CONCORD, N.H. -- A woman testified Tuesday that she fled Turkey with her two young daughters in 2007 because she believed her then-husband was sexually abusing them.
The mother was the first witness in an international custody battle over the girls, now ages 9 and 10, being waged in U.S. District Court in Concord.
The father claims his ex-wife defied a Turkish family court’s 2006 decision granting him custody and violated the 1980 International Child Abduction Convention of The Hague when she fled with the children in August 2007.
The Associated Press generally doesn’t identify people who might be victims of sexual abuse. It is not naming the parents to avoid identifying the girls, who have lived with their mother in New Hampshire since 2010.
The mother acknowledges that she paid a mercenary $70,000 to get her and her children out of Turkey and onto a nearby Greek island. She testified her parents supplied the money.
From Greece, she said, they drove to the small country of Andorra, where they lived for 2 1/2 years before the U.S.government granted them single-use passports to enter the United States, where she grew up.
The mother testified she started suspecting abuse after learning in April 2004 that her grandmother had witnessed the husband rubbing the elder girl’s genitalia while changing her diaper months earlier.
But she also told U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro she flip-flopped on whether she believed her husband was abusing the children and never reported her suspicions to law enforcement authorities in Turkey.
A lawyer for the father maintains his client took prompt steps to try to find his children by contacting Interpol and the U.S. Department of State but was unable to locate them until December 2011, when he learned they were in New Hampshire.
The Turkish family court that granted the father’s petition for a divorce in 2006 found the abuse allegations made by his wife were unfounded, said attorney Daniel Ward, who represents the father.
The U.S. District Court judge has referred to the mother’s abduction of the children as "manifestly illegal conduct." But under The Hague’s international child abduction provisions he could rule that the children are settled in their new life and returning them to Turkey would cause them more harm and disruption than leaving them in the United States.
The judge also could order the children returned to their father in Turkey.
The mother, a native of Michigan, testified she took steps to conceal their locations in the years before they arrived in the United States, but she said she then registered them for school using their real names.