Asbury Park Press Article on 5th Anniversary of Smith’s Goldman Act

By Asbury Park Press Writer Jerry Carino –

Sean Goldman likes to go fishing and paddleboarding with his dad, and they go out for sushi together regularly. The 19-year-old Holmdel resident is heading into his sophomore year at Brookdale Community College and holds a job as a dock hand at Sandy Hook Bay Marina.

Sean is living a typical teenage life, with a notable exception: He’s become an advocate for victims of international child abduction — an ordeal he endured and one that sparked a law bearing his name.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Sean’s return to his father, David, a high-profile reunion following five years of legal wrangling after he was kidnapped by his mother and sequestered with her family in Brazil. This week marks the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction Act, which gives the U.S. state department authority to pressure nations, like Brazil, that harbor abducted kids.

To mark the law’s anniversary, Sean spoke publicly for the first time Thursday. His father was by his side as were two others instrumental in resolving his case: Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Red Bank-based attorney Patricia Apy, whose firm Paras Apy & Reiss hosted the news conference.

“I’m thinking about a political science major,” Sean said, “because, well, I guess you guys can guess why.”

The faces of an issue

The Goldmans’ backstory story is well-documented. In 2004 Sean’s mother, Brazil-born Bruna Bianchi, told then-husband David she was taking Sean on a two-week vacation to visit family in her native country.

Upon arriving she called David, informing them their marriage was over and that Sean would not be returning to the United States. After Bianchi died in childbirth in 2008, her family refused to give the boy to his father.

But David’s relentless pursuit of custody and a combination of diplomatic and media pressure — the latter led by late Asbury Park Press columnist Bill Handleman, whom Smith acknowledged in his remarks Thursday — led to Sean’s return home on Christmas Eve of 2009.

“We talk about child abduction now and most Americans, because of this case, understand what that means,” Apy said. “They understand this is not a custody case gone bad. This is not merely a family dispute or bad matrimonial case. This is an act which has been identified as an aspect of child abuse.

“Now we look at child abuse completely differently. Sean and David put a human face on something that was very difficult for most Americans to grasp.”

It took time even for Sean to grasp it. At first, he a bewildered kid who’d been through an international tug of war. And he’d heard negative things about his dad from the family in Brazil — most notably that his father had no interest in him — for five years.

“It took me a week-and-a-half after coming home to call him ‘Dad,’” Sean said. “It was hard. You’re told one thing for a lot of your life, and then you see it’s just lies. As a kid, you feel betrayed.”

The breakthrough, calling David ‘Dad,’ happened by accident.

“I did it out of panic,” Sean said. “It was winter and I was falling into a river. But it felt natural. One step at a time, I just felt more and more at home.”

Now he’s trying to help others take those steps.

‘Sensible thing to do’

The bad stuff Sean Goldman heard about his dad has a legal name — “parental alienation” — and as a survivor, he views counseling others as a calling. He recently met with siblings who were returned home after being abducted to Argentina, and he’ll be testifying on the subject at the House of Representatives next month.

“To me, (advocacy) seems like the only sensible thing to do,” Sean said. “I’ve been through it, so I understand what it’s like. It’s a very confusing time for a kid. It’s like your whole world gets flipped upside down. To at least have someone they’re saying, ‘Yeah I’ve been through it, too,’ I can only imagine that’s been helpful.”

In the 10 years since Sean’s return, David Goldman has remained at the front line of the issue as well. He regularly speaks with parents coping with international child abduction.

“I try just to let them know that they’re not alone,” David said. “Don’t give up hope. Look for distractions throughout your day because it’s painful to go through every moment. The little things will tug at your heartstrings, just even watching TV and seeing a child on there. Things like missing Sean losing his first tooth.”

He gets to tell parents something he never heard during Sean’s ordeal.

“We’re in your corner,” he said. “We have a law.”

‘Much remains to be done’

Since the enactment of the Goldman Act in 2014, reported cases of children being abducted from the United States have fallen by nearly 20 percent. Still, Smith estimates, nearly 450 American kids become victims each year.

“Much progress has been made,” Smith said. “However, much remains to be done.”

The sanctions made allowable by the law “need to be robustly applied,” Smith said. “To date, they have not been either by the Obama administration or the Trump administration.”

To drive home the point, Smith invited Manalapan resident Ravi Parmar to the news conference. In 2012, Parmar’s ex-wife took their 3-year-old son, Reynash, to India, and he hasn’t seen the boy since.

“The experiences that David and Sean shared and that Mr. Smith has been championing, we need to spread awareness, but it’s also time for the U.S. government to play a more robust role in securing their return,” Parmar said. “I called the FBI for three months every week before somebody actually responded to my request.”

FBI officials, he said, told him, “Your child is not abducted; he’s with his mother.”

Smith said India, Japan and Brazil are three of the most recalcitrant countries when dealing with international child abduction, and said seven New Jersey children have been removed to India in the past year alone. Apy said she hopes Gov. Phil Murphy will raise the issue during a scheduled visit to India this fall.

“This is of the few crimes where the victims are held responsible to solve the crime,” Parmar said.

The reason the Goldmans are making the media rounds is to remind everyone that the tools to address such situations are there now, provided by the law that bears their name. They just need to be applied.

David’s been front and center saying this for years. Now Sean is old enough to join him, doubling the message’s power.

“These families need help like we got,” David Goldman said. “With our law and the punitive measures we can place on these countries, hopefully we can get these cases resolved and children won’t suffer.”

*** Jerry Carino is news columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at jcarino@gannettnj.com.