Using kids as weapons
Barbara Kay, National Post
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
opinion/columnists/story.html? id=49f09920-0cb6-45f4-8fe8- ef4df2e3206b&p=1
Last weekend, I attended the Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), Canada's first international conference on a form of child abuse that can be as bad as, or even worse than, sexual and physical abuse.
For the "show, don't tell" version of what the presentations added up to, read A Kidnapped Mind (Dundurn Press, 2006), by former model and journalist Pamela Richardson, who spoke at the symposium. Richardson wrote the book after her 16-year-old son, Dash Hart, neither drunk nor drugged, threw himself off Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge on New Year's Day, 2001.
Although Richardson was unaware there was such a syndrome until well into a 12-year custody ordeal as a "target parent," her detailed chronicle of a remorseless campaign to "disappear" her from Dash's life by his narcissistic father is the human face behind the evils described in the PAS literature.
The late psychologist and researcher Richard Gardner said of PAS, the term he coined in 1985, "I have introduced this term to refer to a disturbance in which children are obsessed with deprecation and criticism of a parent --denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated."
PAS goes far beyond the moderate alienation that frequently accompanies high-conflict divorce. The denigration of the target parent in PAS is not sporadic, impulsive and reality-based ("Your mother is such a flake"), but a vicious, consciously sustained and materially baseless campaign.
For example, in his presentation, Montreal psychologist Dr. Abe Worenklein, a specialist in PAS (he has testified at 600 trials), cited the case of a brainwashed boy who, witnessing in court, could no longer recall a single activity he'd ever done with his mother, but "knew" she'd given every man on their street a blow job. To the alienator, the child is a weapon. Hatred of the ex always trumps the child's rights and mental well-being.
PAS-level alienators -- whether male or female, the pattern of behaviour is identical -- are typically so pathologically consumed with anger triggered by rejection, that they are beyond the reach of reason or moral suasion. More than just punishing, they wish literally to wipe out the target parent's existence.
To this end, alienators will cut the target parent's face out of family photos, banish all mention of his name or refuse to speak of him as "dad" (soon the child "de-parents" this way, too). Alienators exhibit an overwhelming sense of entitlement with no fear of courts. In Richardson's case, her ex blithely ignored all access orders. During one year when she was supposed to have "joint custody," she saw Dash for exactly 24 hours.
Alienators show the children court documents (a divorce no-no) and enmesh them in the legal process ("Should we ask for sole custody?"). They intercept messages and gifts from the other parent, then deny they were sent. They shun the target parent at school and sports events. They isolate the child from extended family and friends of the target parent, imputing fictional sins to all and sundry associated with her.
Critics of PAS fret that the syndrome is being exploited by abusive parents as a ploy to enforce visitation or custody of justifiably resistant children.
However, abused children present a notably different affect from the alienated. An abused child is reluctant to discuss what has been done to him and must be coaxed to reveal his secret. Even then, he doesn't express hatred of the abusing parent, as he longs for a healed relationship.
By contrast, a PAS child exhibits classic symptoms of brainwashing, acting in robotic alignment with the alienator. (At 12, Dash wore his father's clothes to court.) He is eager to badmouth the target parent. But he uses locutions and accusations obviously uploaded into him by an adult. Dr. Worenklein recalled four alienated siblings who parroted the exact same words in their baseless denunciations of their target parent.
Removal of the child from the alienator for a period of time--even three months, ideally a year -- can effectively begin reversal of the brainwashing effect and restore a relationship with the target parent. Nevertheless, time does not heal the wounds left by the theft of the lost years. From the victimized parent's point of view, a child's death is -- in some sense -- kinder than permanent alienation, for death is beyond parents' control and brings closure to hope.
PAS is a crime of calculation and opportunity, but alienators need enablers in the legal and social service systems. And they get them, as Dash's father managed to do, time after time. Yet legal consequences for access order violation could be the single most effective deterrent to marginalization of the target parent. Since alienators will never compromise, custody should revert to the parent most willing to co-operate with the other parent on time spent with the child.
Happily, Canadian case law is trending toward acknowledgement of the syndrome. PAS has been part of the decisions in 74 court cases since 1987, 53 in the last eight years.
One PAS-responsive judge wisely noted: "Hatred is not an emotion that comes naturally to a child. It has to be taught."
If teaching hatred of the other parent had been written into B. C. family law as grounds for a reversal of custodianship in 1987, Dash Hart would be alive today. His martyrdom should count for something. The sobering message I drew is that vigorous advocacy for alienators by legal and social service professionals in the divorce industry is complicity with child abuse. If the "best interests of the child" is not to remain an empty mantra in the family law system, it must stop.
For more information on PAS, visit: www.crckids.org