When we think about child abduction we conjure dramatic images of sixty minutes, crowded restaurant snatching’s, and emotional hollywood scenes featuring Sally Field in ‘Not Without My Daughter’. We are always lead to believe that father’s are the abductors or villain’s and mother’s the left behind or traumatised parent. This is not the case.
An international study by Prof. Marilyn Freeman titled Parental Abduction: The Long Term Effects, (2014) explored the impact on children who had been forced into abduction. 70% of the children’s left-behind parents were fathers.
In cases of abduction the trauma results in a highly conflicted child who often feels worthless. It is reasonable to assume that same is true in legally sanctioned abductions through the court process. According to Professor Freeman’s study the children are never grateful to the abducting parent and rarely able to maintain contact with them. Professor Freeman summarised:
The small group of adults who were abducted as children which participated in this study described the effects of abduction on them as lasting. They spoke individually and repeatedly about their confusion, and of feelings of shame, self-hate, loneliness and insecurity which, in their view, emanated from the abduction. They also highlighted the importance to them of research into this subject because they felt grateful that someone wanted to know and understand what they experienced.
Child abduction from a loving parent is child abuse and should be dealt with under the law and social services as such. Instead, what often happens in legally sanctioned abductions is those in power turning a blind eye under ‘the best interests of the child‘, most frequently when it’s for the child or children to live with their mother.
Children who have been abducted from a parent have significant and ongoing mental health problems. As evidenced on p29 of Professor Freeman’s report the effects are profound and include identity crisis, hospitalisation, suicide attempts and described as ‘a personal holocaust’.
These extracts from the study articulate a small sample of the children’s experiences.
Experiences of children abducted by their mothers
One (male) interviewee, abducted by his mother at 11 years of age, set out after 20 years to find his left behind father who, he had been told, was violent. He described how emotional he felt when he walked into his father’s home and the first thing he saw after so many years was a photograph of himself with the rest of the family before the abduction. His father had kept this in pride of place in the home. He remains in contact with his father and left-behind siblings, but is no longer in contact with his abductor mother.
One (female) interviewee, abducted at eight years by her mother, was reunified with her left-behind father after four years when a friend of her mother reported the situation to the Police. Her father came to her school with a Police officer and told her tearfully that she had a new brother and sister. She described feeling torn and that everything happened very quickly. She went to live with her father who, she said, thought she was going to be able to conform to how she was before the abduction. However, she started to hate living with him and his family. Her father asked her why she had not called him and she could not answer him. She subsequently visited her maternal grandmother when her mother and half-sister were there, and recalled their changed attitude towards her and the feeling that she now had nobody, no family, and did not belong anywhere to anyone. She became suicidal and anorexic. She returned to live with her mother but said that this was the “worst mistake” of her life. Now she gets on well with her father, but not with her mother
One (female) interviewee, abducted by her mother at eight months of age, was returned to her father with her abducted sibling after ten years when her mother was caught by the Police. She described the banners outside her left-behind father’s house that welcomed them home. She said she was overwhelmed by this, but was very unhappy inside, although she pretended to be happy because she knew that this was what her father needed her to be. She did not know what was wrong with her, but wanted to be what her father wanted her to be because he was now the only parent she had.
One (female) interviewee, who was abducted at four years of age by her mother, was reunified with her left-behind father after eight years when someone who knew about the abduction told the Police. A Policewoman came to her school, showed her a milk carton with her details on it, and told her that her father was looking for her. She was taken to a foster home and was not allowed to have any of her own things with her. She felt scared and alone, and wanted to go home to get her things. However, when she met her father she felt “instantly safe.” He knew that her identity had been changed and asked her what she would like to be called. That relationship went well, but her mother was no longer in her life at the time of the interview.
Experiences of children abducted by their father’s
One (female) interviewee, abducted when under two years of age by her father, traced her left-behind mother after 11 years. The meeting was “like being in a theatre … everyone, including the social worker, was so excited.” However, the reunion did not work out, and she described it as “a disaster.”
One (female) interviewee, abducted at eight years of age by her father, decided to look for her mother when she was 18 years of age and felt “strong enough” to do so. She reported that her mother was “a broken woman” and that their relationship was then not as parent and child but, at best, as friends. The interviewee said that a lot of “unresolved issues” remained between them relating to the fact that her mother had not looked for her.
We are led to believe that parents abducting their children are doing so because they are fleeing violence, yet in Professor Freeman’s study 47% of the children went on to experience sexual and physical abuse in the home of the abductor, both male and female.
Those of us who have joined the Father’s Rights movement are seeking amicable shared parenting arrangements where the children can have a meaningful and loving relationship with both parents and the presumption and starting point should always be 50/50. The single mothers groups however, aim to systematically remove fathers from children’s lives.
This heartfelt video from Fathers for Justice documents the impact on British children. It’s impossible to watch this and not get a deep sense of what life was forcibly like for these children.
What has happened to these children was entirely preventable. Every one of the fathers of these children was eventually cleared of the allegations tabled against them. Neither them, nor their children deserved what happened to them under a staunch adversarial system which supports a mother’s rights to make unsubstantiated claims and remove a child from their father.
This final extract sums up the child’s view of adversarial separations and court proceedings. No person in their right mind can conclude this to be ‘in the best interests of the child‘
The children said that they yearned for an end to the ongoing proceedings. They resented being caught up in the adult conflict and did not want to hear negative things about either parent or to feel that they had to defend the other parent. They did not feel that they were taken seriously in terms of the decisions taken about them, or that their views carried much weight. They also found that their return following the abduction could be as upsetting and stressful as the original abduction.
As a society we simply must find a less adversarial way to deal with parental care after separation. The more we can normalise healthy and positive separations and shift the current paradigm of adversarial outcomes, the greater chance we have of reducing the traumatic impact of parental disputes on children.