Whether by disease, accident, murder or suicide, losing a child is one of the worst experiences a person could face. Another tragedy that ranks at the top of the list is having a missing child. Strangers abduct a small percentage of these children. Most are abducted by one of their parents.
There's one type of parental child abduction that doesn't get much attention. It happens when one parent uses the legal system to postpone or eliminate any chance of the other parent spending time with the children. One way is by claiming fear of domestic violence. Studies now show that sixty to eighty percent of allegations of domestic violence are later found to be unnecessary or false.
Many parents who find themselves victims of this hidden crime are confused, outraged, overwhelmed and desperate. Those who look for help online can find a wealth of information on websites and in related forums. Some offer in-person meetings and conferences. Others offer interactive Internet talk shows.
As described in Defiant Dads, most of these people are knowledgeable, sincere, and generous with their advice and encouragement. Unfortunately this is not true of everyone a parent might come across in the online community, which is often called the fathers' movement, the family rights movement or the equal parenting movement. One man who has taken advantage of these vulnerable parents is Torm Howse, creator of the website UnitedCivilRights.org.
Howse, who has spent time in prison for intimidation and battery, and allegedly has a warrant out for his arrest, offers his services writing legal papers. His own emails quote the rate of $40 an hour. He has told some parents that $400 would get his services for life. Yet he was able to get $1,000 from one parent and $3,000 from another. Howse usually has the money sent through the website's PayPal donation account.
"Torm Howse works on people's vulnerabilities. That's what he did to me," said Donald Tenn, board member of Fathers 4 Justice – US and father to abducted Madison Tenn, "I paid him $200 because he told me that he guaranteed I would get Madison back. I still haven't received one piece of paper from him, and know I never will. I can take someone hurting me, but Howse exploits little children like my daughter Madison."
"I was new in the movement, extremely vulnerable and desperate to find someone to help me. I worked with Mr. Howse to create the United Civil Rights Councils of America, not knowing he was a master at manipulation," said Theresa Martin, who lived with Howse for a year, "He convinced me he was losing his storage unit in Indiana so I agreed to him storing his items in my home. When he showed up with his stuff he said he wasn't about to go anywhere."
"I thought I needed Torm to help me. I believed in my heart he was the only one who could," she explained, "We had agreed he'd rent a room from me, but he didn't pay me. I asked him to leave my home every single day for almost a year. He just refused!"
Howse left some parents at risk of jail. "When Torm Howse first started he was on time," said Gary Helman, "then after the first hearing he started delaying everything. I was always getting emails from him saying I will have it tonight. I paid for an interlocutory appeal that he never finished. I paid for a civil suit that he never finished. I paid for an appeal and I never received it. I paid him $3,000 over all. Last July Torm called me and said, 'they're going to take you to jail. The food is not bad there,' and he laughed."
"I let Torm Howse stay in my house for a week, and paid him $1,000 to rewrite my complaint. It had been weeks and he wouldn't get it done – 'trust me, it is a complete victory' he kept saying," David Bardes told me, "Then one day he just walked out. I was left to do all the paperwork myself, with very little time." These are just some of the people who Howse has defrauded. When asked to comment, Howse declined.
There were many objections when Howse first proposed his equal parenting class action lawsuits a few years ago. Ray Lautenschlager, of Parents And Children for Equality (PACE) said "Mike Galluzzo, Chuck Evans and I told Howse that his civil suit was a doomed effort because the wording and legal approach would not work, based on past experience and what we were finding out with the Galluzzo case at that time. The end result was a mass dismissal of all of the cases that they brought forth. And financial losses that were unnecessarily placed on the people that this wannabe leader had duped."