anger out on the child.

The child also suffers psychological trauma. The left-behind parent is usually the child’s primary care-giver, that is, the person responsible for the day-to-day needs. Children expect the primary care-giver to always be there and to protect them from any harm.

Abducted children are often angry with the left-behind parent for not being with the child and for letting the abduction happen. The child often feels abandoned by the left-behind parent and may suffer because of a breach of trust with one or both parents.

 The problem is compounded when the abducting parent, in an effort to stop the child’s questions, tell the child that the left-behind parent is dead or that the parent does not love them, or want them anymore.

Under the best of circumstances, the child loses all sense of security and stability, and it is important to locate the child as quickly as possible to minimize the damage.

Myth: Parental Kidnapping is such an isolated event, it will never happen to me.

Reality: A congressional subcommittee estimated that 100,000 to 400,000 American children become victims of parental kidnapping each year. It can happen to children of any social, economic or ethnic/racial group. It can happen while their parents are still living together as well as when they are separated or divorced.

Furthermore, the likelihood of an abduction is higher for two particular groups. The children of battered women comprise the highest-risk group. Parental abduction is often the abuser’s last-ditch effort to force home a wife who has left him. The risk is greatest after a separation, but the motive in these cases often changes after the divorce from an effort at reconciliation, to revenge, and the threat rarely goes away entirely. The children of unwed mothers are also at high risk as fathers use the children to maintain deteriorating relationships.

Myth: Parental abductions are resolved quickly. The abducting parent usually returns in a week or so, sorry he/she did it. There’s no need to go searching for the parent.

Reality: It is not at all unusual for children to be gone for more than a year before being located; thousands of children have been located after being gone for several years, and a conservative estimate is that 20-30% of abducted children are never seen again by their custodial parent.

The odds for recovery are much better now than they ever have been. Contributing factors are: better laws, increased effort by law enforcement agencies, media distribution of pictures, more awareness on the part of the public and the efforts of missing children agencies. But, as in other types of crimes, the sooner an ambitious search is begun, the better the chance there is for recovery.

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