New Study: Reveals The Long-Term Effects of Parental Child Abduction


September 10, 2015

By PhD Marilyn Freeman

A new study was recently published to investigate the lived experiences of those were were abducted many years ago. This study was based on the personal interviews of abducted children.

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The study found that a high proportion of the participants reported suffering very significant effects from their abductions in terms of their mental health. The study concludes that, as the effects of abducted can be seriously negative and long-lasting, more must be done to protect children against abduction and its effects. Recommendations are made relating to the prevention of abduction, reunification when abduction occurs, and support for abducted children and their families including where the abducted child is not found, or is not returned to the State of habitual residence, as well as when the child is reunified with the left-behind family.”

The study was conducted by Professor Marilyn Freeman, PhD with financial support from the London Metropolitan University. Take Root, a U.S. Organization of previously abducted children Executive Director Liss Haviv is credited with providing support and assistance with the project.

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Some key findings from the study are:

  1. The abductions occurred between 10 – 53 years prior to the interview16, and involved 18 different countries including some that are not signatory States to the Convention.

  1. Support services are scarce for abduction victims and their families.

  1. Many feel undermined by society’s mistaken attitudes towards parental abduction.

  1. The difference in society’s approach to parental abduction and stranger abduction is very marked and tends to be relatively dismissive in cases where the child is taken by a parent rather than a stranger as the experience is somehow considered to not be as bad.

  1. Eighteen (53%) of the interviewees described the time away as definitely, or possibly, being spent in hiding. Seven reported having had their names and identities, and sometimes also their appearances, changed. Some used fake identification papers

  1. Sixteen (47%) of the interviewees reported violence or abuse towards them during the time they were away, including sexual abuse.

  1. Several interviewees described how the abductor was all they had, and that they were terrified of being abandoned by their only support system.

  1. Anger was frequently felt towards the left-behind parent for not coming to find the child, for abandoning the child, for not caring, and for starting again without the abducted child.

The study found that a high proportion of the participants reported suffering very significant effects from their abductions in terms of their mental health, and that these effects were ongoing into their adult lives very many years after the abduction. These findings tend, therefore, to support those from earlier studies about the long-lasting effects of abduction which are emphasized in this project by the direct reporting of the abducted children, as adults, long after the event.

The study concludes that, as the effects of abducted can be seriously negative and long-lasting, more must be done to protect children against abduction and its effects.

This study has shown that we are not properly protecting children in danger of abduction, or those who have been abducted. In the light of this study’s findings regarding the serious nature of the long-term effects of abduction, which supports those of other earlier studies, it is critical that more is done to prevent abductions from taking place where it is possible to do so. Urgent abduction subject awareness-raising, and the wider use of early interventions in family disputes by specialists who are trained in abduction matters, are advocated. Inaction is often explained by the resource implications of such initiatives but this is not a good enough reason for failing to protect children adequately.

This is an area where we can do more to protect children, and should do so.”

Similarly, where children have been abducted support must be available to them in their particular circumstances and, if returned, assisted with that return and monitored. We cannot continue to think we have done enough to protect children from the harmful effects of abduction simply by returning abducted children to where they lived before.

Some children are not found; others are not returned; and those who are returned often cannot pick up where they left off, and struggle to deal with their lives after abduction. We not protecting children properly from the harmful effects of abduction if we refuse to hear what they have told us about those effects and what they need to help deal with them. Perhaps the most pressing issue is for parental child abduction to be understood for what it is, an important matter with potentially extremely serious effects for the child, and not some relatively benign event which sometimes happens within families. We are failing these children if we do not recognize this.

Recommendations are made relating to the prevention of abduction, reunification when abduction occurs, and support for abducted children and their families including where the abducted child is not found, or is not returned to the State of habitual residence, as well as when the child is reunified with the left-behind family.”

The study was conducted by Professor Marilyn Freeman, PhD with financial support from the London Metropolitan University. Take Root, a U.S. Organization of previously abducted children Executive Director Liss Haviv is credited with providing support and assistance with the project.

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