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|The difficulties of international child abduction in a global environment.
Interview with Peter Thomas
I am familiar with the Sean and David Goldman case, who, like many thousands of other less publicly familiar kidnapped children and their ‘Chasing Parents’, are tragic victims of International Parental Kidnapping. In fact, the Goldman supporters’ online community has published an extensive number of essays I have written regarding child abduction, which can be viewed atwww.chasingthecyclone.com
One of the greatest difficulties all ‘Chasing Parents’ face, no matter who we are, David Goldman included, is the fact that once a child is removed from a country of legal jurisdiction, or illegally retained in another nation or here in the United States, a ‘Chasing Parent’ seeking to rescue and reunite with their child faces the most challenging, and sometimes, most deadly fight they will ever know. Unfortunately, all ‘Chasing Parents’ face many similar storms. So, in this sense it is easy to relate to and feel the pain of David’s nightmare. I also can relate to him as a parent willing to do everything possible to protect his child. And though I do not know this first-hand, I am sure that David can relate to the pain and fear of other ‘Chasing Parents’.
During the many conversations I have had with ‘Chasing Parents’ from around the world, the vast majority expressed their greatest concern and disappointment with the lack of research and education by local judges and courts of jurisdiction, who initially ruled on what eventually turned out to be a well-organized and well-orchestrated plan to abduct a child. According to one of the most knowledgeable and highly respected individuals in the field of international child abduction, Teresa Lauderdale (Co-Founder of Prevent International Parental Child Abduction [PIPCA]), the number one priority that must be focused on in order to reduce the cruel and abusive criminal act of international child abduction is to create a highly skilled, knowledgeable, and trained pool of judges familiar with international child abduction and international jurisdictional law.
Unfortunately for victimized children and their ‘Chasing Parents’, the international legal system is filled with too many tactical loopholes capable of creating a near impossible logistical environment for most ‘Chasing Parents’ trying to fight the fight required in order to bring their child home once the child has been criminally abducted.
For example, in the United States, there is no government financial aid allocated toward investigative or legal costs associated with the State and Federal crime of cross-border parental child abduction and kidnapping. I can’t even begin to tell you how many ‘Chasing Parents’ I know who simply do not have the massive amount of money (often and commonly running in the area of hundreds of thousands of dollars or more) required to mount a legal campaign needed, typically in both the ‘originating country’ and the ‘receiving country’ , to bring a child home.
So, right from the start, if you are a United States citizen without financial resources, you’re more than likely not going to bring your child home. In fact, this applies no matter what country you are a citizen of. This – the lack of financial assistance for ‘Chasing Parents’ – must change. A perfect example of having the financial means to fight the fight is to look at David Goldman’s case. He was able to raise the money needed in order to move forward with his fight for Sean. In my case, I was fortunate enough to have my own resources. However, most parents do not have the network such as David, including a large financial settlement that was previously attached to his case, or, the internal resources that I was fortunate to have. So David and I are similar in that sense. I pray that his hard-fought efforts will have similar results that I achieved with my own child. Sean Goldman deserves his loving father. But still, tragically … look at Larry Synclair (the ‘Synclair-Cannon Act’), who has no idea where his child is other than someplace in Russia, or the amazing Maureen Dabbagh, who fought for so long to find her daughter, only for her child’s criminal abduction to end with a final determination … there are so many cases, so many unspoken tragedies. I could go on. It has to stop. It has too.
Ironically, if a child is kidnapped overseas by a non-parent, then the full force and resources of an entire nation (and it really doesn’t matter which country I am talking about), would be directed at recovering that child. So it doesn’t make any sense that the United States does not provide adequate and readily available resources that will assist in the recovery of one of its innocent and defenseless children citizens.
Additionally, a great challenge all ‘Chasing Parents’ face while litigating in the Hague Courts is the fact that it is easy and inexpensive for an abducting parent to hold up a return by extending the length of time between proceedings; calling for a barrage of studies and investigations by making false accusations and statements (‘ Article 13(b) of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Abduction’ is known as the ‘Abductor’s Defense Mantra’) and finally, by appealing any and all court rulings. All of this has one purpose: to break down the ‘Chasing Parents’ spirit whilst depleting their resources so the ‘Chasing Parent’ can no longer continue with the legal proceedings.
