by Mary Moewe
Former fugitive Holly Collins recalled the day her panicked young daughter clung tightly to her skirt, begging a court official not tomake her go live with her abusive father. “It was the worse day of my life,” said Collins, speaking publicly forthe first time Saturday in Albany, New York, at the 8th AnnualBattered Mothers Custody Conference. “The guardian ad litem pulled her fingers one by one off my dress.”
In 1994 the mother left the U.S., kidnapping her two children rather than follow the judge’s orders to give the kids to the man they said abused them. Collins found an odd champion – the Netherlands, a small country that granted Collins and her two children political asylum from the abuse they were suffering in the United States. Fourteen years after kidnapping her children, the FBI found Holly Collins and made a request to the Dutch government to extradite herback to the U.S. Dutch officials declined the request, and in 2008 a settlement was reached in U.S. courts dropping the U.S. kidnapping charges.
Jennifer Collins, once the panicked little girl begging her mother toprotect her, spoke via Skype from the Netherlands. “Only sixty-sixmore days until our baby brother turns 18 and we are free from theU.S. Family Court System,” said Jennifer, now 28.
“I promise, one dayI will be the biggest, baddest child advocate that you have ever seen.”Advocacy is the theme for this year’s conference, which touts the slogan Join Up! The Unity Conference. The event is organized by MoTherese Hannah, a professor and activist Karin Huffner, has launched the Legal Victim Assistance Advocates, agroup dedicated to training advocates. Information on the group can befound at http://www.lvaallc.com/.
“Holly’s story is remarkable, but there are thousands and thousands offamilies and children who are victims of the family court,” saidGarland Waller, a professor and producer who is filming a documentary about the Collins family.
About 20 mothers stood during a Friday session, when Lundy Bancroft, an author who has written books such as The Batterer as Parent, asked mothers to stand who have been court ordered to have only supervisedvisitation or no contact with their children.“In criminal court there are procedures you have to follow,” Bancroft said. “Moms are stunned to get into family court and discover they arein kangaroo court.” Bancroft stressed the need for parents supporting each other and promoting activism. “It is important to keep battling against isolation,” said Bancroft, who acknowledged that retribution for protest is a real problem. “Moms should start having demonstrations with their faces covered. I think that will be very powerful.”
Holly Collins is sometimes perplexed by the attention she is gettingfor protecting her children. “I just did what any one of you would do,” she said. She does not recommend that protective mothers try to duplicate her 15-year ordeal, especially with the new laws enacted since the September 11th terrorist attacks. “I’m lucky, but the bar has been set so low,” Holly Collins said. “I think being lucky should be never being abused.”