Is Adoption Legalized Kidnapping?

To the child there may be little difference

Kidnap is a verb that is defined as:

To take (someone) away illegally by force, typically to obtain a ransom.  Synonyms include: abduct, carry off, capture, snatch, take hostage.

Yet most kidnappings involve no ransom and many – such as parental “kidnappings” –  involve no force at all. And some illegally, criminally kidnapped children are raised well in every respect, as the child of their abductor:

  • Kamiyah Mobley, who was raised as Alexis Manigo, when found and learned the truth of having been abducted from the hospital defended her kidnapper, saying: She loved me for 18 years. She raised me for 18 years … I will always love her.”
  • Carlina Renae Whitewho was kidnapped in New York, was not recovered for 23 years. She was raised as Nejdra “Netty” Nance by Annugetta “Ann” Pettway in BridgeportConnecticut.  Like Mobley, White suspected the “mother” raising her might not be, in fact, her biological mother, just as many adoptees who are not outright told they are adopted, do. Neither woman, however, became really suspicious until they needed a birth certificate.
  • A man who was kidnapped as a baby in China said:  “I never thought she was not my mom as she was so good to me. I don’t really care if they can find my biological parents or not.”
  • Julian Hernandez was abducted from his mother when he was five years old.  Bobby Hernandez, aka Jonathan Mangina, was charged with interference with custody, not kidnapping. 19-year-old Julian Hernandez forgave him.

Conversely, many who are adopted legally are horrendously abused, even killed by their legal adopters. A few recent cases:

  • Janet Solander, who authored a book critical of Child Protective Services,was convicted of 46 counts of abuse of three adopted children in Las Vegas, March 2018. Charges included abuse, neglect and endangerment with substantial bodily harm; sexual assault with a minor under 14; and assault with a deadly weapon.  Solander’s husband Dwight pled guilty to similar charges of abusing the three girls aged 9 to 12.  The abuse reportedly began within a month of adopting the girls.
  • Jennete Killpack, 26, of Utah, was found guilty in 2006 of second-degree felony child-abuse homicide in the death of her adopted daughter Cassandra. June 9, 2002, Killpack put the child on a bar stool, bit the child, tied the girl’s hands behind her back and forced her to drink about a gallon of water as punishment for taking a sibling’s drink.
  • Carri and Larry Williams were charged in 2013 for the death of their 13-year-old adopted daughter, Hana Grace-Rose Williams who died of hypothermia and “a culmination of chronic starvation caused by a parent’s intentional food restriction, severe neglect, physical and emotional abuse and stunning endangerment.” Hana had been adopted in 2008 along with a 10-year-old boy, who is deaf, also from Ethiopia.
  • Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz adopted Lydia and her sister Zariah from Liberia. The Schatz’s who are White were devout Christians and had six biological children in addition to their three adopted children. Lydia was seven when she succumbed to liver failure after being whipped with plastic tubing for several straight hours, interspersed with prayer breaks by her parent in their California home.
  • Former Army Maj. John Jackson and his wife, Carolyn, were convicted in New Jersey July of 2015, of abusing their three adopted children – all under the age of four at the time. They were force-fed hot sauce and raw onions, and suffered broken bones. One two-year-old died. The children born to them did not suffer the same abuse.
  • John and Joyce Bell of Iowa pleaded guilty to abusing one of their nine adopted children after their 21-year-old daughter video-taped the abuse. The Bells adopted children with disabilities who ranged in age from 16 to 18.
  • Jim and Paige Nachtigal of Kansas adopted three children from Peru.  The children were starved and had bruises from being beaten for incorrectly doing the pushups, sit ups, and jumping jacks doled out for punishment. Jim Nachtigal, convicted of three counts of child abuse, had served as the chief executive officer at Kansas Christian Home in Newton for 10 years. His wife, who was charged with two counts of child abuse, was a missionary at World Outreach Ministries when the abuse surfaced.
  • Michael and Sharen Gravelle forced 11 adopted and foster children, ranging from one-year-old to fourteen, to sleep in cages. The Gravelles spent two years in prison for abusing some of the children.

The Heartless Hart Family

  • Sarah and her wife Jennifer Hart adopted two sets of three Black siblings, abused and killed all six and themselves by driving their van off a cliff in California on March 26, 2018. Devonte, 15; Jeremiah, 14; and Sierra, 12 were siblings acquired by the Harts in 2009. Their aunt, Priscilla Celestine, fought to keep the children she had custody of.  They were removed from her care for allowing their mother to visit and allowed to be adopted and removed from their home state of Texas, far from the mother, father aunt and all extended family known to the children, then aged 4, 6 and 9. Markis, 19; Hannah, 16; and Abigai, 14l were also siblings, adopted by the Harts in 2006.

 Blurred Lines

Attorney Steinberg and his common-law wife Hedda Nussbaum were drug addicts who kidnapped, abused, and neglected two children, had them living in squalor and filth, and may have sexually abused the older of the two, a female child they named Lisa who was 6 when she died.

The two unmarried mothers of these children were obstetric patients of Dr. Peter Sarosi who conspired with Steinberg, telling them of a “wonderful,” “professional” couple seeking to adopt.  Steinberg never told the mothers he intended to keep the children.

