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Why Do Parents Abduct?

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, over 354,000 children are

kidnapped by a parent each year in divorce custody disputes. Some of the

children are recovered or returned quickly while others may be on the run for

years. Unfortunately many of these children are never found. Generally, people

are concerned with the traumatic effects of these events on the child involved.

However, both the searching parent and the abductor have many pending issues

with which to deal. Some people believe that children “kidnapped” by their own

parents are the lucky ones. In fact, because revenge is often the driving force

for these abductions, the child may become subject to physical, sexual and

mental abuse. While “When Families Are Torn Apart,” is written by Mary

Morrissey, the majority of the article is quoted from Geoffrey Greif and Rebecca

Hegar. In the article, Greif and Hegar explain how they attempted to fill in

the gap of information about the trauma of long-term abduction. Their findings

appear in the book When Parents Kidnap. Each parent, child, and abductor may

deal with the kidnapping differently. For some it is very frightful and

requires years of psychological evaluation to overcome. According to Greif and

Hegar, abducted children develop extremely close bonds with their abductors.

Often the abductors lie to the children about the other parent. They may say

that the other parent does not want the child or is dead. The longer the child

is away the harder it is for everyone involved. At these times, professional

help is strongly suggested.

Issues for Parent – their own feelings about the abduction – helping them to be

able to care for the child – helping them to bring the whole family together -

helping them to help readjust the other children – helping them to cope with any

odd behavior that may be exhibited by the abducted child – developmental changes

of the child

Issues for Children – trust – sexual abuse – anti-social behavior – why the

child thinks the abduction occurs – dealing with the length of the abduction and

the time that they missed with the rest of their family – experiences during

the abduction – they child may have been brainwashed by the abducting parent -

whether or not she wants to return to the abductor – being scared about the

chance of being abducted again – + many others

Issues for Abductor – anger against court – anger at the other parent – anger or

confusion about the child’s new outlook on them – sense of loss because they

are not seeing the child – inability to move on with their life – concern about

the child’s welfare – guilt if they think the child has suffered – realizing the

harm they have done to the child – dealing with the behaviors that led to the


The article, “Parents Who “Kidnap,’” recaps specific cases of parents

attempting to recover abducted children. In the first case, Sandy Kearns is

searching for her son Joshua who had been abducted by his father. Sandy’s

husband had run off with his son in the past. She was told by police that it

was a civil matter and received no assistance. The next afternoon she was told

by police officers that her husband had shot her son and then himself. The next

case is about Cynthia and Julian Smith. Cynthia’s son Julian was stolen away

when he was two. Five years later, abused both sexually and emotionally, Julian

was rescued by his mother. Julian has receive endless hours of psychological

help that will have to be continued throughout his life. He is finally adapting

to school and his new life and is making friends. The subsequent example

involves Jeff and Autumn Young. This story depicts how some children’s

appearance is changed and they are restricted in all ways from having contact

with theoutside world. Jeff’s ex-wife stole away with their daughter during his

custody case in court. Jeff spent his savings on lawyers and detectives who

could not find his daughter. Shortly after Jeff and his new wife had a baby,

his daughter was found in Florida. Extremely underweight, dirty and pale,

Autumn went home with her father. After all of her medical check-ups and some

sessions of unconditional love, Autumn is happy to be home with “two people who

know what they’re doing.” The next case concerns Joe, Paula, and Jo-Jo Palancia.

Federal law says that custody decisions can not be overridden by courts in

different states. This is a fact unfamiliar to many judges. Joe Palancia’s

wife had abducted their two children after she had consented to allowing them to

live with their father. Six years later the children had been found and Joe was

back in court. After $800 worth of phone call inquiries and $3,000 worth of

legal fees, Joe’s wife again agreed to let Joe take the children. His wife

eventually spent 4 months in jail. Finally a happy family once again, Joe,

Paula, and Jo-Jo do the things regular families do and their lives have calmed

down somewhat. The last incident involves Steve and Stephen Fenton. Steve

agreed to allowed his wife to take Stephen, then six, to Mexico for three weeks.

Steve’s wife never returned with Stephen. Abductions outside the United States

do not fall under American law, but Steve was told that the recovery rate from

Mexico was 90%. Seventeen months of attempted recovery had failed and Steve

realized he needed to try something else. He hired a man for $51,000 to re-

abduct his child. When a kicking and screaming Stephen was finally retrieved,

Steve had to slowly rekindle memories to reassure the child that he was his

father. Months later, Steven watches his child play soccer and despite being

looked down upon by his caseworker, is content with the method he used to rescue

his precious son.

Whereas Geoffrey Greif sees abduction as the ‘extreme end of divorce,’

Deborah Linnell, a Project ALERT volunteer, calls it ‘an extreme form of

domestic violence.’ I feel that abductions are the combination of the two.

Certainly stealing away with your child without telling the other parent can be

considered domestic violence. You can hurt someone just as much emotionally as

if you had stabbed them with a knife or cut off their arm. Just as applicable

is that this is an extreme, and excessive end to a divorce dispute. What I

found interesting about the reunification process in these cases is that they

are often depicted in both movies and books as a joyful reunion. When if fact,

the assimilation of an abducted child to the family that they have not seen in

years is not always so smooth. I was appalled by the lack of assistance from

the police and the ignorance of the courts. The idea that a parent would kill

their own child and take their own life as well, solely to prevent their ex-

spous e from being with the child is incomprehensible. Both of the articles

were extremely informative. The techniques used to write the articles were

equally effective, giving a different perspective on the stories. The

possibility of recovering after an event as traumatic as abduction through

psychological counseling is a welcomed and exciting idea. The course on

“Introduction to Psychology” has opened my eyes to the extent that psychology

can go to help make a difference in the lives of people everywhere.

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