Child Abuse Professionals Rally Around American Fugitive Returning to the US After 14 Years in Hiding.
Contact: Joyanna Silberg, Ph.D.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Desperate to protect her children from skull fractures, black eyes and repeated beatings, Holly Ann Collins fled to the Netherlands. There, the Dutch Court granted her human rights asylum after ruling it would be too dangerous for them to return to their father. Now, fourteen years later, Holly Ann Collins and her children are finally coming home.
In a Hennepin County, Minnesota court house Tuesday, Holly Ann Collins pled guilty to contempt of court and accepted 40 hours of community service. The more serious charges of kidnapping and custody interference that could have resulted in a long prison sentence were dismissed. Holly Ann Collins acknowledged in an interview that she indeed had contempt for the court that ordered her children into a life of abuse.
As the story of those 14 years has unfolded, Holly Ann Collins who left in secret as an outlaw is being welcomed back by domestic violence professionals and child abuse experts as a heroic woman who valued her children’s safety above all else.
When Holly Ann and her children, Zachary and Jennifer, arrived in the Netherlands in 1994 and asked for asylum, they were placed in a refugee camp with families from around the world escaping violence and war. Holly Ann’s generous nature led many of the war orphans in the camp to gravitate to her, and she eventually included many of them in her own family. After three years and extensive evaluation the Dutch government granted her permanent asylum. When the FBI tracked her down a year ago, the Dutch government refused to extradite her.
Dr. Eli Newberger, a member of the Leadership Council’s Board and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard University , evaluated Jennifer and Zachary before they were placed in the custody of their father. The court ignored his team’s findings. “Despite the children’s clear disclosures of abuse, their documented history of serious injuries, and our team’s strong conclusion that the children needed to be protected, the court still chose to place them with the person they feared most in the world,” states Newberger.
The court acknowledged abuse had taken place but was swayed by the bogus legal argument that the children’s fears were a result of “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” a legal strategy of accused abusers which claims mothers brainwash children into false abuse disclosures. Holly Ann was allowed only limited, supervised visitations in which the children where forbidden to talk to their mother about the abuse or show her their bruises. When they were 9 and 11, Jennifer and Zachary passed her secret notes during supervised visits begging to be rescued from their father’s home.
Jennifer Collins, now a 23 year old psychology student, clearly remembers the abuse and wants to help other children forced to live with abusive parents. Jennifer was invited to tell her story to an audience of mental health professionals working in the field of family violence at the 13th International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma in San Diego on September 17, 2008. Over a thousand attendees were riveted by her account of her escape from child abuse and gave her a standing ovation as she received a medal of courage from the California Protective Parents Association and the Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence.
Dr. Joyanna Silberg, Executive Vice-President of the Leadership Council, spoke about Jennifer’s case to the conference audience and stated that the problems in family court have gotten worse in the last 14 years. The Leadership Council estimates that over 58,000 children a year in the United States are abuse victims that are ordered by family court to have unsupervised contact with abusers when their parents divorce.
The Leadership Council, a coalition of professionals committed to education about child abuse, does not condone breaking the law, but hopes the story of Holly Ann Collins and her children sparks needed reforms that protect children from abusive parents involved in custody disputes.
“A parent shouldn’t have to flee the United States to protect their children from abuse,” notes to Dr. Paul Fink, past President of the American Psychiatric Association and current President of the Leadership Council. He notes that one of the reforms needed is eradication of the use of “Parental Alienation Syndrome” which has been repeatedly debunked by leading professional organizations. Instead of relying on junk science, Dr. Fink contends that courts should actually look at the evidence before them when deciding the best interests of children.
Dr. Fink notes with irony that the media is covering Alec Baldwin this week who claims himself to be a victim of “Parental Alienation Syndrome”. Fink contends that the real victims of this misleading legal strategy are bruised and battered children like Jennifer and Zachary Collins.
The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence is composed of national leaders in psychology, psychiatry, medicine, law, and public policy who are committed to the ethical application of psychological science and countering its misuse by special interest groups. Members of the Council are dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of children and other vulnerable populations. More information can be found at https://leadershipcouncil.org/