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Parental child abduction is another form of child abuse. Psychologist, Dr. Nancy Faulkner, discusses the dramatic impact parental kidnapping, child stealing, has on abducted children.

Presented to
United Nations Convention on Child Rights
June 9, 1999
by Nancy Faulkner, Ph.D
on behalf of
P.A.R.E.N.T.
and
Victims of Parental Child Abduction

© Nancy Faulkner 1999

Introduction

Parental child abduction is another form of child abuse. Psychologist, Dr. Nancy Faulkner, discusses the dramatic impact parental kidnapping, child stealing, has on abducted children."Because of the harmful effects on children, parental kidnapping has been characterized as a form of child abuse" reports Patricia Hoff, Legal Director for the Parental Abduction Training and Dissemination Project, American Bar Association on Children and the Law. Hoff explains,

"Abducted children suffer emotionally and sometimes physically at the hands of abductor-parents. Many children are told the other parent is dead or no longer loves them. Uprooted from family and friends, abducted children often are given new names by their abductor-parents and instructed not to reveal their real names or where they lived before." (Hoff, 1997)

As an early leader in the relatively new field of parental child abduction issues, Dr. Dorothy Huntington wrote an article published in 1982, Parental Kidnapping: A New Form of Child Abuse. Huntington contends that from the point of view of the child, "child stealing is child abuse." According to Huntington, "in child stealing the children are used as both objects and weapons in the struggle between the parents which leads to the brutalization of the children psychologically, specifically destroying their sense of trust in the world around them." Because of the events surrounding parental child abduction, Huntington emphasizes that "we must reconceptualize child stealing as child abuse of the most flagrant sort" (Huntington, 1982, p. 7).

There is an unfortunate and evident paucity of literature on parental child abduction. Just during the past two decades, Huntington (1982), Greif and Hegar (1993), and others have begun addressing concerns for children kidnapped by their parent abductors. With growing concerns for abducted children, some experts have coined terms like "Parental Alienation" to describe the potential negative impact on child victims. Regardless of the specific terms designed to illustrate the effects of parental child abduction, there is general consensus that the children are the resultant casualties.


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Risk Factors for Parental Kidnapping

Post-divorce parental child stealing has been on the increase since the mid-1970s, paralleling the rising divorce rate and the escalating litigation over child custody (Huntington, 1986). According to Hoff (1997), "The term 'parental kidnapping' encompasses the taking, retention or concealment of a child by a parent, other family member, or their agent, in derogation of the custody rights, including visitation rights, of another parent or family member."

The abductor parent may move from one state to another, beginning a new round of investigation into the abuse with each move, impeding intervention by child protective services (Jones, Lund & Sullivan, 1996). Or, the abductor may flee to another country, completely shutting down any hopes of involvement by child protective services in the country of origin. The most pervasive scenario is that the abducting parent goes into hiding, or moves beyond the jurisdiction of governing law.

"These kidnappings are very cleverly plotted and planned and often involve the assistance of family members. The target parent has no forwarding address or telephone numbers." (Clawar & Rivlin, p. 115)

Huntington and others believe that inherent in the act of kidnapping and concealment are negative consequences for the child victims. It is Huntington's contention that one of the most concerning factors is that the parent has fled and "is out of reach of law and child protection agencies." To escape discovery the abductor parent is hiding out, -- "so who knows what is happening with child!" (Huntington, 1982).

The abducted child is without the safeguards normally provided by child law. This leaves the child completely vulnerable to the dictates of the abductor parent, who, as evidenced in the following research by Johnson and Girdner, may not have the child's best interests in mind, or may be functioning with severe impediments.

A study entitled Prevention of Parent or Family Abduction through Early Identification of Risk Factors was conducted by Dr. Janet Johnston (Judith Wallerstein Center for the Family in Transition) and Dr. Linda Girdner (ABA Center on Children and the Law). The researchers detailed six risk parent profiles for abduction:

  1. Have threatened to abduct or abducted previously;
  2. Are suspicious and distrustful due to a belief abuse has occurred;
  3. Are paranoid-delusional;
  4. Are sociopathic;
  5. Have strong ties to another country; and
  6. Feel disenfranchised from the legal system.

These findings by Johnston and Girdner pose a bleak prognosis for children held at the hands of such inept parents.