Russian adoption debacle: I don’t believe that Torry Ann Hansen acted out of desperation

Much like Tracy Clark-Flory, I was struck by the tragedy of the case of Artyom Savelyev, a 7-year-old adoptee who was put alone on a plane back to Russia. He had been adopted by Tennessee resident Torry Ann Hansen, who, in the note she left with the boy, claimed that officials at a Russian orphanage tricked her into adopting a severe case – a child with too many psychological problems for her to deal with. Hansen’s mother spoke about how nobody could feel safe in the house with the boy, that he had threatened to burn the house down and even drew a picture of it.

I like to think that I appreciate, at least in theory, the challenge that adoptive parents like Hansen face. However, when, at the end of her piece, Tracy said:

it’s worth taking a moment to also ask what kind of desperation leads an adoptive mother to do such a thing

I had to do a double-take.

Here’s the thing – the very act of shipping a kid back to where he came from, like a gadget that broke before the warranty was up, is not desperate by definition. Relinquishing your parental rights is one thing, but the way that Hansen chose to go about it was not merely cruel – it was cynically convenient, calculated both to make an impact on the Russian authorities and, most importantly, the boy.

Hansen acted out her supposed desperation in a dehumanizing and humiliating fashion. This adopted child had hurt her, and so she hurt him back. Officials in Russia allegedly tricked her, and she decided to play her own joke on them. These are not the actions of a heartbroken parent. They’re the actions of someone who is, at best, a spoiled brat, shocked to discover that the world does not revolve around her and that there are, like, issues with raising adoptive children from volatile backgrounds sometimes!

What exactly is this damaged child supposed to do with this latest damage? That’s what I am wondering about. Assuming he was neglected and/or abused by his alcoholic birth mother, assuming he was neglected and/or abused at the orphanage, and even if we further assume that his time in Hansen’s home free of neglect and abuse (though considering Hansen’s stunt, there is room to doubt that), how is this kid supposed to grow up into even a shadow of a functioning adult in light of this debacle?

He suffered abandonment in front of the entire freaking world. Don’t tell me that Hansen didn’t know that this case would blow up in the media – of course she did. She wanted it to. She wanted to get back at those Russian officials back, at the further expense of this child’s sanity. Oh, and naturally, decent Americans whose international adoptions actually go well (or as best as they can make them go, considering different people’s circumstances) will get smeared in the ensuing mess too. Not that Hansen would care about any of that.

At the end of the day, whatever sympathy I may have felt for Hansen simply evaporates when I put her actions in context. Her act was symbolic, it was designed to hit with full force, and it succeeded. Congratulations, Ms. Hansen. You done me proud. I was just in a cab in Moscow, discussing your very case, reminding the driver that not all Americans are selfish jerks like you. The Russian authorities have every right to be wrathful. I’m wrathful too.

26 thoughts on “Russian adoption debacle: I don’t believe that Torry Ann Hansen acted out of desperation

  1. Agreed. Think about the logistics and expense of sending this poor boy to Russia alone, too. The amount of planning required alone suggests that this couldn’t have been done from a sense of hopelessness or in the grip of emotion. This was calculated.

  2. This is to second the contention of both the blogpost and the commenters that Torry Hansen did not act out of “desperation.” Tracy Clark-Flory’s argument there is wrong.

    As to whether Torry Hansen’s very public act of abandonment was a calculated negative-publicity tactic against the Russian orphanage — it might very well have been a calculated tactic, but so far there’s not enough information available to the public to determine exactly what her motives were for such astonishingly cruel treatment of an allegedly “psychopathic” child.

    Regardless of their motives, Nancy and Torry Hansen might well face criminal charges in Tennessee for child abandonment and reckless endangerment of a child.

    Moreover, as noted by a third-party expert on adoptions (in the NYT article cited below), the Hansens had a responsibility to seek help before transferring care. In a New York Times online article dated 10 April 2010, entitled “In Tenn. [sic], Reminders of a Boy Returned to Russia,” written by Damien Cave, the reporter states that there is no evidence that the Hansens ever sought professional help either from the adoption agency which had arranged for the adoption (WACAP Adoption Agency at or from professional services available, if not in their locality, then certainly in Nashville, which is only an hour’s drive from the Hansens’ home.

