When a 6-year-old girl was found this week hidden under a staircase in a home in Saugerties, New York, it was shocking. Paislee Shultis disappeared in 2019, allegedly abducted by her non-custodial parents. We don’t yet know all the details in Paislee’s case, but one thing is clear - family abductions are serious and often misunderstood.
Chances are you’ve heard stories about stranger abductions, but family abductions are far more common and can be just as damaging and dangerous for a child. Family abductions were reported 20 times more often to us here at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) than non-family abductions in the year 2020. Currently, we have over 1,100 children actively missing because of family abduction.
You might think that this type of abduction is less serious because, “At least they’re with their mom or dad...” but that’s often not the case. Decades of research show the serious and harmful effects that family abductions can have on child victims.
Children abducted by a parent are often told lies to justify abruptly leaving home. They often remain isolated out of fear of being noticed or getting caught. Many times, they are kept out of school, away from parks and neighbors, and without any contact with friends or family members.
They’ll often be told lies about their other parent.
“Your mother is dangerous…”
“Your father doesn’t love you…”
“Your mother is dead…”
Trusting their parents, these lies become new realities for these young children.
We hear those lies so often in family abduction cases we call them the “3 D’s”: Dead, Disinterested, or Dangerous.
Imagine being six and being told your mother was dead by your father—the person you’ve trusted your whole life—or that your father doesn’t love you by your mother—and you have no choice but to believe her. News like this is traumatizing on its own even when it’s true—but being told these things frantically, on the run, repeatedly, only to find out they were lies—that would impair anyone’s ability to trust or rely on anyone again.
The longer the child is kept in this warped reality—the harder it is on them when they are told the truth.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen cases where the child is isolated like this for many years and the psychological impact is exactly what you’d expect. We often hear the victims of family abductions say, “I didn’t trust anyone when I came back, it’s very hard for me to form relationships now.”
In fact, as with all missing child cases, the longer they’re away from home, the more dangerous and damaging the experience is. Sadly, of the family abduction cases that NCMEC has worked on to date, 121 children have been located deceased.
At NCMEC we take family abductions just as seriously as we take stranger abductions. We know that children abducted by a parent are in real danger of physical, sexual, emotional abuse—and unfortunately, even death. We work day and night to provide the custodial parent of these children with the resources they need to help bring them home.
Once they’re found, reunification can be a difficult process, but fortunately, children are resilient—and we’re here to help. We work with families everyday to provide technical legal assistance and support them emotionally through our network of mental health professionals and our Team HOPE which is made up of parents/guardians who have directly experienced having a missing or exploited child of their own.
To learn more about family abductions, visit www.missingkids.org/familyabduction.