Strategically, the longer a child is wrongfully retained overseas, the better the odds are that the child will remain there, after too much time has elapsed, uprooting a child after they have adjusted to their new environment is not in the child’s best interest. This point was one of the strategies Sean Goldman’s abductors used in their ongoing defense to keep this young boy from his loving father. Fortunately, it is my opinion that Sean will eventually come home. How long that takes is anyone’s guess, but I can’t imagine Brazil allowing for this child to remain there much longer. Hopefully Sean is released – make no mistake, this child, similar to other abducted children, is being used as a pawn in the abductor’s appeal process (and is clearly being abused with an assortment of acts best defined as Parental Alienation tactics). It is baffling how abductors do not realize they have imprisoned innocent children when they refuse to return a wrongfully detained child.
Surely, the delay tactics used in all international child abduction cases causes great concern and frustration for any ‘Chasing Parent’. I know that during the time my son was missing, I became a ‘ghost’: you’re not alive, and you’re not dead – you live in perpetual purgatory. It is a term other ‘Chasing Parents’ I have spoken to have also referred to themselves as and perhaps this – becoming a ghost – may especially apply to ‘Chasing Parents’ such as myself, who did not know at times where my child was and others, who do not know to this day.
2. David has been using The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction, which is primarily concerned with negotiating the return of the child, in his efforts to bring his son home. However, you argue that a parent taking a child is a criminal act, tantamount to (if not worse than) non-parental child abduction. In your opinion then, does The Hague Convention act as any sort of deterrent to parental child abduction, or do enough to bring the taken child home? Or, is legislation like the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act of 1933 more appropriate for these cases?
In answering this question, I first must share my belief that it is in the best interest of all children to know and receive the love of both parents, so long as both parents post-abduction are capable of providing a stable, non-threatening, secure, and trustworthy environment for the child who has experienced abduction.
I believe international child abduction is a criminal act.
Whether taking a child is a criminal act or not is matter for each sovereign country to decide upon; I believe for the United States it is and ought to be legislated as a criminal act. I believe it ought to be a criminal act no matter where a child is abducted from. From France, from India, from Japan or from here.
The Hague Convention is good law: the issue is how it is applied by every country involved. Unfortunately, it is applied haphazardly both at home and abroad and with very wide variation within each signatory country, including the US. The practical result is that despite the Hague Convention, an international child abduction is still probably going to succeed. In that case, where is the deterrent? More than this, the Hague Convention is not well-known publically and not even within the legal profession (including judges); so if you do not know about it, how can it serve as a deterrent?
Non-parental child abductions, or ‘Stranger Abductions’, are fraught with risk to the child, make no mistake about that. In these situations a child is highly likely to be killed rather than located, never mind recovered. These are truly evil crimes.
Therein lies the irony with parental abductions: for the most part they are treated simply as a civil matter and that means the burden of both cost and resources falls upon the Chasing Parent. Imagine trying to find a child in the town next to yours, and then imagine doing the same in a country where the language is different, the customs are different and you are not a citizen? Imagine trying to find your child somewhere on the globe and you don not even know which country they have been taken to! All on your dime. More than this, parental abductions outnumber stranger abductions by a huge factor. Parental abduction is commonplace whereas, stranger abduction, very fortunately is in fact quite rare though we quite rightly, hear a lot about them in the news.
If a case is treated as a crime, the full weight of national law enforcement resources are made available, including investigation to locate the child and prosecution of the criminal concerned. If a case is treated as a civil or Hague Convention case, the full burden is placed upon the lone parent and I refer to my answer to your first question; I was lucky to have private financial resources, David Goldman has benefitted from a financial settlement and public support, but for most Chasing Parents they are utterly alone in their pursuit of their children and that is simply unjust and irresponsible for them and most of all, for the abducted children and in fact, many abductions are classified as ‘resolved’ simply because of no activity on the case, not because of no desire on the part of the Chasing Parent but because of lack of funds.
Making the abduction a criminal act is a major deterrent because most Chasing Parents’ first reaction when the abduction occurs is something like, “There must be a law against this!” It is a shock to find that in reality, there is no t much of one but if Chasing Parents believe there is a law in situ, then it is reasonable to suppose Abducting Parents do too, unless they have an attorney who knows the system and who will also know the weakness of the applicability of the Hague Convention and how to thwart it.
