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The Criminal Justice System's Response to Parental Abduction

NCJ Number
Date Published
December 2001
16 pages
This paper summarizes the primary findings of a study that examined the criminal justice system's response to parental abduction, which involves one parent preventing the other parent from having any access to a child.
The study consisted of three phases: a nationally representative survey of police agencies and prosecutors' offices; site visits to six counties where a larger-than-average number of parental abduction cases were prosecuted; and a review of individual parental abduction case files in the law enforcement agencies and prosecutors' offices of three of the six jurisdictions visited. The study examined all facets of the criminal justice system's response, including the reporting of the incident, investigation of the case, location and recovery of the child, and criminal prosecution of the abductor. Findings indicate that the criminal justice system in general is paying relatively little attention to the crime of parental abduction, even though it is a crime in all 50 States and the District of Columbia. Agencies with effective responses tended to have statutory authority to intervene, agency leaders and staff committed to combating parental abduction, personnel who specialize in the handling of such cases, coordinated agency response, good agency management practices, and access to supportive services. Several individuals, including project staff and those in the field, commented that in addressing the problem of parental abduction, the focus on the child as victim was often lost. The parent from whom the child was abducted was often viewed as the aggrieved party. Consequently, the child's interests, in contrast to his or her parents' interests, may become secondary. Criminal justice leaders, legislators, and others in a position to support and implement specialized programs of intervention must operate under the motivation and awareness that parental abduction can be a form of serious child maltreatment, and it is a crime in all 50 States and the District of Columbia. Recommendations are offered for legal reforms and programmatic and policy reforms. 3 figures and 4 references

Date Published: December 1, 2001