There are approximately 6.6 million Americans living abroad and studies indicate that within this population there are a growing number of bi-national marriages. Estimates of domestic violence among Americans expatriates are not available; however, presuming the overseas population reflects the national statistics of the American Institute on Domestic Violence, it is estimated approximately 66,000 women and their children are experiencing abuse in a foreign country.
American mothers being abused abroad face a unique array of legal and custodial issues including jurisdiction, international abduction, and guardianship. In any divorce or separation case, the trauma experienced by the child can be stressful and disruptive. For families living in foreign countries, the separation of the family because of abduction is a grave reality. The U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children's Issues, a division within Overseas Citizens Services, which handles child abduction, has seen its caseload swell from an average in recent years from 1,100 to 1,500 open cases of international child abduction. Most industrialized Western countries are state parties to the 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction, a treaty that requires countries to send abducted children back to the jurisdiction which has been established as their place of habitual residence. The Hague Convention focuses substantially on determining jurisdiction and has few provisions for domestic violence or the emotional wellbeing of the children. Regardless of whether a country is a state party signatory, international family custody cases often lead to a protracted legal battle that can be financially devastating for battered mothers. An essential component to mitigating some of the trauma experienced by the child, and the burden placed on an abused mother, is to ensure that at the first point of contact – the U.S. embassy - the survivor is provided support and informed of the resources available to her.
ADVCL works to ensure mothers have the support they need from the first point of contact. In 2008, the crisis line received approximately 1182 calls or emails, provided services to 363 families with 448 children in 56 different countries.