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Thursday, May 17, 2012

A case of Oregon child abduction, Kyron Horman and the news cycle

By Sean Cruz

Portland, Oregon—

An international child abduction case that originated in Oregon made the local news briefly yesterday and then vanished (just as the child had a year and a half ago) a victim of the news cycle, before the story could illuminate the several public policy issues related to parental, family and church-sponsored kidnappings that are the real story here.

Non-stranger abductions rarely make the news at all, although the US Department of Justice reports more than 200,000 cases taking place each year, with international abductions on the rise due to the corresponding increases in international marriages and child-producing relationships, and subsequent divorces and breakups. The convenience of international travel also plays a role.

I first heard of the Marenco case when a reporter from KOIN 6 contacted me around noon and asked for an interview. In her research, she had become aware of the abduction of my four children and Aaron’s Law, and wanted my comments on videotape for the piece they were going to run that evening. She sent me the Beaverton Police Department’s media release, the news team came over a couple of hours later, and we talked.

I told KOIN 6 that they were only the third news agency to contact me in the 16 years since my children were abducted: The Oregonian in 1996; OPB in 2005 after the passage of Aaron’s Law, and out of the blue, KOIN 6 today.

The media is rarely interested in reporting parental and family abductions, largely because law enforcement rarely acts, and there is so much else going on to fill the time or the page. After a day or two, a parental abduction story is old news if it was ever news at all.

As it turned out, competing local news stories swamped the day, the story was reported but too short to examine the issues, and time marches on…. Here’s the link to the broadcast:

Had there been time, I would have wanted to discuss the first two issues I was curious about in the Beaverton PD press release.

The absence of the Oregon State Police caught my attention immediately, and the fact that the abducted child never made the Oregon State Police Missing Children Clearinghouse list despite the easily demonstrable fact that all of these other policing agencies had identified the child as abducted. That issue also bears examination.

In fact, the only child to make the OSP list in the past five years is Kyron Horman. This case also illustrates how difficult and painful child kidnappings are to resolve. The focus needs to be on deterrence.

I’ve written about the deficiencies of the OSP Clearinghouse in the past, in a piece titled “Oregon’s Museum of Missing Children and the child sex trade”, posted on The Oregonian’s blog in 2010:

The recovery of the abducted Marenco child required the cooperation of courts in Washington County and in New Zealand. The media release credits:

The following agencies/organizations have assisted the Beaverton Police Department with the Marenco case:

US Department of State
US Customs and Border Protection
US Marshals Service
US Federal Air Marshals Service
US DHS-ICE Homeland Security Investigations
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Washington County District Attorney's Office
Washington County Sheriff's Office
Forest Grove Police Department
Government Agencies in New Zealand, Australia and Canada
San Francisco Police Department
San Mateo County Sheriff's Office

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children was involved in the Marenco recovery, and a quick search there turns up a list of children abducted from Oregon that includes 17 children who are not listed on the OSP site. That's right, 17 children.

The discrepancies in the lists of missing kids indicate that the Oregon State Police is not involved in looking for any of them, and also illustrates how easily a parentally-abducted child can slip through the cracks.

The fact that so many agencies were involved in recovering the child from New Zealand demonstrates how difficult it is to recover a child abducted to a foreign nation (or to theocratic Mormon Utah), even if both nations speak English and have similar court systems.

These facts, and the finding by the 2004 Senate President’s Task Force on Parental and Family Abductions that child abduction by any person is child abuse, point to the need to enact policies that discourage people from abducting their own children, or a family member’s children, or through a church-sponsored shunning/abduction, in the first place.

That is precisely why Aaron’s Law is so important. Fear of prosecution and jail time is clearly not an effective deterrent, which explains the high numbers. The fact is that parental and family abduction cases are rarely prosecuted, and yet the child(ren) remain(s) missing.

Aaron’s Law takes a different approach to deterring and resolving child abductions, and with the passage of Senate Bill 1041, Oregon became the first and only state in the nation where child abduction creates a civil cause of action.

A deterrent can only be effective if the public knows it exists and, sadly, the KOIN 6 story fell short of that.

It is highly unlikely that Mr. Marenco was aware of Aaron’s Law before he took the child, but now he faces civil as well as criminal consequences under SB 1041, at Mrs. Marenco’s option, including counseling directed at educating Mr. Marenco to the harm his conduct is causing his own child.

Mr. Marenco will also have to answer to his son once he reaches adulthood, as would any other person or organization that aided or abetted the abduction.

Under Aaron’s Law, child victims have future recourse against any party who violated Oregon’s Custodial Interference I statute by participating materially in “taking, enticing or keeping” (the child) “from the child’s lawful custodian or in violation of a valid joint custody order.” Once the child victim becomes an adult, he or she will have three years to file the civil action.

These facts should encourage Mr. Marenco to stay on everyone’s good side for a long time, but all of this trouble, expense and pain might have been avoidable, if he had known the extent of his risk, and a reminder that child abduction by any person is abusive to the child.

This will take many news cycles to accomplish.

According to a Washington County judge, I have the Wisdom and the Moral Authority to speak on these issues:

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