Innocent Victims: In the crossfire of custodial battles

Custodial Interference, also known as Family Abduction, is the kind of crime that  leaves scars on one of the world?s most precious beings–our children…the innocent. Often individuals believe that an abducted child must be safe and loved if he/she is with a parent. Unfortunately, this is not true in many cases. A child victim of Family Abduction suffers emotional trauma and loss of identity. In some cases the child may experience physical and/or sexual abuse at the hands of the abductor as well as abandonment, by either being left alone or being placed up for adoption. At an age when a child should be experiencing the joy of life, an abducted child may be learning how to live life as a fugitive. In some cases a child?s name, date of birth and even social security number may be changed. The child may be told they had to be taken away because they were bad, they are going on vacation to Disneyland, the searching parent did not want them anymore or has died. At the time of an abduction, a child experiences feelings of confusion and a loss of security. Upon recovery, the abducted child will experience feelings of conflicting realties–the false reality created by the abductor and the true reality that exists. The child is not sure what or who to believe. Again, the child experiences loss of security in the only world he/she knew, no matter how unspeakable or cruel the existence was. The following are examples of what a child may experience: Not satisfied with only having visitations, Jason, the father, kept his son, Brandon, following a visitation and advised Brandon?s mother, Kathy, during a subsequent phone conversation that she would have to sign custody over to him if she ever wanted to see her child again. Brandon was quickly taken away from his only sense of security at a tender age. For the next four months Brandon would have to develop a new sense of security in the abductor, no matter how unhealthy. The emotional trauma would continue as Brandon was abandoned by his father, now his abductor and only security, and left in a hotel room alone to fend for himself until discovered by a hotel employee who helped him. Fortunately, Brandon was recovered and reunited with his mother before any serious harm could come to him. Who was it that said, "The child is not in danger if he/she is with the other parent?" A four or five year old fugitive is a description that would produce much disbelief. But this is a reality for children who are turned into fugitives by their parents. Rebecca was unhappy with the improvement of visitation conditions for her ex-husband, Steve, and his parents as ordered by the court. In her own mind, the solution was simple- abduct. The next two and a half years would seem like and eternity to Steve as he searched for his daughter, Susie. Finally, an anonymous tip came in about the child to the local police. A positive identification was made on Susie, other than the fact that she was now known as Kimmy. Rebecca had assumed a new  identity as well. Upon recovery, Susie?s ordeal had only just begun. Not only was she snatched from her secure world, but she was told she would not be the same person. She was taught life on the run and not to trust anyone. Who still believes the absconder has the best interest of the child at heart? Physical and/or sexual abuse during an abduction episode is a reality that may exist on a daily basis for the child. The abductor may continue abuse that was occurring pre-abduction. Stress experienced from being on the run may also initialize physical and/or sexual abuse during the period of hiding. There are two resolution tracks that can occur in a case of Custodial Interference. The first one is the criminal aspect. In this situation, the police become involved by taking a missing child report and Custodial Interference report. From there a warrant would be served and the child recovered. The other track is the civil aspect. One may need to proceed by obtaining temporary custody, or having the absconder served with an Order to Show Cause in conjunction with a Writ Habeas Corpus for the pickup of the child. These two tracks may be used in  coordination with each other as well, depending on the circumstances of the case or the policy of the local jurisdiction. Throughout an episode of Custodial Interference, authorities must never forget the importance of reunification. This vital element must be handled with delicacy by skilled professionals capable of implementing an effective plan in order to prevent further harm to the child. This includes, but is not limited to, temptation by the media to promenade the child and his/her "story". Such exposure, if not circumvented or cautiously planned, can result in the continued victimization of the child through embarrassment and public openness of their venerability. Often individuals believe that an abducted child must be safe and loved if he/she is with a parent. Unfortunately, this is not true in many cases. A child victim of Family Abduction suffers emotional trauma and loss of identity. In some cases the child may experience physical and/or sexual abuse at the hands of the abductor as well as abandonment, by either being left alone or being placed up for adoption. At an age when a child should be experiencing the joy that can occur in a case of Custodial Interference. The first one is the criminal aspect. In this situation, the police become involved by taking a missing child report and Custodial Interference report. From there a warrant may be issued for the abductor. Upon location of the abductor and child, the warrant would be served and the child recovered. The other track is the civil aspect. One may need to proceed by obtaining temporary custody, or having the absconder served with an Order to Show Cause in conjunction with a Writ of Habeas Corpus for the pickup of the child. These two tracks may be used in coordination with each other as well, depending on the circumstances of the case or the policy of the local jurisdiction. Throughout an episode of Custodial Interference, authorities must never forget the importance of reunification. This vital element must be handled with delicacy by skilled professionals capable of implementing an effective plan in order to prevent further harm to the child. This includes, but is not limited to, temptation by the media to promenade the child and his/her "story." Such exposure, if not circumvented or cautiously planned, can result in the continued victimization of the child through embarrassment and public openness of their vulnerability. Linda Aldridge is a former caseworker for OPERATION LOOKOUT®, previously with the Washington State Patrol Missing Children Clearinghouse, and has been involved with missing children since 1988. She is now a child support enforcement officer for the state.