    If Tennessee law as well requires that adoptive parents seek professional help or at least court permission before permanently transferring the care of an adopted child, then the Hansens might also face charges for illegally transferring care of their “psychopathic” child. Police and Sheriff’s Departments in Shelbyville are currently investigating the case.

    It might well be that the Russian government will, once again, have to cancel any further adoptions by Americans until American adopters are better-screened before adoption and better-supervised afterwards.

    But, at any rate, Tracy Clark-Flory’s conclusion that the Hansens were “desperate” completely misstates what was going on.

  3. I hope the Tennessee state authorities charge that fool. You can’t just go to another country and buy a CHILD like he’s a freaking souveneir and then ship him back as if he were supposed to come with a warranty!!

    Was the woman so deluded by her Benevolent Despot Americanisms that she had some kind of a problem with–oh, hanging around Russia for a few months and getting to know the kid before she messed him up even more?

    I say give her the maximum fine, and send the money straight to the orphanage. Then give her the maximum number of community service hours in her area. The suffering she’ll see at a soup kitchen or whatever probably won’t come close to what the boy’s obviously been through, but maybe she’ll learn something about people who can’t throw tantrums over some “lifestyle upgrade” that doesn’t work like Monty freaking Hall.

    Btw, how is the boy? Did he at least arrive physically unharmed?

  4. Took me a minute to find the reports about the boy’s physical condition. I’ll trust that he’s ok, even though most of the stories were full of links to online shopping sites. Man I hate those.

    I have serious doubts about this woman’s claim that she’s a registered nurse. Her knowledge of abnormal psych and cultural anthro, her research skills and critical thinking would be better. I suspect she’s only some kind of home care aide.

    But what do I know? I’m just one of those Canadian *socialists* who apparently freeload off American research. Maybe the people that trained this woman consider making a BSc a requirement for nurses to be a waste of erectile dysfunction research dollars.

  5. Thank you, Natalia! Holy pancake, I can not believe that Tracy Clark-Flory wrote that, and I was seething about that. Perhaps I am a bit biased by being a parent of a child that age myself, but it isn’t always easy. Kids go through difficult stages, and you don’t just throw them away. A person doesn’t adopt a child from another country, one that might give you a child with a background that has left them with some baggage.

    You have agreed to love this child, and you have to love them through it, and it isn’t always easy, even with a well adjusted child.

    This woman has done irreparable damage to this boy. But, I am one of those zany people who believes that children are actual people, and thinks that they should be treated as such. Not as chattel that you toss aside when they don’t work as you wanted them to.

  6. This is what I’ve discovered from various U.S. news sources online. Nancy Hansen, Torry’s mother, has been the sole spokesperson to the press (Torry has allegedly gone into hiding), and told the press that, although Torry did speak to a psychologist by phone, neither Nancy nor Torry Hansen actually ever took Artyom to see a psychologist in person. That absolutely floors me.

    Nancy Hansen also told the press that she, Nancy Hansen, had contacted an attorney online who told her that Torry could reverse the adoption. I wonder if that attorney also told her that, if Artyom was not yet a U.S. citizen, the Hansens might not be liable for charges of child abandonment. The Tennessee Dept. of Health reported that there was no Tennessee Birth Certificate recorded for Artyom Savyelev, even though he had been adopted for six to seven months. A U.S. birth certificate would be proof that Artyom had been granted U.S. citizenship (by adoption).

    It is also reported that the Bedford County, TN, Sheriff’s Department is currently investigating the Hansens for child abuse, because Artyom Savyelev, once back in Russia, reported that he had been physically abused by Torry Hansen and verbally abused by Nancy Hansen.

    The ongoing investigation for child abuse leads me to suspect that the Hansens did not take Artyom to see a psychologist in person because, if alone with a psychologist and a Russian-speaking interpreter, Artyom might have reported such abuse to the psychologist who would then have contacted law enforcement.

    I suspect that, for the same reason, the Hansens contacted an attorney online rather than in person and also refrained from telling the WACAP Adoption Agency or the Russian government that they were going to return Artyom to Russia. WACAP on its website says it learned of Artyom’s return only after he had been delivered to the Russian government office in Moscow, and they learned that from WACAP’s branch office in Moscow, not from the Hansens. The Russian government also indicated that it had not received prior notice that Artyom was about to be returned to Russia.

