Have you ever wondered how many missing people do not want to be found? Given that the Rucki sisters ran away of their own volition after alleging that their father abused them, and subsequently being ordered to stay with his sister instead of with their mother, we can imagine that being found was not what they wanted.
The Rucki case has been receiving headlines since the 16 and 17-year-old sisters, Samantha and Gianna Rucki, ran away from their father’s sister’s home in April 2013. Shortly after their disappearance, the girls made a statement to local news alleging that they ran away because their father was abusive and begging to live with their mom. Then they went into hiding.
On November 18th, the children were found during the execution of a search warrant for the Minnesota White Horse Ranch which described itself on its website (since removed) as a nonprofit practicing equine therapy for abused children. It is believed that the children were being hidden by a network called the Protective Parent Movement which was formed nearly three decades ago with the purpose of sheltering children who have been placed in abusive homes by court order.
It might seem drastic for a network to hide children whose allegations of abuse have been ignored in court, but it is infinitely more disturbing that children would feel that running away is their only escape from abuse. Joan Meier, a legal scholar and expert at George Washington University, emphasized: “When children go into hiding to avoid a parent it is almost certainly because they are afraid for their lives. Nobody goes into hiding for frivolous reasons.”
The Rucki case is not as anomalous as one would hope; a conservative estimate suggests that 58,000 children are placed in the custody of abusers annually. Two other high-profile “missing” children who are now adults endured a similar ordeal after being placed in the custody of their abusers.
Damon Moelter went into hiding for five years when the court ordered him to live with his sexually abusive father. His case, covered extensively by Fox News in Los Angeles, was the inspiration for Safe Kids International. Jennifer Collins and her siblings also fled to The Netherlands with their mother under similar circumstances and became the first Americans ever awarded asylum there. Her family’s ordeal was the subject of Garland Waller’s award-winning documentary “No Way Out But One.”
One factor common to all three cases was the controversial diagnosis of parental alienation syndrome which is predicated on the belief that children can be “brainwashed” by one parent to hate an otherwise stand-up parent. The proposed remedy is to remove the child from the parent they want to be with and place them with the parent they fear and reject. Domestic violence advocates assert that parental alienation is frequently alleged by one parent to discredit abuse allegations made by the child or the other parent. The child’s fear and rejection of the “alienated” parent is taken as evidence not of the abuse allegation, but of brainwashing by the favored parent.
The American Psychological Association has not accepted so-called Parental Alienation, but judges are still using it to make custody decisions and order forced “reunification” with parents against whom children allege abuse. The American Bar Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, and The National District Attorneys Association have advised against giving credence to “parental alienation” claims in court because of the danger they pose to victims of domestic violence.
According to Dr. Joyanna Silberg, a forensic psychologist who received a Department of Justice Grant to study the problem of children being placed with abusers, “In my own in-depth study of children sent to live with abusive parents based on a data set of over 50 cases, I discovered that professionals routinely ignore evidence of domestic violence and child abuse in custody cases misinterpreting the information as a “custody strategy.” In my sample, children spent an average of four years in the care of an abusive parent and suffered physical and emotional effects that will take a lifetime to recover from.”
The Rucki children are reportedly in good health, but are now being returned to Dakota County to be reunited with the father they were hiding from. Domestic violence advocates now fear for their protection as does their mother Sandra Grazzini-Rucki who claimed to be unaware of their whereabouts, but did not want them found because she feared they would be subjected to “reunification” therapy often termed “deprogramming.” Sandra Grazzini-Rucki was arrested on three counts of felony deprivation of parental rights October 18th and is now being held at $1 million bail.
Hope Loudon is an activist and writer who holds a Bachelor’s of International Affairs from the University of Nevada, Reno.