Da Massa/Gavaghan Child Abduction Still Unsolved After Two Years

I’ve written a fair amount about international child abduction and some about its effects on the abducted children.  A report delivered to the United Nations in the 90s spelled out the psychological profile of abducting parents and the emotional/psychological impact of abduction on children.

The case described in this article puts some flesh on the bones of the report to the U.N (Toronto Star, 9/3/10).

In 2008, Henry Da Massa lived in England.  He had weekend visitation with his daughter Pearl, who was then four years old.  But Da Massa wanted more and he soon got a “residence order” from the court.  That meant that he would get substantially more time with Pearl.

He was pleased, but Pearl’s mother, Helen Gavaghan apparently wasn’t.

Still, he says for about six months after the court order he thought things were going really well. He later learned that Gavaghan had been planning the whole time.

“It did turn out that as soon as that order was made Helen began to put together the building blocks for leaving England,’ he says.

He got a telephone call from a friend of Helen saying she and Pearl were going to India on holiday.  Was the friend in on the scheme to abduct the child?  Who knows?  But Helen didn’t take Pearl on vacation; she took her to Mexico where she changed her own name to Meta International.  From there the pair walked across the border into Texas and for a time disappeared.

But last year, the Helen and Pearl were sighted in Toronto living once again under different names, this time, Dana Flaherty and Belle.

Da Massa was elated to know where they were, and flew to Toronto expecting to be reunited with his daughter.  But Gavaghan and the child had disappeared again. 

Now this article tell us that they’ve been seen again in Toronto and the police have become involved in finding them (Toronto Sun, 3/16/11).  They know the immediate area the two are thought to be living in and are posting flyers in the area asking for information.

 An English court has declared the abduction to be unlawful. 

Canada is a signatory nation to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, so when Pearl is found, Da Massa will have to institute proceedings under the convention for her return.  Supposedly, proceedings brought under the convention are to be concluded within two months, but as a practical matter, that rarely happens.

The report on the psychological damage done to abducted children sounds a lot like what Pearl may be going through.

A health-care professional came forward with some serious concerns in terms of her (Pearl) emotional state, her development and her social progress,’ Da Massa says.

“Those concerns have been compounded by a person very close to this community, this alternative community, and we are all very worried about Pearl,’ Da Massa says.

According to the U.N. report, that’s because abducted children are suddenly deprived of almost all of their adult support system.  Abduction means they never see the other parent and all of that parent’s extended family.  Familiar surroundings, playmates and friends are gone as well as is schools, teachers, etc.  All of that is replaced by the unknown – unknown places, languages, residences and the rest.

The child therefore comes immediately to rely on the abducting parent for everything.  All support, all nurturance, all understanding of people, events and the outside world come from a single source.  That is a very precarious position for a child and, predictably, the child is aware of just how thin the ice is on which he/she skates.  So anxiety on the child’s part is greatly heightened.

Into the bargain, the child often concludes that, because the abducting parent is his/her sole source of care, the child must do what he/she can to make sure all is well with the parent.  Thus is a kind of inverted relationship formed in which the child cares for the parent.

[Da Massa] worries about the psychological effect this whole ordeal will have on Pearl, but says proudly that she is a “very strong, healthy, sturdy, smart kid.’

“She”s probably provided a lot of support to Helen during this time,’ he says, his eyes welling up again.

She probably has, and that’s part of the problem.  Abducting parents frequently have emotional/psychological problems of their own and, from what I’ve read, Helen Gavaghan is no exception.  In addition to abducting Pearl, Gavaghan apparently was fleeing debts in England.  Not only that, but she seems to have decamped with a sizeable sum of money withdrawn from her bank account.  Her own parents say they have no idea where that money came from.

So there’s more here than meets the eye and more reasons than just one why Helen Gavaghan doesn’t want to be found.

Meanwhile, Da Massa and the Toronto police continue the struggle to locate Pearl and her mother.  When that happens – if it does – he may find a little girl who’s substantially changed from when he last saw her.  That’s what the report to the U.N. would predict and it’s what the health care professional in Toronto observed when Pearl was last seen.

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