    Further, I suspect that the Hansens purposefully sent Artyom unaccompanied by a hired chaperone in order to prevent him from telling any adult chaperone about his experience with the Hansens, until Artyom was out of American legal jurisdiction, For the same reason, I suspect that neither Nancy nor Torry Hansen accompanied Artyom to Moscow in order that no one on the flight could witness their possibly abusive interaction with Artyom and also so that neither would be available in Moscow to be interrogated by Russian authorities and possibly arrested.

    The entire timeline (only six to seven months) of the Hansens’ adoption and rapid return of Artyom unaccompanied, and without previously notifying WACAP or the Russian government, leads me to suspect that the Hansens’ decision to return Artyom unaccompanied was not an impulsive, last-minute decision that was negligently or cruelly executed.

    My own tentative reconstruction of the Hansens’ motives is that, early in their custody of Artyom, the Hansens committed acts against Artyom that they quickly realized could make them liable to charges of child abuse. At that point, they decided not to take Artyom to see a psychologist in person and instead contacted an online attorney to see how they could return Artyom to Russia (i.e., get the victim — Artyom — out of American jurisdiction). If that online attorney told the Hansens that they would be liable for abandonment charges if Artyom were already a U.S. citizen, then at that point, I suspect, the Hansens decided to refrain from getting Artyom a Tennessee Birth Certificate. From there, I think, the Hansens went on to formulate their plan to send Artyom unaccompanied back to Moscow in a way that neither WACAP nor the Russian government would learn of the return until Artyom was outside of American jurisdiction.

    The entire timeline of the Hansens’ custody of Artyom, with their physical isolation of him from any third-party adult who might contact law enforcement, their failure to notify WACAP or the Russian government that they were returning him, and their refraining from getting him a U.S. birth certificate (during six to seven months of custody!), leads me to suspect that, at the very least, the Hansens were hiding something about their treatment of Artyom,

    I think that the Hansens decided that the best way to protect themselves was to prevent Artyom from personally meeting with any American in authority until they got Artyom beyond American jurisdiction by sending him back unaccompanied to Russia.

    The blogpost here contends that Hansens were narcissistic publicity hounds who wanted to humiliate the Russian orphanage for deceiving them. That might actually be the case.

    But while Artyom was still under U.S. jurisdiction, the Hansens avoided publicity for themselves or for Artyom. The Hansens did everything they could to prevent Artyom from attracting official attention (Artyom was never enrolled in a U.S. public school), the Hansen adults did not mingle with the Shelbyville community (they never attended church, etc.), and, while Artyom was under U.S. jurisdiction, Nancy Hansen (not Torry) discreetly, online and not in person, made plans to get Artyom out of U.S. jurisdiction as quickly as possible, while making sure the Hansen adults never reached Russian jurisdiction.

    Finally, Nancy Hansen told the press that, to her surprise, the Russian government phoned the Hansens and vocally expressed their outrage that Artyom was returned unaccompanied, without the Russian government receiving prior notice that Artyom was about to arrive on their doorstep. Nancy Hansen said she was surprised and puzzled by the Russian anger. She was even more surprised when the U.S. State Department called her and told her that she had created an international incident.

    Nancy Hansen’s reports about the unexpected phone calls lead me to believe that, instead of seeking publicity, the Hansens were doing everything they could to avoid publicity in both the U.S. and Russia (which is why the Russian government wasn’t given prior notice). I have no idea why Nancy Hansen was stupid enough to believe that she could dump Artyom, unaccompanied and unannounced, on the Russian government’s doorstep, without causing an international incident. But I suspect that she actually did believe that, and was completely unprepared for any negative publicity.

    It was the U.S. State Department that requested the Bedford County Sheriff’s Department to investigate the Hansens for child abuse. Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce said that, at this point, it was not clear that the Hansens will face any charges. The Hansens, through their lawyer, have obtained a 2-week postponement of any interrogation by the Sheriff.

    At any rate, I think the Hansens are hiding something, and to do that, tried discreetly to get Artyom out of U.S. jurisdiction. They might actually escape criminal prosecution, but they have attracted unwanted publicity that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. So that might be at least partial justice.

