Picture this: an abused mother and child flee their home and seek asylum under a domestic violence protection program in another country. They are granted asylum under a domestic violence protection program. The abusive father contacts local authorities, and a petition is filed to have the child returned to their home country. Due to an international treaty called The Hague Convention, which was designed to reunite children who had been abducted to another country, the protective mothers are legally treated as abductors and children are returned to the abusive parent and grave risk circumstances for both mothers and children.
The above scenario is the plot of an upcoming short film called Reunited. But for so many battered women, including Veronika Mudra, a refugee under domestic violence protection program in the U.S., this is more than a movie plot. It’s a lived reality for her, and many mothers and children that are victims of domestic violence in the U.S. and across the world.
The 9-minute upcoming short film Reunited is intended to raise awareness about the problem with the Hague Convention and to advocate for legislative change. When designed in 1980, the Hague Convention failed to recognize domestic violence as a grave threat that would count as grounds to prevent the child from being returned to its home country. Decades of research found that in 68% of cases, the abducting parent was a mother victim of domestic violence trying to protect her child. In essence, this outdated law is a loophole that assists abusive fathers and fails to protect victims of domestic violence.
A victim of this loophole is Veronika Mudra, women rights activist and founder of the White Ribbon USA that is a part of a global White Ribbon Campaign the world’s largest male initiative against domestic violence towards women. After fleeing Ukraine with her son to escape her abusive partner, she was granted asylum in the US under domestic violence protection program. But their peace was short-lived, as her ex-partner filed a petition under the Hague Convention. Like so many other women in her shoes, she lost the case and her son was returned to the hands of their abuser. “The same department that granted us asylum, the State Department, who says that Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in the world with the lowest level of human rights protection, is the same department that allowed my child to be taken back to the Ukraine,” said Veronika Mudra.
However, this order wasn’t for long, and thankfully Veronika Mudra was able to get her son back. She also conducted nationwide awareness campaigns in the U.S. and Ukraine under support of the U.S. Embassy, Embassy of Canada, governmental and non-governmental organizations and donors. Veronika’s case is extremely rare; she has dedicated her life to helping other women, especially to refugees who weren’t as fortunate. “Abusers are literally stealing kids legally from the hands of protective mothers, from the hands of victims of domestic violence,” she said. After numerous fruitless meetings with Congress to amend this law, even after Berkeley published and submitted The Hague Domestic Violence Project, Mudra realized their biggest obstacle was a lack of public awareness and understanding of the issue, which is what inspired her film Reunited. “Sending a document to Congress doesn’t mean anything. They receive thousands of documents like this every day,” said Mudra. “We need to find a way to personally send the message that this is happening. We need this film to visualize the issue to all stakeholders, to the public, to senators, to congresswomen and congressmen.”
The film is based on a true story of a mother who escaped from one of the Latin countries with her child from an abusive, drug-lord husband. Despite being a low-budget film, White Ribbon USA nonprofit was able to recruit a renowned, award-winning crew because of their belief in this cause. “They’re doing it almost as volunteers. It’s amazing. It’s happening because they support the cause and they feel for it,” said Mudra. This includes Tribeca Film Festival award-winning female director Indrani Pal-Chaudhuri, Oscar-nominated writer Jamie Donohuge and producers Sheila Shah who is also an actress, humanitarian and White Ribbon USA spokeswoman, an award-winning multidisciplinary artist GK Reid, as well as acclaimed talent manager and producer with more than 30 years of management experience across the U.S. and worldwide Marina Masowietsky. Paula Schwarz philanthropist, entrepreneur and founder of Startup Boat – an innovative solution for refugees support was another crucial part of this exciting project.
“Reunited” short film has a big mission. Reform solution to the Hague Convention legislature in the domestic violence aspect is a very structured process. Amend Article 13(b), which grants exception if the return of the child would cause psychological or physical harm, to classify domestic violence as a grave risk. “One sentence can change the whole history for refugees under domestic violence in the U.S. and across the globe,” said Veronika Mudra.
Co-authored with Adriana Georgiades