May 19, 2015
‘I don’t understand why things have come to this’
ACROSS the country, thousands of dads and their kids enjoy kicking a ball, going swimming, or hanging out on the couch with hugs and tickles.
But David Veasey can’t do any of those things with his two children, Harrison, 11, and Laura, 13. Instead, he wonders where they are and whether he’ll ever see them again. Veasey hasn’t had any contact with his children since they were abducted by their mother in April 2013.
“It’s terrible,” he says. “I don’t know why contact was cut off. There’s a sense of loss and confusion. I fear for their safety. I don’t understand why things have come to this.”
It might sound astonishing that one parent can simply vanish with their children and nothing can be done about it, but it’s actually surprisingly common. Every year in Australia, more than 650 children are abducted by a parent or family member. Australia has the highest rate per capita of international parental child abductions in the world; it’s estimated two or three children are taken illegally in or out of the country by a parent every single week.
Veasey, 49, a solicitor from NSW’s Southern Highlands, is still struggling to understand and cope with his situation. He and his ex-wife Jane had been separated “amicably” for around a year and shared a co-parenting order given by the Family Court. In 2013, Jane moved from Sydney to the Gold Coast with Harrison and Laura, and it was decided their dad would visit every second weekend. “The last time I saw Harrison, we went to the circus and the beach,” he says. “It was always emotional saying goodbye, but we had a great weekend.”
On the third weekend Veasey was meant to visit, he received a text message from Jane. “She said they were moving in to a new house and the children weren’t available,” he recalls. “That was the last contact I ever had with them. I had two mobile phone numbers for them. At first, when I called, [both] went to voicemail, then they were disconnected. The Skype connection and emails were cut off, too. There was no way to get in touch with them.”
Veasey went to the police, but because parental abduction isn’t considered a criminal matter, he was told he would have to go through the Family Court to get a court order to try to find the children before the police could help.
“I had to apply for a recovery order [stating the children must be returned to him] so I could have help trying to find them,” he says. “I have one now, but we still can’t track them down.”
Harrison and Laura are normal, happy children. “They are easygoing, fantastic kids,” says their dad. “They love going to the movies and Questacon [Canberra’s National Science and Technology Centre]. They loved Ice Age. Harrison was — and I presume still is — into trains. They’re both very talented country-and-western singers, and Laura has won a number of competitions at music festivals. She has a real flair for performing.”
Veasey worries about them constantly. “I fear for their emotional wellbeing,” he says. “They had a strong network of friends in Sydney. Laura did singing lessons and netball; Harrison played the drums and rugby. They’ve been uprooted and taken to an area where they have no friends.”
Before contact was cut off, Veasey learnt they were being homeschooled. Not only does that make it hard to track them down, but “opportunities of interaction with children their own age have been taken away from them,” he says. “It’s hard to think about.”
Understandably, he worries about the effect that being wrenched away from the lives they once knew might have on Harrison and Laura. “Parental child abduction can have harmful physical and emotional effects on the children abducted,” confirms National Missing Persons Coordination Centre team leader, Rebecca Kotz. “Abducted children suffer the alienation of losing contact with their family and friends, miss their educational stability and are often hidden away from people around them. They are removed from almost everything familiar to them, including their toys, daily routine, their bedroom — sometimes even their name.”
Veasey says one of his main concerns is what his children might have been told by their mother: “There’s a fear that they might form a view of me based on what they’re told rather than what they know.” Kotz confirms that’s a possibility. “Children can be lied to by the abducting parent. In extreme cases, they’re told that the family they’ve left behind doesn’t love them anymore. Because of the impact on children, family child abduction can be seen as a form of child abuse.”
Children abducted by strangers often make international news headlines. Madeleine McCann’s name is known across the world, and the effects of her disappearance on her family have been widely discussed by the media, which regularly runs stories on how the family is coping. But just because Veasey knows who has taken his children doesn’t lessen the huge impact on his life. “I think the level of emotion and grieving would be the same,” he says.
It’s not only parents who grieve for abducted children. “My parents don’t hear from their grandchildren and that’s very difficult for them as well,” Veasey says. “Every Christmas, they buy the children presents and put them under the tree. They remain wrapped and just get put in another room when the tree is taken down. It’s so sad.”
Although Veasey says most of his family and friends have been supportive, he worries that, as the years pass, there’s an expectation that he should perhaps move on with his life. “Over time, people just don’t want to know about it,” he says. “They don’t want to ask you about it any more. One friend — well, I suppose he’s not really a friend now — told me I should just get on with things.
“I’m no longer invited to certain events by friends with children of similar ages. Then there are things that I might be invited to, but don’t feel comfortable going to without the children. The ripples it has through the community, your friends, people you thought you were close to who decide this is all too hard — suddenly everything falls apart.”
The destruction of the remaining parent’s life is often a desired outcome by the abducting parent, says Kotz. “There are a number of reasons why a parent may abduct a child,” she explains. “In most cases, it’s for revenge. The intent of depriving the child, or other parent, of a relationship and taking them away from everything they know is traumatic, for the child and those left behind.”
Veasey functions on a day-to-day basis by going to work and seeing friends, but he feels his life is on hold. “I can’t go on holiday — I worry that as soon as I’d get on a plane they’d be located,” he says. “I started seeing a wonderful lady who had two children, but it was just too hard being with them and not Harrison and Laura. It’s not easy to lock them away and not think about them.”
As desperate as Veasey is to see Harrison and Laura again, he says he’s also very aware that a reunion might not be easy. “I haven’t seen them for over two years now — how would we interact after that long? It’s very easy to magnify all the issues and worry about what might happen.”
Although neither Veasey nor the police have been able to track the children down, there have been some sightings of the youngsters at country-music festivals, and Veasey has even seen some recent photos of them performing on stage. “It’s partly reassuring,” he says. “I know they were there and safe. But, in other ways, it increases the sense of loss, knowing I’m not involved in their lives.”
It’s these sightings that keep Veasey hopeful that Harrison and Laura will be found and one day they’ll be together again.
“I have to take it one day at a time,” he says. “I do believe they’ll be located and that it’s just a matter of time. And when they turn 16 — which isn’t too far away for Laura — they’ll be able to seek me out on their own.”
Until then, Veasey’s message for his two children is simple: “I love them, miss them and am there for them,” he says. “I’m always thinking of them.”
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