Editor's Note: The experiences shared below were originally sent as email correspondence between the author and a friend. 4W has agreed to publish the text anonymously due to the extreme circumstances and risk to the author and her family.
Under The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980, a child is considered abducted if they are removed by one parent without the other parent’s consent. The motive is not relevant. Ninety-nine countries have signed the treaty.
The Convention was intended to deal with a parent taking their children across national borders after losing, or believing they would lose custody. It was particularly aimed at fathers.
However, the law of unintended consequences has led to a situation where well over seventy percent of cases now involve mothers – many of whom are fleeing domestic violence and sexual abuse. The cases are brought by the perpetrators of that violence with support from the state.
The outcomes are invariably catastrophic.
When I was pregnant with Rosie, I was in his country. He’d insisted. He beat me up so badly at seven months, I went into labor. Alone.
I kept thinking it would calm down, it’s just tightenings. It's fine. Then one knocked me onto all fours.
I crawled past the broken elevator down the stairs, out the gate. It was December and cold. An old man on a bicycle pedaled past. He glanced at me. I shouted to him, “Help me. I'm having a baby. Right now.” He hailed a taxi. I tried to not have the baby on the back seat. It was too early. I was too hurt. The driver kept glancing back in horror.
Rosie appeared later that night. Emergency C section, not enough painkillers. They showed me a blue, silent, girl baby. Then they took her away.
I hauled myself down the ward, bent double, every step feeling like knives in my guts, dripping blood through the thin, backless gown. No one helped. I dragged myself down the corridor. I had to get to Rosie. I found her in intensive care attached to machines. They wouldn't let me touch her. Told me to wait. I pushed the nurse aside and launched myself towards my baby. I knew her. The only lighter-skinned child in there, but I’d have known her anyway. I was distraught, terrified. Then I collapsed. A clot. Black.
Rosie was the last thing I remember saying.
I looked over at my sleeping son. Rosie was fiddling with her hair, shadowing me. Always shadowing me.
My world had just caved in. The phone had rung. The police. He’s out of jail was the gist of it.
“What's wrong Ma?”
“Nothing. It’s fine, darling.”
The phone rang again.
"How are you, D?" said my husband’s voice. “I see you and kids soon. We go nice restaurant.”
I let him talk.
We’d had over a year back home. My home. A house. A tiny start of a life. I was still young enough to start again. I heard a howl come from somewhere inside me. Somewhere so distant it did not sound like me. My next clear memory is official people taking the kids in a separate car, while cops took me to court.
The Hague Convention. Simple, context-free, utterly implacable.
Did you or did you not take the children away from their habitual residence without permission of their father?
He was hitting me. Beating me up. Raping me.
This court is not concerned with the availability of justice. Did you or did you not…?
There was talk about a further court date. Children to stay with me in the interim. I remember the waiting room my children were sitting in. I remember the woman's disapproval, her lack of empathy. She told me she would see me in a few days at my house.
Time. Somehow I had to buy time.
I had all of our passports. I could be back in his country within a day. Back to him. With them. At least then I could protect them. I couldn’t do that from jail.
Money blinds everyone. No one denies he hit me, not even him. He says he has changed and people believe him. Important people like judges and social services. It just doesn't seem to matter much. The punches and the kickings, the premature birth, the rapes and STDs, the financial abuse. “Suck my cock and I'll buy baby milk. Be nice, Detroit, and I'll buy them shoes.”
My body. Not my own. Not worth a damn to anyone, but me.
We had a long flight ahead. He had gone back to his country, his family. It was going to be much easier to abuse me there. This was not a place where domestic crime went punished. Women were only valued for their fuckability. Their youth. Over twenty-five and a woman was not fit for purpose. I was way past twenty-five. Plus I was shiningly white. Usually a huge advantage. Not there. Losing racial privilege for that amount of time is an experience. I was quietened immediately. I became less loud, less assured. More careful.
I married the man. I ended up being married to a culture that I was totally enfeebled by, that I would never be accepted into. The culture of the country allowed him and his fists free reign. Even the law did. How helpless I was out there, how uncomprehending of the magnitude of my actions. I barely spoke the language to start with. I was utterly dependent on him.
But still. I couldn’t give up the kids. So I returned to the abuse.
My husband sent money to pay for the flights. He was going to be waiting at the other end for us, with the car.
I suspect people thought us odd. Getting Rosie from A to B required her consent. She would otherwise drop to the floor screaming, jerking, unmovable. Once she decided to do this, there was no consoling her. Either you waited for her storm to calm or picked her up kicking and biting.
We're walking down the line, I sang, We're walking down the line, walking down the line and my feet are flying, thinking about my troubled mind…
Rosie sang along. She loved to sing.
Gotta heavy-headed girl...
Pete had a koala backpack on with a surreptitious leash. He toddled on enjoying his freedom, attached to his Ma, looking back and grinning.
We were together. A crew.
Plane takes off. Plane lands. Tourist visas accepted.
The kids stared open-mouthed. That girl there looks just like me! Rosie was right. Her doppelganger zoomed past. High cheekbones, beautiful mid-brown skin. Almond eyes. Long dark hair.
Make it work, I told myself. Make it as positive as you can for them.
“Fabulous! Yes! Come on, Crew, let's find Daddy.”
“It's going to be fine. Daddy wants us here.”
Rosie looked hard at me. Frowned.
Daddy walked around the corner, smelling expensive in nice clothes. Looking fit and handsome. I shrank. I felt like running, screaming, help me! help me! I smiled. Forced myself to kiss him on the cheek. My skin crawled. My stomach cried, danger! danger! He scooped up Pete, squeezed a scowling Rosie and took His Family home.
The children were pushing alien-looking food around plates. Rosie suddenly screamed. “Furry bear!”
“Where, Rosie, where did you leave him?”
How could I do it? Lose track of Rosie’s lifeline? Furry was her absolute anchor. Now he was gone. The plane, we decided. He had been left on the plane, probably was off exploring the deepest darkest of Peru. I span tales of what Furry was doing. I plotted a new friend’s arrival. Keep her calm. Please please stay calm. Noise meant Mister Charming would get upset. I had to stop him from exploding. Babies crying, screaming children, were considered my fault. And it was expected that I did not allow any disturbance from those children. Rosie made that difficult.
Pete was not looking hopeful, cold fermented milk drink, rice, strange sauce-covered meat. He was doing his best to eat some of it. Pete was not allowed to be difficult. He just knew not to. Instinctively cut me a break and heroically pushed forkfuls of strange food into his mouth. Rosie was, even then, given all the leeway. All my attention was on her.
And now my husband. He reached across and grabbed my neck as I leaned over to help Rosie. An onlooker might have assumed affection. I tried not to flinch.
The evening was wearing on. I was desperate for sleep.
“Are you going to be nice later?” he asked. He had won. And I was utterly lost.
Waiting for the fist, the push, the kick, the dick, is worse than it happening. Get it over with, survive it, he will rest and go to work. You get to live for the twelve hours he is gone. I knew I would pay for him going to jail. For leaving him, taking the kids. At the time I had no idea just how much.
I put two tired children into a single bed. Said a quick prayer, kissed them, and went to the living room.
Stripped wood floors, floor to ceiling windows. City view. I stood there.
Detroit Richards (a pseudonym) is currently working on rebuilding her life whilst living in a shelter in the West Coast of America. You can find more of her writing at: https://thepaltrysum.com