Here’s a video by a man named Michael Smith from Walnut Bend, California (San Jose Mercury News, 11/22/10). It’s a YouTube video he did a couple of weeks ago in an effort to get his kids to contact him. His two children, Zachary and Chelsea were abducted by their mother in 1997 when they were aged nine and six respectively. He hasn’t seen them since.
In what is becoming an all-too-familiar story, their mother took them in the middle of a custody battle with Smith. According to his video, Smith had been advised by court personnel and counsellors to seek full custody of his two children, but when he did, his ex started levelling a series of allegations of physical, sexual and verbal abuse against him.
Some five separate police departments investigated her allegations and cleared Smith of all wrongdoing. He also underwent two complete evaluations by psychological personnel, apparently ordered by family or juvenile courts. They too cleared him of all allegations of abuse.
Then, on December 10, 1997, his ex-wife and their two children disappeared, never to be heard from again… until a couple of weeks ago. That’s when an FBI agent contacted Smith and told him that his kids had been located, but that neither wanted to see their father.
So Michael Smith is reaching out to them through the good offices of YouTube. He’s telling them about his life since they vanished and asking them to contact him through Facebook or email. Smith’s life over the last 13 years has been eventful. Most intriguing is the fact that he’s made his children’s abduction a sort of life’s work. He acts as a consultant on parental child abduction for the United States Department of Justice.
I’d love to talk to Michael Smith. I’ve written a fair amount about the subject of parental child abduction. Most important is the fact that parental child abduction is itself a form of child abuse. That’s the point that was made to the United Nations by psycholigist Nancy Faulkner and by the research of others into the psychology of parents who abduct and that of the children they take.
Put briefly, the psychological profile of the parental abductor tends toward that of the narcissist in which the parent’s wants and needs supercede those of the child. In that way, the child comes to serve the needs of the parent rather than the other way around. On the other hand, the child suffers an immediate deprivation of all other adults in the child’s family as well as those in school, church and elsewhere. The child loses grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. and becomes totally dependent on the abducting parent.
And since that parent is likely hiding from the law, the child’s ability to reach out to others is almost completely cut off. To do so, to tell another adult about the child’s predicament would be to betray the abducting parent on whom the child has come to depend for all security, all support, all nurturing, in fact all of everything a child needs to get along in the world.
My guess is that a form of Stockholm Syndrome takes hold at some point. That is, the child begins to think of his/her abductor, not as an abuser, not as someone who has deprived him/her of so many valuable relationships, but as a savior. The abducted child seeks to defend the parent’s behavior against those who call the parent by his/her proper name – abuser.
I’d like to talk to Michael Smith about that. I know he’d have a lot to add, oth from a personal and a professional perspective.
Twice recently we’ve seen adults who were abducted as children hesitate or refuse to contact or respond favorably to the parent from whom they were taken. Almost beyond question that’s because the abducting parent has poisoned the child’s mind against the other parent in order to try to justify his her illegal action.
Michael Smith has only recently tried to contact his children. (Interestingly enough, he says on the video that he believes that it was Zachary who contacted the FBI, not the other way around.) How this scene plays out is anyone’s guess at this point. But Michael Smith looks like he’s taking the right approach; he’s making himself available, but leaving it up to his children to contact him or not as they so desire. That allows them to not feel pressured to do something they’re surely not comfortable with just yet.
My guess is that they’ll find him sooner or later. The ties of family are strong and as they mature, they’ll start to see Michael Smith for who he is and always has been. They’ll understand him, their mother and the court system, not as children at the mercy of their mother, but as adults viewing adult behavior and adult institutions.
And when they do, they’ll begin to come to grips with an uncomfortable reality – that what their mother did was profoundly harmful to them as children. Far better, though, will be the realization that they have – and always have had – a father who loves them.