The International Parental Kidnapping Act (IPKA) enacted in 1993 as you say, established a criminal sanction for international child abductions, but there are three issues with IPKA:
(a) It is not used very much and there have only been a handful of prosecutions using it;
Another point I would like to make is this. The Hague Convention has a reporting system established; it varies between countries and may not be accurate, but nevertheless, there is a reporting system of some sort used to collect data. A major issue is that many international child abductions occur but the Chasing Parent is simply unaware of the existence of the Hague Convention, and even after they approach law enforcement the abduction never even gets reported as an international child abduction, so the Central Authorities do not count it. This is likely to be a very large number, much greater than the reported statistics we have. We have to question just how accurate the Hague Convention statistics are no matter how they are calculated, and whether we can rely upon them when we are looking at international child abductions as a whole because I think we are missing a lot of abductions in the official numbers.
There is one other thing that I would like to mention, and I think it is very important with respect to ‘prevention’. Since there are presently no laws I am aware of that prevents one parent from taking a child outside of the country without the other parent’s permission in situations where no separation or divorce proceedings have been filed, I think it is critically important laws are implemented that would require both parents to consent if one of the other parents is desirous to take the child of the relationship outside of the country. This is very important, because, as I mentioned earlier, most Chasing Parents get blindsided when their child does not come home, and they eventually find out that the child is in another country, and not coming home.
There is no question that our global society needs for the Hague Convention to work, and work efficiently. In this sense, I want to make it very clear that I do support The Hague.
3. Thankfully, you were fortunate, and determined, enough to be reunited with your son. Did you employ the same means as David, or were you forced to find alternatives? What worked, what did not, and why?
I was beyond determined: I was willing to do anything necessary in order to protect my son. I share much of this in ‘Chasing The Cyclone’. So is David Goldman. And so too are unheralded scores of other ‘Chasing Parents’
The Hague Courts are the first avenue of recourse for most ‘Chasing Parents’ once an abducting parent has violated the jurisdictional law of a child’s habitual residency. Of course, the Hague Convention only applies when the child was abducted to a country that is a signatory to the international treaty. With great dismay, there still exist many nations, mostly in Asia and the Middle East, that have not signed the treaty and violate the spirit of the international community’s position with respect to international child abduction. And as I previously mentioned, there are too many signatory nations that do not uphold the treaty that they signed. These non-complying, spirit-denying nations have become safe-harbors for parental child abductors.
In my situation, I turned to the Hague Courts in a similar way that David Goldman and thousands of other Chasing Parents have. Perhaps what was unique in my case was the multi-national complexity of determining which nation would be involved as the ‘Petitioning Signatory Country’.
Essentially, in my child’s situation, the Hague Court did rule my son was wrongfully abducted and ordered back to North America; however, immediately after the return order was issued, there was another incident – a devastating disappearance despite my best attempt not to lose sight of him. So at that point, and with extreme fear for his physical safety and a lack of concern for his disappearance by law enforcement, I was required to act with great and unbridled urgency to find my son.
Fortunately, I have some amazing friends, including my friend Jim, who would not stop until we found my son.
In the end what worked for me was my own transformation as a knowledgeable, unyielding force of hope and determination that I would keep a promise I may to my son: that I will never leave or abandon him. And that – ‘Chasing The Cyclone’ and racing into the most brutal of storms, and knowing that I would get pulverized in every aspect of my life while doing so, including the potential to lose everything material and spiritual – it all did not matter – what did was protecting my child.
There was nothing else . . . you know, there is a dangerous misconception held by the public, and it needs to change: that when one parent abducts a child and illegally removes the child across international borders, that this act is a child custody event. Nothing in the world could be more wrong.
Abducted children, their Chasing Parents, and Recovery Agents are murdered more often than is commonly spoken of. Sometimes, children are moved into child slavery . . . and worse . . . much worse.
Stepping back for a moment, and looking at the similarities of my situation and that of the Goldman family, yes, we both took the right step in seeking intervention via the Hague Courts. Now, if only the spirit of the treaty was enforced, then situations of intolerable child abuse directed at children-victims would be dramatically reduced. It is an issue all ‘Chasing Parents’ are calling for.