Neither doctor nor lawyer were ever charged with kidnapping and the case was labeled an “illegal adoption” because Steinberg never filed any paperwork to adopt them legally. Nor was Steinberg charged with the murder of Lisa, just for not seeking medical care for her as she lie dying on the bathroom floor under the watchful eye of Nussbaum, who was exonerated.

Dr. Sarosi, without whom Steinberg never could have obtained the two babies, pleaded guilty to unlawfully placing a child for adoption without court approval. His sentence: “three years probation and 100 hours of community service and fined $1,000” and he resumed practicing medicine until he died.

Legal/Illegal: What’s the Difference?

What Steinberg and Sarosi did was considered an “illegal adoption” and not a kidnapping. Why? What’s the difference? Hoax – the pretense of adoption – was used as the method to trick these mothers out of their babies, as opposed to simply walking out the door with the babies. The mothers, in fact, never suspected foul play and thought their babies were being legally adopted and would be raised by fine upstanding citizens.

Michelle Launders, mother of the 6-year-old named Lisa, and Nicole Smigiel, mother of the toddler boy found after Lisa’s death, as well as Nicole’s mother, trusted both doctor and lawyer who were, in fact, illegally abducting their children. To the mothers, it was a legal adoption.  They were doing, as all mothers considering adoption are told, what was “best” for their child and that their child would be lovingly cared for. In fact, Launders has reported paying Steinberg for his services in placing her infant daughter for adoption.

How does that differ from legal adoption practices? Mothers who relinquish are convinced and given assurances that their child(ren) will be raised by stable, loving couples or individuals. Mothers relinquishing their parental rights believe that to be the case without any guarantees. Some mothers in legal adoptions report being duped with promises of open adoption without being told such promises are unenforceable.  Some mothers-to-be are coerced and pressured by would-be adopters who ply them with gifts and create strong feelings of indebtedness and obligation. Some are held to pre-birth consents, illegal in 48 states as baby selling. Yet all these questionable, unethical practices are within the letter of the law in some states. And perfectly “legally” adopted children can — and do — end up abused and even killed by their adopters as illustrated previously herein.

Mobley very well could have been adopted, not kidnapped. Her mother, Shanara Mobley, was just 16 when she gave birth and believes the perpetrator “preyed” on her because she was a minor at the time. The baby’s father, Craig Aiken, was 18 and incarcerated at the time of his daughter’s birth. The kidnapper, Gloria Williams, was driven by the fact that she had numerous miscarriages and feared she’d never have a baby, so she stole one just hours-old from a hospital nursery and raised her as her daughter. Everything about these facts mirrors many adoptions, except for the method of taking the child.

To the child, what difference does a legal technicality or definition make?

The legal definition of kidnapping includes being taken by fraud:

The crime of unlawfully seizing and carrying away a person by force or fraud, or seizing and detaining a person against his or her will with an intent to carry that person away at a later time.

The law of kidnapping is difficult to define with precision because it varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

There are those, such as the members of the Facebook group entitled: “Adoption-Legal Kidnapping?” who believe all adoptions are legal kidnapping. Likewise, the blog Unethical Adoptions makes it clear that unethical adoption IS kidnapping and shares a multitude of cases.

Regardless of the technical, legal difference, adoptees and birth parents, often refer to feeling kidnapped, snatched, stolen, taken, while, adoptive parents use the phrase “Gotcha” (which implies snatched.)

Chris Reynolds’ daughter Brooke was adopted by her maternal great-grandparents. Reynolds says he didn’t sign any paperwork and no one told him until after the private adoption went through. He says:

To me, it’s a legal way of kidnapping.

Robert Franklin, Esq., Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization, writing about Reynolds’ case and others agrees, stating:

The whole sham is a disgrace, but one look at how a PFR [Putative Father Registry] in a foreign state acted to kidnap Chris Reynolds’ daughter makes that word too weak, too mild to do the matter justice. When a father . . . can lose [his daughter] to an adoption he never agreed to, there can be no doubt that the system is rotten.

Adoptee Jennifer Lauck writes, “Abducted Versus Adopted: For 1.5 Million of U.S. Adoptees, What’s the Difference?” Lauck identifies with the feeling of not belonging expressed by kidnap victim, Carlina White. Yet, she notes:

 . . . human beings have sanctioned adoption as a moral act and have given it legal and even religious support.

Adoptee and author Judith Land writes:

Was I kidnapped? Every adoption is different but in my case all the elements of a kidnapping seemed to be present, at least as viewed from the perspective of a small child. I was ripped out of the arms of my beloved foster parents, the only people I had ever known, on my first birthday and handed to strangers.

Adoption day is a big event for the parents, a day they eagerly anticipate for many weeks and months, but for the innocent and unsuspecting child who is radically shaken and dramatically confused by the sudden and unexplained presence of strangers in their life, it is a mysterious day of dissimilarities and variances that radically alters their essence—a day of unexplained upheaval and fear that has the potential to highly traumatize the child. In my case, ‘Gotcha Day’ seems to have had all the psychological elements of a kidnapping.

