Rhode Island taxpayers have contributed an enormous sum to wage a war that most of us know nothing about. The systems our state established to protect children have instead subjected many to danger and trauma that will profoundly shape the rest of their lives. Who will help to build public awareness and political consensus to protect children from those who prey on them or who profit from their abuse? How should government respond in ways that are transparent and accountable?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

766 Days & Nights

As of today, Mother’s Day 2008, the State of Rhode Island has held "Molly," 7, and "Sara," 11, (not their real names) in custody for 766 days and nights, nearly eleven months longer than Iranian militants held Americans hostage during a tense standoff from 1979 to 1981. Should we compare these two events and the political agendas they represent?

In one, 52 adults were held together under armed threat for 444 days before being released and returned to their loved ones. In the second, two young sisters have been removed from their mother and life-long home, and then isolated from each other for 766 days and nights. They have not yet been released or returned to their home and loved ones.

Today is their third Mother's Day without the mother that both adore. You decide if Molly and Sara are "hostages" to a political agenda that violently assaults their freedom and rights as Americans.

Police removed the girls from their schools on April 7, 2006, when they were 5 and 9 years old—at a time in life when one week at summer camp can be traumatic. Given no other explanation, the older girl wrote that a foster mother told them their mother had "mental problems." It was a lie, and the children knew it.

More than two years later, the girls, who once did everything together, are permitted to see each other and their mother for only two hours a week at the DCYF office. While voices of wisdom plead for parents to listen to their children, Rhode Island has made it impossible for these sisters to have any meaningful contact with their mother or with each other.

Why? How did it happen?

To their neighbors, friends, and especially their mother, these days, weeks, months, and years have brought a sense of horror that such a thing could occur anywhere in the United States.

Their mother is neither abusive nor neglectful. Quite the contrary, she is an extraordinary parent who wrote and illustrated whimsical journals for each girl since birth, a series that grew into more than ten handwritten books.

She wrote mostly in Swiss-German, the birth language that state authorities now forbid the girls to speak, for fear they will speak against their father. She recorded their adventures . . .

and ordinary things like gardening and handcrafts, the things they noticed in nature, the comments they made, and early childhood experiences they might otherwise forget.

Their life changed in 2003 when Molly, at the age of three, began to protest the "sausage games" that she said her father insisted on playing when her mother was at work and her sister at school. She drew graphic pictures of him, and reenacted male masturbation so convincingly that DCYF investigated and issued a finding of sexual molestation against the father.

This was not the first time his family faced allegations of child sexual abuse. On June 17, 1981, the District Court in Winterthur, Switzerland, convicted his own father at age 55 of molesting three boys, two of them in foster care and mentally handicapped, and one a deaf mute.

The Swiss newspaper, Landbote (June 18, 1981), said the defendant was a psychoanalyst and served as part-time caretaker for one of the boys. He professed his shame and remorse, insisting that the boys were not seriously handicapped and he only meant to help them. He considered himself a "frustrated rebel" with self-destructive tendencies and possibly split personality. The court found that he had abused a position of trust and sentenced him to eighteen months in prison plus five years on probation.

He left prison and soon offended again, facing charges of child sex abuse and child pornography. His family hid incriminating photographs and helped him escape, but he was arrested in France and returned to prison. He now lives as an admitted pedophile in the Philippines, where poor families have few alternatives to accepting money from those who molest their children.

After his granddaughters were born in Rhode Island, the aging pederast came to visit. Eventually his status as a convicted sex offender barred him from entering the United States. Rhode Island records show that the grandfather had molested other children--not only unrelated boys in Switzerland, but also his own sons. His family apparently never reported this to Swiss authorities.

One of his sons is now a leading divorce lawyer in Zurich, where websites quote him as an advocate for fathers. He complains of the hysteria of mothers using sex abuse allegations to keep children from fathers. Society’s fear of pedophiles is too extreme, he says, and the Swiss courts' failure to assure joint custody for fathers "almost invites you to play blackmail."

Erpressungsspielen is the German word the brother used for blackmail, and it may have begun in earnest in 2003, when he gave his brother in Rhode Island a Swiss article about American psychiatrist Richard Gardner’s success accusing mothers of "alienating" their children against their fathers.

According to the girls' mother, her husband threw the page at her, saying, "This article describes you exactly," as she and the girls were leaving home on the morning of March 3, 2003, for their drive to Providence.

That summer the girls and their mother flew to Zurich to visit her elderly parents, who eagerly welcomed their only grandchildren. Their mother documented the trip in a special journal.

Now in their late 80's and too frail to travel, the couple have not seen their grandchildren since that visit in 2003.

Back in Rhode Island, an angry father met his wife and daughters at the airport. His wife remembers him saying: "You’ll pay for this." By Christmastime their younger daughter complained of the sausage games, and early in 2004, DCYF issued its finding of sexual molestation against him.

Yet he was never criminally prosecuted. His brother, the Zurich lawyer, came to Rhode Island to fight the finding against him. They met with police, DCYF staff, and others.

The brothers' earliest defense strategy was to use photos of their father with Molly to suggest that he could have molested her. In the Philippines, the grandfather insisted he had not done this, for he is solely interested in boys.

Molly never wavered from insisting that it was her own father who played the sausage game. She re-enacted and drew it emphatically.

More than two years have passed since neighbors began to bring this case to the attention of Rhode Island officials. Why was the case never prosecuted? Why are the girls now deprived of each other, their mother, and their home?

Molly and Sara are not the only children suffering in a system that offers ample opportunity for blackmail. How can we discern the whole truth in a system of adversarial litigation that lawyers and clinicians pump for billable hours? The process itself, functioning under the cloak of confidentiality and virtually devoid of rules, splinters cases down to meaningless motions for years on end. Working together, lawyers for the defense and for DCYF keep judges from grasping the entire story in its fullest context.

Which Rhode Island officials will use their subpoena power to investigate and find out which side has waged the campaign of misinformation that still travels like a virus through this case?

Confidential comments may be sent to Anne Grant at parentingproject@cox.net


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About the Author & Purpose

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service provided since 1996 by Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. The coordinator, Anne Grant, is a retired United Methodist minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter and service agency for battered women and their children. We research and write about official actions that endanger children and the parents who are trying to protect them. Our goal is to reform this area of government and to establish an effective, transparent and accountable child protective system.

We first reported on this case at http://custodyscam.blogspot.com/

To read the blog more easily, please reduce the width of your column. Some of the pictures can be enlarged by clicking once on them.

Comments and corrections may be sent in an email with no attachments to parenting project @ verizon.net

About "Parental Alienation"

If you are not familiar with Richard Gardner's theory of "parental alienation" and how it is being used in custody courts, scroll down to the earliest posting, "Junk Science in Custody Courts." For more scholarly research, visit  http://www.leadershipcouncil.org/1/pas/1.html

For more on the scandal in custody courts, see: