September 7, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Remember Dorothy Lee Barnett? She’s the woman who kidnapped her daughter Savanna 19 years ago when the child was just 10 months old. A family court in South Carolina had given custody to her ex-husband, stockbroker Benjamin Todd, amid findings that Barnett had mental problems that interfered with her ability to care for their daughter. But Barnett had visitation rights and, on one of those days, she picked up Savanna and disappeared.
Subsequently we’ve learned that she forged passports for herself and the child and fled first to South Africa where she met and married her second husband. When they divorced, she and Savannah, whom she’d taken to calling Samantha, moved to Australia. But there, Barnett slipped up. She referred to her daughter as “Savanna,” which got the attention of a friend. He did a bit of research and figured out that Barnett was the mother of a child named Savanna Todd, whose American father had never given up searching for her.
He alerted Todd who told authorities in Queensland. They arrested Barnett who’s been in jail facing extradition ever since. As this article makes clear, Australian prosecutors have now determined to extradite Barnett to the United States where she faces charges of child abduction and passport fraud, charges that could put her behind bars for as long as 10 years (News.com.au, 9/4/14).
A couple of things come to mind. First, it’s extremely difficult to pick up a child for a day’s outing and then “disappear” for almost 20 years. Not only did Barnett carefully plan her abduction and flight, but she almost certainly had help. Everyday people don’t forge passports or, if they do, not well enough to fool immigration authorities. Someone created those passports and Barnett paid for them. Such is my belief.
In addition, when a child is abducted who’s supposed to be back with her dad by the end of the day, there’s not much time in which to “disappear.” By the end of the day, Dad will have alerted the police and a search will be underway. So that means Barnett knew exactly where she was going and what she was doing in order to stay a step ahead of the police. To me, that too means she was receiving help.
Second, ever since her mother was arrested, Savannah has stood by her, loudly proclaiming her to be the best of mothers. She’s also refused to see her father whom Barnett has always claimed to be an abuser despite the entire absence of evidence to back her up.
That behavior is of course typical of alienated children and clearly Barnett is an alienator. After all, kidnapping a child and keeping it from its loving father is about as alienating as it’s possible to be. But more important is the child’s behavior that fairly shouts “alienation!” The core of parental alienation is a campaign of denigration of the targeted parent, in this case, Todd. Therapists report that alienated children tend toward “black and white thinking,” i.e. there’s no subtlety or nuance. To them, the alienator is always right and the target always wrong. Regardless of how badly the alienator behaves, it’s justified; regardless of how well the target behaves, it’s inexcusable. The targeted parent is useless or worse, abusive. Of course there’s an almost inexhaustible supply of excuses for such obviously skewed thinking.
We’ll see if Savannah comes around, meets her dad and accepts the fact that what her mother did, and what her mother’s told her about Todd, is and always has been wrong. It’s a tough thing to come to grips with — learning that the narrative of your life has been a lie. Even tougher is the deep truth about parental child abduction and parental alienation — that both are child abuse. Not only did Barnett force a life of lies and hiding on her daughter, she deprived her of the man whose daughter she is, his love, protection, mentoring and care.
But that’s the nature of alienation and abduction; they’re abusive. Dorothy Lee Barnett should do a long time in prison and hopefully, Savanna will come to understand the reality of what her mother did to her all those long years ago.
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