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October 3, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Two strikingly similar cases of international parental kidnappings of children are proceeding in much the same way. I’ve previously reported on the case of Dorothy Lee Barnett, who, some 20 years ago abducted her daughter from South Carolina first to South Africa and then to Australia. Barnett apparently used falsified passports to accomplish the feat and, if my instincts are correct, the assistance of a U.S.-based organization that helps (mostly) mothers kidnap their children to prevent (mostly) fathers from having contact with them.

As this article shows, Barnett has been located in Australia, arrested, extradited to the United States where she’s been jailed and charged with passport forgery and child kidnapping (The Australian, 9/30/14).

The latest case involves Dara Llorens, now 44, who, over 12 years ago kidnapped her daughter Sabrina who was four at the time. Llorens absconded to Mexico where she’d been in hiding ever since. Here’s one article on the subject (Yahoo, 10/1/14). And here’s another (KEYE TV, 10/1/14). She was found in a town southeast of Mexico City last Tuesday and arrested. Sabrina was found shortly thereafter. Llorens has been returned to Austin, Texas where she faces charges of aggravated kidnapping and interference with child custody.

And therein lies one of the major parallels between the two cases. Both mothers were involved in custody disputes with their ex-husband, both had lost, or feared they were about to lose sole custody to the father, and both responded by violating U.S. and international law by abducting their children. In Barnett’s case, her ex, Harris Todd had been given temporary custody of their daughter Savanna who was not quite one at the time. The judge had noted that Barnett seemed to have mental problems that likely would have precluded her being given sole or even primary custody. Apparently fearing being marginalized in her daughter’s life and perhaps the prospect of paying to support the girl, Barnett fled. She picked the girl up to go to a birthday party and never returned.

In Llorens’ case, much the same scene played out.

On April 21, 2002, Sabrina was reported missing by her father, Greg Allen, after Llorens, his estranged wife, failed to drop Sabrina, then 4, at his home. In 2000, Allen had been given custody of Sabrina. Investigators say Llorens fled to Mexico because Allen was about to get sole custody of Sabrina.

The fact that both mothers kidnapped their children because they feared losing them in a child custody case raises the issue of whether they’d have done so had child custody not been a winner-take-all system. Would these mothers have abducted their children had they known they wouldn’t be marginalized in their lives post-divorce? It’s a tough question, particularly in the case of international kidnapping.

On one hand, certainly the prospect of losing a child drives parents to do the most heinous of things all the way up to and including kidnapping and murder. The great majority of parents are closely bonded to their children in the most basic of biological ways. The prospect of losing them can cause extreme reactions that, from the outside, seem to make no sense. A more egalitarian scheme for dividing parenting time would surely cut down on some of the more destructive behaviors parents sadly sometimes engage in.

On the other, it seems doubtful that parents like Barnett and Llorens would be dissuaded from their actions by the mere promise of a fair share of the parenting time. From here, both look to be unbalanced. They seem to have engaged in the delusion that the fathers presented a threat to the safety of the child and indeed, in Barnett’s case, that’s one reason the judge handed custody to Todd. If it turns out a judge perceived Llorens to be similarly unbalanced and gave custody to Allen because of it, I won’t be surprised. And in any case, would a parent who’s willing to take the extreme action of kidnapping a child across international borders, with all that entails, really change her mind simply because she was to receive 35% of the parenting time instead of 20%? It seems unlikely, but who knows?

And, having mentioned “all that entails,” let’s remember just what’s involved in kidnapping a child. Most importantly, it means uprooting the child from everything he/she has known. It means never again seeing extended family members on the side of the parent who’s left behind. It means never seeing friends, loved ones, teachers, beloved homes or neighborhoods.

It also means moving frequently from place to place. So a child can never form long-lasting friendships or relationships with other kids, teachers, doctors, neighbors, etc. With none of those usual relationships and the trust and confidence in others that go along with them, the child easily learns who the source of all love, affection and knowledge is – the abducting parent. Under normal circumstances, the child could spend nights with Grandpa and Grandma and learn that everything from food and shelter to cuddling and nursery rhymes can come from people other than Mommy or Daddy. In the process, little Andy or Jenny can learn that the wider world can be loving and nurturing, that he/she doesn’t have to rely on a single individual for everything.

Not so the abducted child. All that child’s physical, emotional and spiritual eggs are in one basket – the abducting parent – like it or not. And that’s a very precarious position for a child to be in. To whom can he/she turn if that one adult for some reason can’t provide? There’s no one, and the child soon comes to understand the fact.

Abducting parents tend to like it that way. The personal profile of the abducting parent is of someone who craves exactly that exclusivity, who wants the child not only all to him/herself, but wants the child eternally dependent on that parent’s care – eternally dependent for everything. That symbiosis is dangerous to the child’s emotional well-being.

Unsurprisingly, those children develop a sort of Stockholm Syndrome in relation to their abductors. Entirely dependent on them, children develop an overarching attachment that is unhealthy in its exclusivity. All of the above has been documented and presented to the United Nations by mental health researchers who were careful to call parental child abduction by its proper name – child abuse.

Sure enough, in Sabrina Allen’s case, that abuse seems to have manifested itself in apparently serious emotional problems. She’s been immediately taken into the care of mental health professionals who are expert in recognizing and treating parental alienation syndrome.

Sabrina Allen is back in the United States, but her journey is far from over. The 17-year-old was missing for the last 12 years after her mother ignored custody orders and fled to Mexico with the girl. Sabrina's father said she's suffering from Parental Alienation Syndrome. At a press conference Wednesday, he said she does not want to see him or any of his family…

"Even before she was gone, there were some signs of parental alienation that was going on. There's a paper trail a mile wide of stuff that Sabrina was saying," Allen said.

Fortunately, Allen has a lawyer who clearly knows about PAS.

Family law attorney Jimmy Evans explained parental alienation as a deep and complex issue that comes from a parent purposefully — or not — manipulating their child into despising the other parent for no reason.

"It's not just brainwashing. It's every sense of the word. It's spiritual. It's emotional. It's intellectual. It's a complete recruitment to that parent's cause," Evans said.

In Evan's experience, he said it's hard to fight Parental Alienation Syndrome if you don't stop it early. Sometimes, the syndrome has a lasting impact on the child.

"They can suffer all kinds of collateral mental health issues from PTSD to attachment issues to bonding issues to depression and anxiety. There are all kinds of things that can come from that," Evan's explains. Evans said sometimes children need intensive therapy to work through the lasting effects of alienation. "Unfortunately, you can do a lot of damage to that child, emotionally, even though they're already damaged. It's a really tough situation to be in," he said.

So it is. The effects of child kidnapping on the child are bad enough, but when it’s done by an alienating parent, it’s all the worse.

We’ll follow both these cases. They’re a long way from over.

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