From Where I'm Standing

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

Reply to NYT OpED on the Hague

March7

Ok, I see how this is going to go. I may never have that carefully, lovingly, planned and edited blog of my dreams. Post #2 is, like post #1, a quick response to a breaking media story…

This time it was this OpEd in the New York Times, on the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. I submitted the following rebuttal OpEd, which, alas, was not selected for publication (two NYT op-eds on family abduction was too much to hope for, right?) so we shall self-publish:

As the Executive Director of Take Root, an NPO that runs the first and only support program for individuals who were abducted as children, I appreciated Joan Meier’s March 5 OpEd about the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Most of the participants in Take Root’s support program for former abducted-children were abducted by a parent. Over the past decade we have amassed unprecedented knowledge on the impact of family abduction on such children and the adults they become. Returning abducted children to their place of habitual residence as required, absent certain defenses, by the Hague Convention eliminates two of the key dangers they face.

First, consider that parents never abduct when things are going well. Regardless of the parent’s motivation, family abduction is born from extreme emotional distress. When a distressed caregiver takes a child into isolation, that child is at risk regardless of the taking parent’s intent.

Second, the common traumatic experience that binds our membership across individual case circumstances is a degree of what we call “Identity Rupture,” which we define as extreme, abrupt changes in the autobiographical facts of the child’s life, all that is familiar, and the expected and acceptable behaviors.

In almost every case in our database, whether the child was taken to remove them from harm or as a pawn in their parent’s game, the identity rupture and transition from being a child to being a source of emotional support, accomplice, protector, and/or caregiver for an emotionally distressed taking parent meant the end of childhood. Children in all types of cases are typically burdened with adult fears and responsibilities, overwhelmed by incomprehensible – and unacknowledged – grief and loss, too often living a complex web of lies and deception to evade discovery, and left reeling from the shock of the identity rupture.

So while Take Root refutes the oft-repeated advocate’s mantra that “family abduction is child abuse” as hyperbolic given the reality of domestic violence, we do believe that family abduction is always child endangerment. Even in the guise of lesser evilism as a parent flees to protect life and limb, abduction itself can devastate the child.

So what are the solutions? I support the Hague (and UCCJEA, its domestic counterpart) convention of returning children to their home jurisdictions because this relieves the trauma of identity rupture and the danger of isolation with a distressed caregiver. However, that convention must be supported by home jurisdiction courts that are genuinely informed regarding the complex dynamics of family abduction, and by systemic protections for victims of domestic violence… if we perfected the latter we’d eliminate the question of whether abduction can ever be considered “justified” and would not be having this conversation to begin with. We need to improve the research and increase the public awareness around family abduction. And advocates for parents fleeing domestic violence and parents whose children are taken for less comprehensible reasons must start working together to formulate holistic conclusions, policies, and practices that encompass the complex, multifaceted issue that is family abduction.

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

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