Washington Law Review


Jane K. Stoever


For most of America’s history, the common law deemed the family a “private sphere” into which the government did not enter. In recent decades, however, the state has increasingly regulated the family in overprotective and overly punitive ways. Many current state interventions in the family are misdirected, penalizing abuse victims and intervening in undesired ways that create harm while failing to respond to pleas for help. A prime area in which the state paradoxically remains laissez-faire concerns the phenomenon of parental abduction, a pervasive and devastating problem that has received scant attention due to the socio-legal focus on stranger danger. Law enforcement and civil and criminal justice systems continue to regard a parent’s abduction of a child as a private family matter, and abusive abductors are generally not pursued or penalized despite existing laws and the harm children and left-behind parents suffer. This Article exposes the problem of domestically abusive abductors, utilizes social science data to demonstrate the state’s failure to implement relevant laws, and features a fifty-state survey that reveals areas for reform. The Article seeks to explain discrepancies in state interventions in the family and the state’s bifurcated treatment of the family, particularly surfacing the state’s racialized, gendered, and class-based intervention practices. Solutions are offered that avoid the current hyper-criminalization trend, respond to victimized parents’ and abducted children’s pleas for help, and strive to remedy what many abducted children and left-behind parents experience as the ultimate abuse.

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