4. You have spoken about what a travesty it is that the United States government does not provide any assistance to Chasing Parents (parents trying to recover their abducted children), whether financial or otherwise, when other Hague-signatory member states do. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have both tried to help David Goldman bring his son home. Is this a step in the right direction for our government, and what more needs to be done?
The fact that the Goldman case has reached some of the most important eyes and ears in the world says many great things about David and the team of organizers who are rightfully supporting David and Sean’s case. Great attention has been brought to the Goldman’s plight: now what needs to be done is for our wonderful political leaders to take notice of the other Chasing Parents and their abducted children.
Most of all, there needs to be significant change in a system that is broken – the fact is, too many abducted children are not returned, the short-term and long-term hardships that abducted children face are severe and debilitating; the lives of Chasing Parents are destroyed; and due to the courts’ failure to hold abducting parents accountable, what we see is a wrong signal sent that essentially says that society is not serious about international child abduction.
So, I have to ask this question: if your child was abducted to an unknown country and you risk never seeing that child again while also knowing that your child is living the dangerous life of a fugitive due to their attachment and reliance on their fugitive, abducting parent, what will you do, and how will you feel?
Fortunately, there are some significant steps that can be taken that can immediately reduce the number of abductions that occur, as well as increase the number of reunifications. Any actions regarding reform and change in policy must include, but surely are not limited to the following:”
• Provision of financial assistance to Chasing Parents whether American parents going overseas or foreign parents looking for children abducted to the US so legal, investigation and the simple logistics of attending court hearings can be met;
There is one other issue I think I would like to address here: the issue of whether to publicize your child’s case or not. The use of the media to raise awareness in certain cases in order to recover your child can be very helpful in certain parental child abductions cases. But under no circumstance is the media and publicity the best route for everyone. If anything, there are situations where any use of media could in fact jeopardize the life of your child, you, and any team members who are out there helping you try to recover your child. The reality that a ‘Chasing Parent’ must face is this: the bad and cruel act that was initiated against your child by their other parent typically is followed by evil. Life as a fugitive on the run is very dangerous. A parent moving frequently from one location to another, using alias for both the child and themselves, needing to move in ‘cash circles’, having to make quick and unannounced decisions, and essentially leaving any support network that the child knows runs into a very dangerous situation: meeting other fugitives and predators while they are on the run. Evil acts are followed-up by evil individuals trying to capitalize on another’s misfortune.
5. Unfortunately, you have a unique perspective and incredibly in depth knowledge of the trials that Chasing Parents go through. What impact do you hope your book, Chasing The Cyclone, will have on other people’s understanding of International Parental Abduction?
There are several main goals with ‘Chasing the Cyclone’.
Of course, my first priority in writing the book was to play my part in raising awareness to the fact that international parental child abduction is a dangerous epidemic that causes unprecedented damage and destruction for tens of thousands of individuals each year, especially children. Only through an educated and informed society will we ever see much needed change occur that can protect children. And that’s my goal: to help protect other children.
You know, there is never a day that goes by that I do not recognize just how fortunate I am to have my little guy safely home. Yet, you see, once you become a ‘Chasing Parent’, you forever belong to a club you did not sign-up for. But how do you walk away from the fight when you know that someone else who loves their child as much as you do was just ambushed and about to fight the fight of their lives in order to protect the life of their innocent child? And how could I walk away knowing that others can learn from my success and determination?
I couldn’t . . . I will not walk away. I have chosen to be unbowed in my conviction to make a difference.
6. What is the most important change you would like to see, with regards to government policy and public opinion?
It is critical that society understands that when one parent steals a child from another parent and illegally removes that child across international borders that a very dangerous and severe crime that completely puts the child’s safety has taken place.
We need to concentrate on how we can prevent international child abductions from occurring in the future. This means research and judicial training but it also means the presence and state of mind to act, and act effectively. In the United States, we need to implement policy that will aid Chasing Parents, foreign and domestic, in all matters relevant to the rescue and reunification with their child. Furthermore, The Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) must utilize all of its resources and make them readily available for all parents, across the board without prejudice or hesitation.