  7. Yeah, it’s really creepy how they spoke to a psychologist BY PHONE and that was it, apparently.

    I don’t doubt that this child most likely had problems, many kids with this background do have problems, but that’s something you absolutely have to expect in this situation. You work through it. Their actions really are suspicious on this account.

    They might be purposefully acting stupid right now, or they might really be this stupid (and callous, and cruel, and irresponsible), but it’s obvious that neither one of these people should be so much as trusted with a goldfish.

  8. I note your comments and agree that the Hansens should not be trusted with any custody.

    I wanted to add a further news datum that I just found:

    AP report entitled “Grandmother: Boy terrorized adoptive family in US,” dated 10 April 2010 and written by Kristen Hall; found through Google News under search term “Nancy Hansen.” Seventh or eighth paragraph in the original story:

    “[Sheriff Randall] Boyce said it would be difficult to substantiate claims by Russian officials that the mother mistreated the child.

    “‘We’re here, and the child is in Russia, so it’s hard for us to know whether this child has been abused’ [Boyce said].”

    BINGO. (as I see it)

    It could very well be that the Hansens did intend to humiliate the Russian government. But I think they also intended to do so in a way that would enable them to escape prosecution in the U.S. for abandonment and possibly for child abuse.

    Good blogpost, but a painful incident. The Hansens are heinous people.

  9. At the absolute best, these people went “oops, I got more than I bargained for. How do I wash my hands of the situation as quickly as possible?”

    There’s something so consumerist about what went down here that it makes me want to retch.

    Let’s put it this way – I know people who allow their adopted PETS more dignity than this.

  10. As my final comment on this issue, I just want to say that I’m glad that Artyom, for his own safety, is back in Russia, hopefully at least physically unharmed, and hopefully soon to enter the care of a Russian couple who are well-informed about his condition and are truly committed to caring for him (which, according to news sources, might soon be the case).

    This entire incident reflects poorly not only on the Hansens but on the larger American record of adopting post-Soviet orphans. The Russian government is right to put an indefinite freeze on any further adoptions by Americans.

  11. I know more now that I did when I saw the initial story in the newspapers. I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt at first because I know of one or two cases in England where information was withheld about children with severe socio-pathic disorders in order to get them adopted and it’s nearly destroyed their adoptive families but I have to say that in ALL of those cases the couples did absolutely everything possible to keep the child before they had to accept that they didn’t have the professional experience these children needed.

    I had wondered if this lady had tried to get the authorities to pay attention and took drastic action after being constantly ignored. It seems now she’s just a shockingly ignorant individual. Even if you haven’t been ‘briefed’ about adopting a a child from that kind if background would be common sense to expect them to be just a little bit difficult at first?

    Sad all round. I just hope the little boy finds someone who has the intelligence and compassion to help him with his disturbances.

  12. Poeschl, I agree with most of your analysis about the heinousness of the Hansens’ behavior, as well as about the possibility that they abused Artyom before sending him back to Russia.

    However, I do not think that children in Russian orphanages would be well-served by shutting down all American adoptions. I hope that Artyom is adopted by a Russian couple–it’s possible, given all the publicity. However, there are thousands of children languishing in Russian orphanages and not enough Russian adoptive parents stepping up (670,400 orphans; in 2009, 9000 of them were adopted by Russians). The odds that a Russian child adopted by an American family will be abused are much lower than the odds that a Russian child left in an orphanage will be abused (or simply not properly cared for because of lack of staff resources). The statistics for Russian kids who age out of orphanages are tragic (very similar, actually, to the statistics about American kids who age out of foster care)–many, many end up on the streets. I’m not trying to say that everyone would just be so much happier and better off if they they all became Americans, and I’m not saying that there isn’t an unpleasant element of Benevolent Despot American to this all, and I’m not saying that international adoption isn’t fraught with all sorts of difficult ethical issues. I’m just saying that if I was given the choice of leaving a child in a Russian orphanage or placing it with an American family, I would pick the American family.

    Also, for those who read Russian, there was a really interesting article in Bolshoi Gorod last fall about adoption in Russia–and the many foster and adoptive parents who return children to the orphanage because they find it too difficult. The numbers for 2009 were 7834 children returned in all. Of those, 6553 were returned from guardianship, 931 from foster families, and 113 from adoptive families.

