From Where I'm Standing

Musings on life during and after child-abduction by Melissa "Liss" Haviv

Missy Sokolsky is Dead. Again.

July20
Melissa "Liss" Haviv holds a photo of Missy Sokolsky

Melissa “Liss” Haviv holds a photo of Missy Sokolsky

I am having an abduction fallout day. I am 46 years old; my abduction was 36 years ago – over a quarter of a century in the past – yet it is having a real life impact on me today. Not an emotional-baggage kind of impact but a concrete one.

The illegal name change is throwing a spanner all these decades later.

My social security card was issued at birth to Melissa Sokolsky, because that, I suppose, is who I really am.

When I was 10 years old I became someone else. My mother stole a blank baptism certificate from a church and used that to get a driver’s license under a name she made up (you could do that back in the 70’s). Then she abducted me and turned me into someone else. Missy Sokolsky disappeared and Melissa Hart stepped out of thin air on the other side of the country. My abductor, I mean mother, changed her first name as well: Lee Thompson Sokolsky became Sharon Hart.

At age 16 I got my first driver’s license, as Melissa Hart. I don’t remember having any difficulties. When I applied for my first passport in my early 20’s the name on my Social Security card and the name on my driver’s license did not match. I was simply asked to supply a signed, notarized letter from someone who knew my story and would vouch that Melissa Hart and Melissa Sokolsky were the same person. The passport was issued to Melissa Hart (this was pre-9/11. Things were different then).

When I got married my name changed again. I had a little moment when filling out the marriage license, trying to figure out who was becoming Melissa Haviv since Melissa Hart was a made up name and Missy Sokolsky had been dead since I was 10. I did the pragmatic thing and went with Hart.

I hyphenated my married name for a number of years because I had built a life and roster of accomplishments as Melissa Hart and didn’t want to erase all that. I was Melissa Hart-Haviv for a long time (actually, Liss Hart-Haviv, choosing to use for my first name a nickname bestowed by someone I met on my big coming-of-age-year-spent-backpacking-solo-around-the-world-adventure).

Then I started Take Root. It reframed everything about how I viewed and understood my abduction and, as a result, the name Hart started to make my skin crawl. I needed to get it off me, the way you flick a spider off your skin. And, eventually, I wanted to get a step closer to who I was born. So I took that first name back, dropped the Hart from my married name, and became Melissa Haviv.

I have always used my birth-issued SSN along with whatever last name I was using at the time, and never had any issues arise about the names being different. My Social Security card is the only link I have to identify me as Melissa Sokolsky. All my known Sokolsky relatives, including my father and beloved grandmother, are dead. I have only this one, fragile link to prove that Melissa Sokolsky ever existed. I don’t want any link to Melissa Hart, but am obliged to keep listing it as my maiden name if I want old school friends to be able to find me on Facebook and in alumni books and such.

Today, I received a shock. I applied for services that required me to provide my SSN. The card that was issued as a result was issued to Melissa Hart. I had not provided that name on any of the paper work. Apparently, Hart became associated with my SSN somewhere along the line. It may have happened just through use. This new card must be accompanied by a photo ID. I have no photo ID as Melissa Hart, I do not want any photo ID as Melissa Hart, I do not want my SSN to be attached to Melissa Hart and I now have to undertake the hassle and hoops of explaining to multiple powers that be that this is a FICTITIOUS IDENTITY made up by my abductor mother. Wish me luck with that one.

Missy Sokolsky was killed off overnight while Melissa Hart will not die.

Family abduction, the gift that just keeps giving.

Melissa “Liss” Haviv is a Fulbright Scholar and the Executive Director of Take Root.

The Gift of a Happy Ending

May20

Kid Gloves Learning Lab

 

“Finding a missing child is called making a recovery, but being found is really just the very first step on a long and difficult road. It’s often not the happy ending people imagine.”

– Melissa Haviv, Executive Director Take Root

An abducted child comes back forever changed, needing help to recover. No one knows this better than the members of Take Root, who were all once abducted children. But traditional missing child services end once missing children are found, leaving reunited families on their own to figure out how to heal. Many never do. One out of every four members of Take Root has attempted suicide.

They tell us that being returned to parents equipped to help them navigate the road to recovery could have changed everything. But most came back to parents who were not given the tools and knowledge needed to help the family heal. Research indicates that less than 10% of parents reuniting with abducted children receive any kind of guidance.

Together, we can fix this.

Take Root’s decade of hands-on work with victims at all ages and stages of recovery has given us unprecedented knowledge and insight into how parents can best support children victimized by abduction – please help us get this wisdom into their hands. Help Take Root build the Kid Gloves for Parents Handling Abducted Children Learning Lab.  With materials designed by Take Root’s Clinical Director Dr. Neil Kirkpatrick, the lab will provide self-paced online training and tools to families in the process of recovery following long term abductions.

We need to raise $35,000 to fund this initiative. If we can raise $5,000 by National Missing Children’s Day on May 25 it will be doubled by an anonymous donor.  We don’t have a moment to lose!

If you think this initiative is important, please use the tools at crowdrise.com/kidgloves to join the fundraising team and create your own page to tell you own social network, in your own words, why you think the project needs to be funded.  And, of course, feel free to donate, online at takeroot.org/kidgloves or by check to Take Root, POB 930, Kalama WA 98625.