Furthermore, we must uphold the Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, and play our part to have other nations participate in the international treaty and uphold the spirit of member nations. To this end, we should accede to the Hague Convention provision which provides financial provision for legal costs associated with the Hague Convention proceedings in the US. It is a source of embarrassment that an American Chasing Parent can get free legal assistance and provision in many European countries and elsewhere, completely free or at vastly subsidized cost, but when a foreign parent comes to the US they must foot the entire legal bill themselves. The US refused to agree to this provision for legal fees to be covered for Chasing Parents and foreign countries view this as a message that we will not help when a child is abducted to America. We have to get past this one-sided focus on children abducted out of the US and on the equal numbers abducted to America if we are to be truly viewed as serious about stopping international child abduction.
Finally, we must turn to skilled cross border mediators to become quickly involved in cases of international child abduction. Cases are resolved through the Hague. Cases are resolved through Competent cross Border mediation, and cases are resolved through criminal warrants. Competent case triage is essential in case management and quick resolution.
7. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Going back … relieving the nightmares, the storms, and the fear that something evil was in my son’s way, and I couldn’t do a thing about it. Yet in the end, I am very pleased with how I share this story. I am pleased I decided to write it.
8. A central theme in your writing seems to be that the Chasing Parent needs to maintain hope and a sense of urgency in their efforts, which is why you choose not to use the term ‘Left Behind Parent’. Why is this so important?
Philosophically, the term ‘Left Behind Parent’ implies a powerless parent, a – victim left behind in the wake of their child’s abduction. The term ‘Chasing Parent’ emphasizes the sense of urgency parents have and need in attempting to recover and reunite with their child.
Now, I know that some parents go into shock and do little when parental child abduction occurs. They become overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness, utter disbelief, and even a feeling that maybe they are not worthy of being a parent, that maybe the child is better off with the other parent – and become incapacitated. But others- they chase into the storms with a sense of determination that no matter how long or what it make take, they will find and bring their child home.
This notion that you will succeed in your efforts is based upon your unyielding hope and belief that you will bring your child home.
9. What has been the most positive response you have received to your book and your work?
There have been many ‘Chasing Parents’ who have contacted me and said that the work that I am doing is giving them a sense of hope that, perhaps, they have lost over time due to the mountainous hurdles they have each faced in trying to reunite with their child or children. I have also been told by more than a handful of readers who have received advanced review copies of ‘Chasing The Cyclone’ that my craftsmanship as a storyteller places the reader into a position of not wanting to put the book down. And that was important to me, because it means that once a reader picks up the book, I have your undivided attention.
The other humbling aspect of what I am seeing is that a very large, mostly unseen global community is beginning to rise up. And that is really amazing because once the global advocates for children truly unite on the front of international child abduction; there will be world-wide change.
Call me an optimist, but I can feel and see the tides are changing.
10. What is next for you?
I am very pleased to announce that as a community of child activists, our efforts to raise global awareness and offer viable solutions to the rapid and brutal devastation, caused by international child abduction, has led to the production of a global documentary titled: ‘Chasing Parents: Racing Into The Storms of International Parental Child Abduction’ which is presently in various phases of production. Director JJ Rogers leads the production team of filmmakers and child advocates intent on raising awareness of the growing epidemic that is international child abduction.
In addition, we are moving steadfastly toward production of a feature film adaptation of ‘Chasing The Cyclone’. I am sure I will have more on that to share in the near future, but I must say, the process has been enjoyable. In essence, what we’re doing is creating a series of different media projects that will continue to keep the issue of child abduction in the public’s eye.
And of course in between the various film activities and my efforts to assist other Chasing Parents and their children is the challenge of scheduling a national and international book tour.
But besides all of that, my real number one priority is to raise my son in an open, loving, and safe environment. And that is exactly what I am doing.
11. Is there anything else you would like to add that?
It is imperative for citizens everywhere rise up and support the acts of those who are trying to bring about change in policy and law in order to protect children. After all, no person thinks that this could happen to them …
For anyone interested in learning more about this subject, or interested in finding out what I am doing, there is a great deal of information and resources that can be found at the Chasing The Cyclone website.
One last thing, and personally it is the most important message of all: Son, I love you so much and am so proud of you. I know you have developed a great strength to live through a loving heart. May you always remain the strong, insightful, caring, and loving person you are. And know that you bring such great joy to my life.
Malibu, CA 90265