“The only parents he or she has ever known”

It is interesting how courts will us that phrase to justify keeping a child with “adopters” even while recognizing that fraud had been committed, but take children of any age – even adults – away from kidnappers who have cared for them lovingly as their own. And the courts feel compelled to remove children from unsafe homes – despite that being “the only parents” the child has ever known.  Does the child know or feel the difference? Is a traumatic separation different when one has paid the fees and gone through the proper channels?

In response to Land’s blog, the blog “Adoptees Searching for Self” asks: Is Reunion for Adoptees Like Reunion for Kidnapped Victims?

I think using the word kidnapping is a strong word with a terrible connotation so many people want to reject that right away. I don’t think that word should be the focus of what Judith was trying to get across, rather the emotions from being taken from your parent/s and given to strangers, even though it is accepted and legal.

She writes of identifying with a kidnap victim on an MTV show who is reunited with her family and identifies with the TV characters feelings of “awkwardness” and:

wonder[ing] what her role and place is in this family” as well as the expectation that she feel “grateful to be home” while feeling allegiance to her mother who kidnapped her. . . One thing is for sure, and I think that every one of us can agree on this, is that adoption causes trauma, whether it is recognized at the time or not, the child and the birth family experiences trauma.

An forum ask adoptive parents: Does your child feel he/she was kidnapped from birth family? Carol responds:

One of the things I have heard quite a bit over the years is kids feeling as though they were kidnapped from their birth parents.

Pepperminty says:

Yes, and yes. . . I was really surprised when he told me recently that when he thinks about being adopted, he usually is wondering whether he was really kidnapped. He is 8, and for approx. the past three years he has often mentioned fear about being kidnapped.

Adoptee, “Crazy Woman” notes:

I believe I had Stockholm Syndrome, after I was taken into custody. But I went into care when I was 6 years old, pretty much kidnapped the legal way, meaning it’s just like a kidnapping, but the system did it. If you’re adopting a kid in foster care, they might [have] Stockholm Syndrome. I’ve even heard, when babies are adopted, they don’t always feel like they belong.

Other adoptees have drawn this comparison noting that they are made to feel allegiance, indebtedness, gratitude to their adopters as saviors because they were otherwise unwanted. Society conflates adoption and abortion putting onus on those adopted to be thankful they weren’t aborted.

Momraine writes:

My son does feel like he has been kidnapped, but for him it’s mostly because he believes a fantasy he has made up about both his birth parents and life in the orphanage.

Adoptive mother Desiree Smolin well understands the adoption/abduction connection, saying on Facebook:

I’ve always thought that from the child’s point of view there was no difference … It’s [adoption and abduction] the same thing.

Both Smolin and Dr. Geoffrey Greif recognize that adopted children are often pathologized – diagnosed with an alphabet soup of conditions and syndromes, such as RAD – for having the very same feelings a child who is abducted has.

As I wrote previously on this subject:

In both abduction and adoption, the children are given new identities, and their original legal and genetic identities are destroyed, erased, or hidden from them. In adoption, the law allows and facilitates this deception, in some cases the records even change the individual’s date or place of birth, and all but 19 states deny adopted adults access to their accurate, true, original birth certificates.

The most legal and ethical adoptions involve state committed fraud in terms of falsifying the child’s original and accurate vital records.  But society has very different expectations. An abducted child is expected to “retain fond memories of, and long for reunification with, their ‘real’ families of birth, and reject the abductor raising them” while an adopted child is “expected to bond unquestioningly to non-related strangers, and in some cases are expected or encouraged to abandon any thoughts or talk of seeking out their roots.”

From healing weekend exercise manual by Joe Soll, author of Adoption Healing:

Since I know my mother had no choice, then I was taken from her or kidnapped. A baby’s loss of his/her mother is no different if [the] cause [is] adoption, death or kidnapping. Mommy is here, mommy is gone. A mother’s loss of /her baby is no different if cause, adoption, death or kidnapping. Baby is here, baby is gone. However, there is a huge difference if the loss is due to adoption as it is ignored as a loss. There is no emotional help for those separated by adoption. If I tell someone I was kidnapped when I was a baby, I get enormous support.  If a mom says her baby was kidnapped, she gets enormous support. I was not given away, I was taken or kidnapped. My mother did not give me away, I was stolen from her.

In fact, rather than support for their loss, adoptees report facing societal expectations to be grateful because of the assumption that justifies adoption: that of a “better life” . . . a fact disproven by the myriad cases of adoption abuse. Adoption merely guarantees a different life along with a realization of a lost past, original life.

Look again at the definition at the top of this article. If you remove the word “illegally” from the definition you are left with “taking someone else’s child.” The trauma of separation in adoption is different from kidnapping only in terms of legal definition that is a fluid continuum from gray (legal but unethical) to black market (illegal human trafficking).

Mirah is author of two internationally acclaimed books, more than 200 published articles, and cited in twenty professional journals having been researching, writing and speaking about American and global child adoption, restoration of adoptee rights, as well as contract anonymous conception and surrogacy since 1980. More at her website and Wikipedia. Read other articles by Mirah, or visit Mirah's website.