April 22, 2020 by Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors
Ten years ago this month, Australian Laura Garrett abducted her four daughters from their father, Tommaso Vincenti, and their home in Italy. With the illegal help of the Australian embassy in Rome, she took the girls, then aged 9 – 14 to Australia and, with the help of her mother, went into hiding. Eventually, she was located and her husband, still in Italy, filed a lawsuit under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction seeking their return. It would take three years for the Australian courts to do what should have been done in a few weeks, but eventually the children were ordered back to Italy to be with their father.
Australian television news showed the girls screaming and resisting when the police forced them to board a flight to Rome. For all the world, it looked like child abuse, kids terrified of an abusive father. After all, that had been Garrett’s claim from the first and the news media reported it without question. The Australian government paid Garret $900 per month in compensation as a “victim of domestic violence.” Eventually, though, it was revealed to be a sham.
Now, a decade later, the girls have come clean (Kidspot, 4/14/20).
“I remember when we were hiding from the police and we turned on the television,” Lily told Newman over the phone from Tuscany.
“There was a psychologist being interviewed and I remember thinking how stupid they all were.
“We knew what was really happening, even at that time. It was all made up.”
Lily is referring to the ‘scenes’ that she and her sisters put on when the Federal Police took them from their mother.
She says she and her sisters were coached by her mother and her mother’s family to act ‘in distress’ so they wouldn’t have to return to Italy.
Garrett’s justification for abducting the girls was that Vincenti was violently abusive of them and her. That was a lie and, needless to say, she never produced any evidence to support it. That wasn’t for lack of trying, however. Garrett relentlessly coached her daughters to make false allegations against their father and, when that didn’t work, she tried to convince them that they simply didn’t remember the abuse.
She was told by her Australian mother, Laura, that her father was a violent man and they had to disappear to the other side of the world to escape him, something Lily – who’s now 16 but was only nine at the time – believes wasn’t true.
“Mum told us that Dad was abusive,” she tells author Jasmin Newman in ‘The Child Snatchers’. “At the time I was so little that I believed her.”
Sometimes, Newman says, Lily was fed even more suggestions.
“Don’t you remember him hitting you?” she recalls her mother saying.
When Lily couldn't recall this happening, her mother would justify the lies further: “You can’t remember because you were too little.”
Later, the girls lied to therapists supporting their mother’s claims about Tommaso.
For a long time she still maintained that her father hurt her.
“In the beginning, I would tell heaps of lies to the psychologists and my elder sisters would encourage me to exaggerate,” Lily told Newman.
The four sisters years ago reunited with their father and eventually Garrett returned to Italy to be nearer to them. Apparently Italian authorities haven’t prosecuted her for the crimes she committed in abducting the girls and violating the custody order in effect at the time.
What’s important about this case now is that, from the girls’ remarks, we can see just how powerfully a parent can influence a child. Solely at Garrett’s insistence, the girls lied to therapists and the press about non-existent abuse by Vincenti. When the older girls believed the youngest one wasn’t lying effectively enough, they encouraged her to do more and better. They also seem to have lied to themselves, almost coming to believe that they’d been abused.
It seems a bit like Stockholm Syndrome. From here it looks like the girls were so dependent on their mother and grandmother, who were hiding them in Australia, for their every need, that they felt they had to go along with the lies. That was true even though, in the process, they betrayed their father and made reunification with him more difficult.
It’s worth reviewing the case in light of these latest revelations. We’re often asked to believe that, if one parent claims the other is abusive and the child agrees, then it must be so. The reality is that a child’s corroboration of such a claim is far from dispositive of the issue. Children often act out of loyalty to a parent, to meet that parent’s needs or due to the enmeshing of their personality with that of the parent.
When a parent is bent on fraud, a child’s relationship with that parent can become a complicated web of truth, half-truth and lies. The Vincenti/Garrett case reminds us that parent-child relationships can reflect loyalty sometimes at the expense of truth.