  13. These comments are some of the most thoughtful I’ve read concerning this event. Thank you!

    I’m a father of an adopted child from Russia. We brought him home in 2008 when he was 18 months. My conclusion from what I’ve been able to discern from the horribly scanty news reports on the matter is that the Tennessee woman made many mistakes. She seemed ill-prepared for the adoption of a special-needs child – and face it, all adopted children from institutional orphanages are special needs. She should have known the risks involved with this adoption. 2nd, she didn’t have adequate support for her and her child. It takes the involvement of extended family, church, adopted children groups, etc. to aid the parents, even if it’s simple cheer-leading or sharing experiences and advice.

    I feel that we were lucky in our Russian adoption. While he still has some attachment issues, it is nothing in comparison to the problems some experience. He is as well-adjusted as we could have hoped. At times he will hit my wife. Many times he refuses to look us in the eyes. He is afraid to attach to us because everyone else in his short life has come and gone. But we see great progress and I’m confident that we have a bright future as a family.

    It takes dedication as a parent to see it through. There are some days that it seems hopeless. But every night we tell him “You’re our son. You can’t get rid of us. We will love you forever and ever.” And it’s as much a reminder for us as it is for him.

  14. Alan B, that’s good to hear. My son is autistic, so I know how it is for you. Sometimes love CAN conquer all. Don’t ever let your son forget that.

  15. “There’s something so consumerist about what went down here that it makes me want to retch. ”

    THIS. I used to work at the returns counter in a local outdoor gear shop, and the behaviour of the Hansens is eerily reminiscent of the way people who bought a defective flashlight, or a t-shirt that doesn’t quite fit, behave. The entire process of sending him back to Russia treats him as a defective object that must be given back to its manufacturer, not as a human being who needs the kind of love and patience that people like Alan B give in order to grow past his traumatic history. It’s beyond disgusting.

  16. Your language choice is intereseting and illuminating.

    You write: “I was just in a cab in Moscow, discussing your very case, reminding the driver that not all Americans are selfish jerks like you. The Russian authorities have every right to be wrathful. I’m wrathful too.”

    You could have reminded the driver that “most Americans are generous, loving people who welcome some of Russia’s 4 million unwanted children, often the least desirable of them, the ones the Russian government not only neglects but seeks to purge, into their homes and hearts.” Indeed, nobody disputes that the Russian state is guilty of repeatedly lying to foreign adoptive parents in order to push off upon them Russia’s most difficult unwantd chidlren.

    But you didn’t.

    Instead, you conceded that there might be a few Americsns who are not “selfish jerks.”

    And you didn’t have a word of crtiticism for a Kremlin that has pushed 4 million childen in to the gutter, creating a world of horror as documented for instance in the feature film “The Italian.”

    Nor did you recognize that lots of Russians act exactly the same way:

    None of this is to excuse this mother’s misconduct. But, in short, your post isn’t full of the sort of love you ask others to show, it’s full of, as you yourself admit, nothing but “wrath.” And rather one-sided wrath at that.

  17. I could write a profound response to your comment, LR, but I don’t like you, find conversations with you pointless, and really can’t be bothered.

    Though I didn’t “concede” anything, I’ll tell you that much.

  18. I enjoy the irony of someone named La Russophobe commenting right here. It’s like me going up to an Italian guy and saying, “I heard all you guidos are classless perverts, but why don’t I pull up a chair and maybe you can prove otherwise to me?”

    Or hey, how about the things that old white guys sometimes say to us black women – “jungle fever” and etc. Maybe we should all play nice with people like that as well, after all, they’re just trying to figure out if their stereotypes are correct.

  19. Thats not the truth about what happened in our county of $$$$TN
    I had the same judge I am a mother of an adoptive daughter no one in our county helped her or helped me- I left and abusive marriage and he has the child now- doesnt make sense- she did the wrong thing yes- I did the right thing she has a daughter I lost mine same judge made a huge mistake in my case- a judge can be wrong but worse a nation closes its eyes- I pleaded begged for help- no help no resoureces my ex husband faslfied adoption paperwork no one cared no one gave a shit- I am just a housewife-
    so you dont know the truth,, 850 585-9949 if you want the truth .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: