Recently I was asked a series of questions about my involvement in parental child abduction. The questions pertained to my work as a lobbyist, writer, speaker and former abducted child. The questions stem from my recent and ongoing involvement with HB787’s author, Carolyn Vlk and State Representative Rouson. Florida State House Bill 787 is better known as the “Florida Child Abduction Prevention Act”. Ms. Vlk authored the bill in 2007 and with the great help of Rep Rouson, have finally seen their bill make it all the way to the governor’s hands this week.
Recently I was asked to answer a series of questions about my involvement in parental child abduction.The questions pertained to my work as a lobbyist, writer, speaker and former abducted child.The questions stem from my recent and ongoing involvement with HB787’s author, Carolyn Vlk and State Representative Rouson. Florida State House Bill 787 is better known as the “Florida Child Abduction Prevention Act”.Ms. Vlk authored the bill in 2007 and with the great help of Rep Rouson, have finally seen their bill make it all the way to the governor’s hands this week.
I became involved after I received a phone call from Peter Thomas Senese.Mr. Senese has become known as one of a handful of parents to have recovered their children.After speaking with Peter I jumped in and decided I needed to help get HB787 passed.With a hard writing campaign and testimony, we have seen HB787 make it in the bottom of the ninth.I have been very pleased to see a bipartisan state house and the state senate so openly reach across the aisle and support our work.
Here are the questions I was asked:
1. As an adult who experienced abduction, why is it critical that preventive abduction laws are passed?
First, I want to make this very clear, there was NO parental child abduction prevention laws in place anywhere in the country when I was kidnapped by my father.My father was convicted under California Penal Code 277.0 to 280.0, part 278.5, with a plea agreement and given 120 days plus probation as a felon.I wanted to state this because as an adult looking back at the effects my father’s actions had on so many lives, it is clearly immeasurable.Secondly, I want point out that had there been laws, such as Florida’s Child Abduction Prevention Act and an Amber alert working together, my father would have never made it out of the state of California, or his attempt to relocate us to Australia.
2. What trauma can a child who has experienced abduction face, and what can be done about it so that the child can re-enter society without the daily scars of their abduction experience?
I have always felt it best to answer this by using my own past history as a case study, therefore I can only speak for myself, although the signs and symptoms due seem very universal.While I was kidnapped, I often suffered severe night-terrors and slept walk.My siblings and me were often put in positions that under normal circumstances would not have happened.My older sister was raped by a stranger and we frequently lived in fear of the police knocking on our door.Upon return I developed a speech impediment, nervous jerking of my face, and eye twitching, which is called a tic.My lack of trust in my immediate family increased and has been a major hurdle my entire life.
In my own case and not much different twenty-six years later, I did not receive any form of counseling. Once the media was through with putting our face on the television, we quickly fell through the cracks and asked to forget the past three years.What is needed is a slow reunification with licensed professionals who are trained in parental alienation.Although I am not a licensed therapist, I think ongoing counseling should continue for as long as the child was abducted.I believe that the mental shift from the left-behind parent as focus to that of the child is paramount.In the same regards, the left-behind parent needs constant an ongoing care as soon as the abduction is verified.My own mother managed to stay in a mindset that upon return little Kenny would come home as though time had stopped and I was seven still; this is not the case.This is the only way to limit the scars that WILL remain throughout their life.
3. Your book 'Throwing Stones' is about your abduction experience. Can you share with us some insight on your book?
I have written for years.Writing, like my music and painting has always been an outlet and a way to express that which I cannot put into spoken words.In 2006 I started reaching out to others about parental kidnapping.I spoke with Liss of Take Root, which I have the deepest respect for and the Take Root foundation.After I became a member of Take Root, I started looking for material on the subject.There are few books on parental child abduction, but none I could find by an actual child-victim; it was only after Throwing Stones was published did I discover Bryan McGlothin’s wonderful book, “Have You Seen My Mother”.
The idea of how to approach, “Abducted From Within; a Childhood Journey Through Hell”, the original name for Throwing Stones, was from that of a novelist.There are tons of nonfiction books on the market, but none that read like a fictional novel.I believed if I could dig deep inside and speak from the seven to eleven year old boy, going through the kidnapping; it could reach beyond the small community of parental child abduction.In effect, Throwing Stones is a non biased story much like that of Jean Craighead George’s, “My Side of the Mountain”, but about parental child abduction from the child’s eyes.
4. You are presently actively involved with advocating the passage of Florida's 'Child Abduction Prevention Act' bill. Why is this personally so important to you?
Just the other day I was at Office Depot and being helped by a young woman while having new cards made.After the woman asked what I did, she began to cry.Years earlier, as a child her mother abducted her, not once but twice.Before I left, she told me that she did not feel alone anymore and that I made her day.So, to answer this question, she represents why I have devoted my life to advocacy; I want to make parental child abduction a foot note in the history books and with the passing into law of Florida HB 787 and SB 1862, I’ll be that much closer to keeping that promise.
5. What benefits can Florida reap if this bill is passed into law?
Florida will save thousands of children from the kind of life I have lived during and post my abduction.For those abducted abroad, HB 787 will close that avenue and life path they were never meant to live or experience.Florida will give a second chance before at risk children need it.
