Using Kids as Weapons
By Barbara Kay, National Post, Toronto, Canada
Last weekend, I attended the Canadian Symposium for Parental Alienation
Syndrome (PAS), Canada's first international conference on a form of
child abuse that can be as bad as, or even worse than, sexual and
For the "show, don't tell" version of what the presentations added up
to, read A Kidnapped Mind (Dundurn Press, 2006), by former model and
journalist Pamela Richardson, who spoke at the symposium. Richardson
wrote the book after her 16-year-old son, Dash Hart, neither drunk nor
drugged, threw himself off Vancouver's Granville Street Bridge on New
Year's Day, 2001.
Although Richardson was unaware there was such a syndrome until well
into a 12-year custody ordeal as a "target parent," her detailed
chronicle of a remorseless campaign to "disappear" her from Dash's life
by his narcissistic father is the human face behind the evils described
in the PAS literature.
The late psychologist and researcher Richard Gardner said of PAS, the
term he coined in 1985, "I have introduced this term to refer to a
disturbance in which children are obsessed with deprecation and
criticism of a parent --denigration that is unjustified and/or exaggerated."
PAS goes far beyond the moderate alienation that frequently accompanies
high-conflict divorce. The denigration of the target parent in PAS is
not sporadic, impulsive and reality-based ("Your mother is such a
flake"), but a vicious, consciously sustained and materially baseless
For example, in his presentation, Montreal psychologist Dr. Abe
Worenklein, a specialist in PAS (he has testified at 600 trials), cited
the case of a brainwashed boy who, witnessing in court, could no longer
recall a single activity he'd ever done with his mother, but "knew"
she'd given every man on their street a blow job. To the alienator, the
child is a weapon. Hatred of the ex always trumps the child's rights and
PAS-level alienators -- whether male or female, the pattern of behaviour
is identical -- are typically so pathologically consumed with anger
triggered by rejection, that they are beyond the reach of reason or
moral suasion. More than just punishing, they wish literally to wipe out
the target parent's existence.
To this end, alienators will cut the target parent's face out of family
photos, banish all mention of his name or refuse to speak of him as
"dad" (soon the child "de-parents" this way, too). Alienators exhibit an
overwhelming sense of entitlement with no fear of courts. In
Richardson's case, her ex blithely ignored all access orders. During one
year when she was supposed to have "joint custody," she saw Dash for
exactly 24 hours.
Alienators show the children court documents (a divorce no-no) and
enmesh them in the legal process ("Should we ask for sole custody?").
They intercept messages and gifts from the other parent, then deny they
were sent. They shun the target parent at school and sports events. They
isolate the child from extended family and friends of the target parent,
imputing fictional sins to all and sundry associated with her.
Critics of PAS fret that the syndrome is being exploited by abusive
parents as a ploy to enforce visitation or custody of justifiably
However, abused children present a notably different affect from the
alienated. An abused child is reluctant to discuss what has been done to
him and must be coaxed to reveal his secret. Even then, he doesn't
express hatred of the abusing parent, as he longs for a healed relationship.
By contrast, a PAS child exhibits classic symptoms of brainwashing,
acting in robotic alignment with the alienator. (At 12, Dash wore his
father's clothes to court.) He is eager to badmouth the target parent.
But he uses locutions and accusations obviously uploaded into him by an
adult. Dr. Worenklein recalled four alienated siblings who parroted the
exact same words in their baseless denunciations of their target parent.
Removal of the child from the alienator for a period of time--even three
months, ideally a year -- can effectively begin reversal of the
brainwashing effect and restore a relationship with the target parent.
Nevertheless, time does not heal the wounds left by the theft of the
lost years. From the victimized parent's point of view, a child's death
is -- in some sense -- kinder than permanent alienation, for death is
beyond parents' control and brings closure to hope.
PAS is a crime of calculation and opportunity, but alienators need
enablers in the legal and social service systems. And they get them, as
Dash's father managed to do, time after time. Yet legal consequences for
access order violation could be the single most effective deterrent to
marginalization of the target parent. Since alienators will never
compromise, custody should revert to the parent most willing to
co-operate with the other parent on time spent with the child.
Happily, Canadian case law is trending toward acknowledgement of the
syndrome. PAS has been part of the decisions in 74 court cases since
1987, 53 in the last eight years.
One PAS-responsive judge wisely noted: "Hatred is not an emotion that
comes naturally to a child. It has to be taught."
If teaching hatred of the other parent had been written into B. C.
family law as grounds for a reversal of custodianship in 1987, Dash Hart
would be alive today. His martyrdom should count for something. The
sobering message I drew is that vigorous advocacy for alienators by
legal and social service professionals in the divorce industry is
complicity with child abuse. If the "best interests of the child" is not
to remain an empty mantra in the family law system, it must stop.