The Helen Gavaghan/Henry da Massa child abduction case looks like it has “legs.” Numerous news organizations in the UK, Canada and the U.S. have run pieces about Gavaghan’s arrest and their daughter Pearl’s return to her father, da Massa. And with each new article, new facts become known.
For example, I reported that Gavaghan and Pearl had gone by three different names each in the three years of Pearl’s abduction. It turns out there were actually four. When the police arrested Gavaghan on September 16th, she was calling herself Eve Hart and her daughter, Krista.
It now appears that Gavaghan availed herself of the services of the Catholic Worker organization to keep hidden for so long. The Catholic Worker maintains what they call “houses of hospitality” throughout much of Mexico and the United States. Those provide way stations for undocumented immigrants where they receive housing, food, clothing and above all, a place to be out of sight of the law. Such at any rate is my understanding of them, having had some personal experiences with one such house of hospitality in Texas.
So it seems that it was the Catholic Worker organization that constituted the “alternative community” that’s been reported to have provided Gavaghan the cover she needed to keep Pearl away from her father for so long. As far as I can tell, members of that organization in Toronto seem to have fully understood that Gavaghan was on the run from the law. She told them that da Massa is a child abuser, that the courts in the U.K. didn’t believe her and that she therefore was compelled to kidnap the girl. They seem to have swallowed her story hook, line and sinker.
Gavaghan had told a circle of acquaintances in Toronto — people who risked breaking the law to keep her Parkdale whereabouts secret — that Da Massa had been abusive toward Pearl, which is why she fled England six months after a High Court issued a shared residency order…
[Mennonite Pastor Doug] Hatlem was totally convinced by Gavaghan”s account of child abuse and remains so. “Helen was completely believable. She discussed Pearl”s experiences in front of the child.
“I have enough confidence in the story that I was willing to risk a deep, deep involvement in the case.’
The pastor understood that Gavaghan had lost faith in the judicial system. He helped put her in contact with a lawyer who advised resuming the legal battle in court but Gavaghan was fearful of putting her daughter on the stand.
I suppose it never occurred to Hatlem or any of the others who abetted the abduction of a little girl that there might be a perfectly plausible reason why Gavaghan was “fearful of putting her daughter on the stand.” After all, she might tell the truth. And I suppose it never occurred to them that the British police and courts had gotten it right when they concluded that Henry da Massa was not a child abuser and that he was entitled to participate fully in his daughter’s care and upbringing. And it clearly never occurred to them that depriving a young child of her father might have any adverse consequences for her. What did they think about the fact that Gavaghan had told Pearl that she didn’t have a father, while telling them that he was an abuser?
My guess is that some people are unduly susceptible to a fable of a mother’s lonely stand against injustice to save her daughter from the depredations of an evil father. It’s the type of hero myth that appeals to some people, it seems. Still, when you read what Gavaghan posted on her website prior to fleeing the U.K., what comes through is not so much heroism as paranoia.
“He is a very rare (or at least little-acknowledged) type of mentally sick person. The ways he went about damaging me (and now my daughter) are subtle, unbelievably contrived and almost inarticulable (sic) …’
Gavaghan added: “I am leaving the UK with my daughter soon for the States to escape this dark character”s hold on us…”
The mental illness that only she can see, the great damage to her and the child that’s unknown to all but her, the need to flee and hide out from authority, would all be red flags for anyone who cared to look. Hatlem and the others didn’t.
In what may be a harbinger of things to come, this article goes to considerable lengths to let Gavaghan tell her side of the story (Toronto Star, 9/28/11). We see this pretty routinely; the press often treats female and male wrongdoers differently. Women tend to have their actions understood and excused while male malefactors are condemned out of hand. Part of that process is the silencing of the men while women are offered the type of forum the Toronto Star gave Gavaghan.
So we’re told in Gavaghan’s words how “shocked” she was to not be seeing her daughter in court or in jail. She tells us how
“worried” she is about Pearl and how uniquely close the two are. “I’m suffering on many different levels,” Gavaghan informs us.
As much as we learn about Gavaghan’s travails, it’s equally noteworthy what the article doesn’t tell us. It says nothing about the debts she left unpaid back in the U.K. or the apparent fraud she committed on (my guess) a credit card company. Those are the type of inconvenient details people leave out when they’re trying to recruit sympathy from readers.
Whatever the motivations of the writer, I have a feeling Helen Gavaghan will fail in her role as the victim in this drama. My guess is that she’ll be seen for who she is – a mother bent on depriving her child of her father who stopped at nothing, including child abuse, to accomplish her goal.