“You’ll never see your child again!” When
are these words an idle threat spoken in
anger and frustration and when are they
a warning that a parent intends to abduct
his or her child, depriving the child and
the other parent of future contact?
By: U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
Profile 1: When There Has Been a Prior threat of or Actual Abduction
When a parent has made credible threats to abduct a child
or has a history of hiding the child, withholding visitation, or
snatching the child from the other parent, there is great distrust
between the parents and a heightened risk of further
custody violation. This risk profile is usually combined with
one or more of the other profiles. In these cases, the underlying
psychological and social dynamics that motivate the
abduction need to be understood and addressed. When other
risk factors are present, one or more of the following are general
indicators of an imminent threat of flight with the child:
-The parent is unemployed, homeless, and without emotional
or financial ties to the area.
- The parent has divulged plans to abduct the child and has
the resources or the support of extended family and/or
friends and underground dissident networks needed to
survive in hiding.
- The parent has liquidated assets, made maximum withdrawals
of funds against credit cards, or borrowed money
from other sources.
Profile 2: When a Parent Suspects or Believes
Abuse Has Occurred and Friends and Family
Members Support These Concerns
Many parents abduct their child because they believe that the
other parent is abusing, molesting, or neglecting the child.
These abducting parents feel that the authorities have not
taken them seriously or properly investigated the allegations.
Repeated allegations increase the hostility and distrust
between the parents. Parents who have the fixed belief
that abuse has occurred—and will continue to occur—then
“rescue” the child, often with the help of supporters who concur
with their beliefs, justify their actions, and often help with
the abduction and concealment. Supporters might include
family members, friends, or underground networks (usually
women) that help “protective” parents (usually women) obtain
new identities and find safe locations.
In a large number of cases, the child has been previously
exposed to neglectful, endangering, or violent environments
(e.g., domestic violence or substance abuse). In
these cases, the courts and child protective services may
have failed to protect the child and the concerned parent or
family member. They may have trivialized the allegations,
dismissing them as invalid or the product of a contentious
divorce. Often, however, the allegation of sexual abuse by a
father or stepfather that motivates a mother to abduct her
child is unsubstantiated. In these cases, the abduction can
psychologically harm the child and the other parent, possibly
leaving their relationship in serious need of repair.
Profile 3: When a Parent Is Paranoid Delusional
Although only a small percentage of parents fit this profile,
these parents present the greatest risk of physical harm or
death to the child, regardless of whether an abduction occurs.
Parents who fit the paranoid profile hold markedly irrational
or psychotic delusions that the other parent will definitely
harm them and/or the child. Believing themselves to
be betrayed and exploited by their former partner, these
parents urgently take what they consider to be necessary
measures to protect themselves and the child.
Psychotic parents do not perceive the child as a separate
person. Rather, they perceive the child as part of
themselves—that is, as a victim (in which case they take
unilateral measures to rescue the child)—or they perceive
the child as part of the hated other parent (in which case
they may precipitously abandon or even kill the child). Marital
separation and/or the instigation of the custody dispute
generally triggers an acute phase of danger for these psychotic
individuals. The result can be not only parental abduction,
but also murder and suicide.
Profile 4: When a Parent Is Severely Sociopathic
Sociopathic parents are characterized by a long history of
flagrant violations of the law and contempt for any authority—
including that of the legal system. Their relationships withother people are self-serving, exploitive, and highly manipulative.
These people are also likely to hold exaggerated
beliefs about their own superiority and entitlement
and are highly gratified by their ability to exert power and
control over others. As with paranoid and delusional parents,
sociopathic parents are unable to perceive their children
as having separate needs or rights. Consequently,
they often use their children as instruments of revenge or
punishment or as trophies in their fight with the former
partner. Sociopathic parents have no qualms about continuing
coercive, controlling, and abusive behavior or abducting
their child, nor do they believe that they should be
punished for their actions. Like paranoia, a diagnosis of
severe sociopathy is rare.
Profile 5: When a Parent Who Is a Citizen of
Another Country Ends a Mixed-Culture Marriage
Parents who are citizens of another country (or who have
dual citizenship with the United States) and have strong
ties to their extended family in their country of origin have
long been recognized as potential abductors. The risk of
abduction is especially acute at the time of parental separation
and divorce, when these parents may feel cast adrift
from their mixed-culture marriage and may need to return
to their ethnic or religious roots to find emotional support
and reconstitute a shaken self-identity. Often in reaction to
being rendered helpless or feeling rejected and discarded
by the former spouse, such parents may try to take unilateral
action by returning with the child to their family of origin.
This is a way of insisting that the abducting parent’s
cultural identity be given preeminent status in the child’s
Profile 6: When Parents Feel Alienated From the
Legal System and Have Family/Social Support
in Another Community
Many subgroups of potential abductors feel alienated from
the judicial system. Listed below are five such subgroups.
1. Parents who are indigent and poorly educated
lack knowledge about custody and abduction laws and cannot
afford the legal representation or psychological counseling that
would help them resolve their disputes. Those parents who
have extended family or other social, emotional, and economic
support in another geographical community may be at risk for
abducting their children.
2. Many parents cannot afford and are unaware of
the need to access the court system. In addition, those who
have had prior negative experiences with civil or criminal
courts do not expect family courts to be responsive to their
values or their plight.
3. Parents who belong to certain ethnic, religious,
or cultural groups may hold views about childrearing that
are contrary to the prevailing custody laws that emphasize
gender neutrality and the rights of both parents. These
parents instead turn to their own social networks for support
and use informal self-help measures rather than the courts
in disputes over the children.
4. A mother who has a transient, unmarried relationship
with her child’s father often views the child as her
property, and her extended family supports this belief. Many
of the women in this subgroup assume they have sole custody
of their child and are genuinely surprised when they are
informed that the father—by law in California and most other
States—has joint rights to the child.
5. Parents who are victims of domestic violence
are at risk of abducting their child, especially when the courts
and community have failed to take the necessary steps to protect
them from abuse or to hold the abuser accountable. Joint
custody, mediated agreements, and visitation orders often
leave victims vulnerable to ongoing violence, despite separation
from the abuser. When such victims abduct their child, the
violent partners may successfully obscure the facts about the
abuse and activate the abduction laws to regain control of their
Read the entire report here: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/185026.pdf
Published by: ABP World Group International Child Recovery Service
Visit our website at: www.abpworld.com
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