6. Describe the landscape that surrounds child abduction in the United States?
Recently while researching for my activism in Florida I pulled up some very sobering yet conservative facts.Since I was kidnapped, parents have abducted 5,887,000 children.Think about that, 6 million children have experienced some form of abuse and kidnapping is mental and emotional abuse at the hands of their protectors.The United States, like most other nations still has this chattel or property mindset when it comes to children.Until we as adults, parents and Americans can realize that we are destroying generations of lives out of anger and pain over a divorce; we will not get the irreparable damage laid upon our children.Children are not chattel and that is the raw facts of the landscape in the United States.
7. Is society's perspective on international parental child abduction changing? If so, why?
I think after the recent Chris Savoie and David Goldman case, people are starting to ask the right questions.We have a long way to go, however the events planned in Washington DC this April 9 through the 11th by BacHome.org is a good sign we have a growing voice.I think what is needed is a unification among organizations when bills like Florida HB 787 come up.I have strived to bridge any and all willing to work together regardless of creed, mission or ego.We have a common goal and when we as a community and nation see what we can do as one, we will make a real change.
8. What can the United States government do to assist parents who have their child stolen across international borders?The United States needs to transfer parental abduction cases from the State Department and turn them over to the Department of Justice.It is impossible to enforce the laws once an abduction has been successfully committed when our leaders use them as political pawns in the international community.I realize it’s not as easily done as I have stated here but I ask, how can the United States truly assist parents when they tell the parents to not file criminal charges but let the politicians negotiate their child like an energy policy.
9. Is it okay for a parent who faces ongoing physical and psychological abuse to abduct their child if the courts have failed to protect them and they believe their safety is in jeopardy?
That is a good question and I have tried to deal with that very question against my convictions since I first got involved.This will not answer every incident since each one is different.I would like to believe that our courts would never let this happen but as both someone who has worked in law enforcement and is currently in my own custody case, I have seen how the courts lean to biased opinion instead of bare facts in regards to the child’s welfare.We need to protect the child and the letter of the law is often overlooked for what is the ‘best interest’ of keeping both parents involved in the child’s lives.After I was returned home my mother was married to a very abusive and physically violent man.All the times he beat her or assaulted me, the police were never far behind.Back then, they only held him in jail for the night or made him leave the house.If we were his children and had never been abducted by my own father, mother’s need to protect us and herself would have been grounds to relocate us.However, that was twenty-four years ago and police now have the right to press assault charges.I think it is still a concern but the laws have gotten stronger and there are government agencies and nonprofits freely available to help now compared to 1986 when they divorced.
10. Have you spoken to other individuals that have experienced abduction as a child? If so, what common threads do you share?
Sadly I have!As I said earlier, I met a woman at the local Office Depot recently.I knew of one child who was kidnapped like me while I was abducted.I have a family member who has experienced temporary parental child abduction and a youth pastor who was ready to end his marriage and his life over the long term effects.I think the loss of trust is the main factor.When a child is abducted by a stranger, no matter how long they are gone, they know mommy and daddy will be there when they are found.When a child is abducted by their parent, they are lied to, made to believe falsities about the other parent.The very foundation of truth is ripped away and they are left in a sea of doubt.That loss of trust and understanding of what ‘family’ is, is gone forever.
11. Tell us about the team that you are a part of that has been working on Florida's 'Child Abduction Prevention Act' bill?
Carolyn Vlk is the mother and activist who drafted the bill along with Representative Rouson.Ms. Vlk has been an inspiration and a real hero to me.Her courage and drive to see this through has given me a second wind of energy.She has done all the research and if I have ever needed any information or a contact for Florida HB 787 she has the answer.
Peter Thomas Senese came to me as a former left-behind parent, or as he prefers to think of his case, a chasing parent due to his active involvement in chasing down his child, was the man who first brought HB 787 to my attention.I didn’t know of the bill until he called me about it and about Ms. Vlk.I have done a lot of articles, editorial and commentary work in my past but never on the blanket effect a press release has that Mr. Senese did with what I have written for HB 787.He was also quick to offer a plane ticket and then when he could not provide one, he and his fiance gave me frequent flier miles so I could be present in Tallahassee; allowing me to lobby and testify on this landmark bill. Cpt. William Lake, whose daughter was kidnapped to Japan, was a pleasure to speak with and give anther unique voice to international abduction.I have really enjoyed the team pulled together at the bottom of the ninth to push Ms. Vlk’s bill the last leg needed.
12. Do you think this bill will become law?
My wife always asks me if I am excited about events in my near future.I give her the same answer, “no, not until it is upon me or complete”I have very high hopes for the Florida Child Abduction Prevention Act, but until it is signed by Governor Crist, I will hold back and continue to fight for its passing.With that being said, I really believe Florida’s children have a good chance of protection for once.
13. Is there anything else you would like to add?
When Florida signs HB787 in to law, Florida will be but a handful of states to make a stand for their children.Currently there is a bill in Washington DC that follows in the footsteps of the 2002, Synclair-Cannon Act. It is my desire that our national leaders will put aside partisan politics, in favor of Florida’s unanimous vote at committee level to pass on HB 787.We need to really start thinking about our children’s rights so wonderfully written in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.As a child of kidnapping, I did NOT HAVE A VOICE.I, like so many now, were left to the misguided, misunderstood and uneducated adults who thought they knew what was best.We know the system does not work.6 million children have been kidnapped by family members.That is 230,000 a year on average since 1980, with a closer number of 370,000 annually.That number dwarfs stranger abduction and child abuse easily.If 6 million children were abducted by strangers, we would have multiple laws in place to prevent it without question. Since we put a mommy or daddy title on the offender it is overlooked.Maybe it’s time we, you close your eyes and imagine it is your child.