On behalf of abducted children everywhere,  thank you

(For more information on the need to expand recovery services, also see  this blog post)

SHARE THIS POST:

posted under recovery | No Comments »

The Missing Side of Missing Child Services

May15

The Missing Side of Missing Child Services
Take Root is a missing child nonprofit providing the first and only peer support program available to former missing children after their abductions are over. Every member of Take Root was once an abducted child. One thing we’ve learned is that families, the media, and society often become unwitting co-conspirators in placing a terrible burden of unreasonable expectation on newly recovered children. Although the trauma of abduction does not disappear the day a missing child is found, children recovered from abductions encounter enormous pressure to be “back to normal” from virtually the moment they come home.

Friends, family and society urge newly found victims to “put it behind them” and “move on,” while media headlines outright proclaim “It’s Over!” Unfortunately, the issues with which the abductee must contend have not been resolved. In many cases, a whole new set of challenges is just emerging. But pundits remark on children’s remarkable resiliency and ability to “bounce back.” This chorus left some members of Take Root feeling as though there was something wrong with them for not rebounding rapidly, so they used suppression skills gained during the abduction to present to those around them what they thought others wanted to see.

Take Root members have also reported feeling responsible for the pain and suffering experienced by loved ones as a result of their abductions. Understanding that the people around them would feel better if they were ok, many pretended to be just fine once “found.” Additionally, Take Root members have reported that they wanted to fit in with peers and escape stigma. The recovered abductee wants a “return to normal” every bit as much as their friends and family do. Many Take Root members therefore report having pretended everything was back to normal even when it absolutely was not.

Abducted children become skilled at reading and responding to environmental cues about what is expected. Many Take Root members simply applied this same learned survival skill again during “recovery.” At Take Root we see firsthand, every day, the end result of this kind of suppression and lack of proper care and treatment. 1 out of every 4 members surveyed has attempted suicide.

The solution? As the Take Root motto says, we must expand our nation’s missing child services “beyond recovering missing children, to helping missing children recover.” Valiant starts have been made since Take Root formed in response to the glaring service gap a decade ago but they are baby steps. The lack of substantive research into the long term impact of child abduction results in an inability to adequately train mental health professionals in evidence-based practices. Specialists in post-abduction recovery are few and far between, and, operating based on extremely limited case experience – if any. Improving the “recovery” aspect of missing-child services must become a priority and funding streams need to be made available for such work. Despite the fact that the Missing Children’s Assistance Act specifically calls for funding projects and programs that address the needs of missing children after the abduction is over, no such work is currently being federally funded that we know of, and has not been since Take Root was an early casualty of the unfolding recession and attendant discretionary budget cuts back in 2007. This is a serious gap in America’s missing child response. We must close it so that those victimized by abduction are not revictimized by the lack of qualified aftercare services and support.

Melissa Haviv , the Executive Director of Take Root, is a Fulbright Scholar and former abducted child

SHARE THIS POST:

Cleveland Recoveries – What Happens Next?

May10

The following article was published on the website of the Association of Missing & Exploited Children’s Organizations (AMECO) earlier today. Thanks to Wendy and AMECO for championing this important message…

Missing Women Located in Cleveland – What Happens Next?
(c) AMECO 2013

The nation celebrated the recovery of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus in Cleveland this week, but this “happy ending” is really only the beginning. What’s next for these three women?

The only body of research that captures direct experiences of formerly abducted children comes from Take Root, an organization that runs a support program for victims of child abduction when they are no longer missing. Their research shows that formerly abducted children are at a high risk for drug addiction, depression, and other medical problems. One in every four members of the Take Root support program has attempted suicide. Reunited families are often left on their own to figure out how to heal. Based on Take Root’s data, less than 10% receive the follow up care they need. “Yet children recovered from abductions encounter enormous pressure to be ‘back to normal’ from virtually the moment they come home,” says Melissa Haviv, Take Root’s Executive Director and a leading expert in the victimology of abduction. Haviv is also a former victim who, at the age of ten, was abducted and hidden under a fake identity for two years by her mother. She emphasizes, “The trauma of abduction does not disappear the day a missing child is found. Recovery is often a lifelong process.”

Wendy Jolley-Kabi, Executive Director of the Association of Missing and Exploited Children’s Organizations (AMECO) observes. “In recent years, a growing number of formerly long-term missing children have shared with America how they are moving forward with their lives and recovery.” Elizabeth Smart credits her family and faith with providing her with the strength to move forward and stresses the importance of focusing on the future not the past. Alicia Kozakiewicz acknowledges that she has nightmares and suffers from PTSD, but, like Elizabeth, has found purpose as an advocate to help other children. Shawn Hornbeck’s parents Pam and Craig Akers warn not to pressure the recovered family member to provide details of their ordeal when they first return home, but to let the missing person share their experience in their own time. Shawn himself shares that being in public can be frightening at first and emphasizes the importance of being surrounded by family during the healing process.

According to Dr. Neil Kirkpatrick, Clinical Director of Take Root, “the experience and process of being recovered is different for every child, based not only on the length of their abduction and what they experienced during the abduction, but on their experiences and relationships prior to abduction. In our experience, all too often the recovered child is bombarded with messages, both explicit and subtle, about how they ‘should’ feel about being recovered. The shock of recovery is significant, and it is import to allow recovered individuals and their families time to acclimate to this change at their own rate. Integrating into relationships with families and loved ones takes time and is best done in a private, safe environment, out of the public eye.”

As the celebrations die down in Cleveland over the coming days, Michelle, Amanda and Gina will grapple with what’s next for each of them. “They will face challenges and be forced to make decisions that few are equipped to make – when to share their stories, who to share them with, how to live life after 10 years of captivity and exploitation,” says Jolley-Kabi. “We’re so thankful these three young women have been found and we appreciate the brave voices of recovered children who have come before them. Melissa, Elizabeth, Alicia, Shawn and others offer hope for the future of missing children everywhere.”

posted under recovery | No Comments »