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Bill O'Chee: The agony of parental alienation

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Whether you think Sally Faulkner was right or wrong in trying to snatch back her children, the one thing nobody has considered is whether parental alienation was at play. 

This is where one parent tries to isolate their children from the other, and ultimately deprives them of contact altogether.

I know a bit about the subject, because I saw it first hand when I was in parliament.

The last thing one of my constituents did before she took her life was to call my office to thank us for helping her. She hung up the phone, and killed herself.

She had sought my help over other problems but it was parental alienation that caused her fatal despair. She was distraught at having her daughter allegedly alienated from her by a former husband. He allegedly took her to California and brainwashed her.  

Twenty-two years on her daughter contacted me to to talk about her mother's experiences, as well as her own. 

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After returning from the US, the young woman only saw her mother once before the suicide. Still suffering the effects of brainwashing, the daughter believed the things her father told her.  

"I had questioned why she never contacted me, or showed me love anymore, not knowing how hard she had tried for all those years. I just didn't understand what happened and what had been going on," she told me.

One of the characteristics of parental alienation is that the children are often bonded to the perpetrators. This is unsurprising. If hostages can bond to their captors in a matter of hours or days - what is called Stockholm Syndrome - then how much easier must it be for children to be bonded to a parent perpetrator?

This is what happened in this case. As a child the young woman was kidnapped to the United Statesa and denied contact with her with her mother. She wasn't even allowed to speak about her.

"I had to lock away my happy memories of mum in a box whilst my emotions moved into a dark and lonely place. I grew up with a feeling of no identity. Not allowed to think or feel for myself. I was only encouraged to talk negatively about my mum - that she was a bad person," she explained.

Only after her mother's death did the young woman slowly start to realise what had happened to her. But that is only half of the story.

She grew up and had children with a man very much like her father. When they separated, things initially went well, with parenting shared equally, until the father moved to the other side of the country. After that, every time the children returned from visiting him they were strangely withdrawn. One day the children just didn't come back.

This is a lot more common than some would believe. There are probably thousands of children across Australia who are completely cut off from parents and grandparents because of it.

Now this young woman is working to take cases of parental alienation out of the hands of lawyers and put into the hands of highly trained psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists.

As she says, there are thousands of fathers and mothers who have been denied access to the children they love.

Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.

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