The story of the rejected and abandoned Russian orphan haunted “48 Hours” reporter Troy Roberts after he bid the girl farewell in the Russian hospital. He wanted to know what had become of her, and tried to track her down over the years, with no success. Then, after more than two decades had passed, Caralee reached out to him and they arranged to meet once again.
That supposedly homicidal little girl who was diagnosed as incapable of love now lives in North Carolina as Sabrina Caldwell. She is 33, happily married and has four young children. Roberts met with her near Sabrina’s home, and he spoke with her husband as well. Sabrina explained that she was depressed and even suicidal when she was with Crystal and Jesse, who she felt were more interested in her younger brother than her. When she was falsely accused of trying to kill Joshua, whom she says she loved, she told Roberts she “wanted out.” She agreed that she tried to kill him. She made up the claims that she was hallucinating. When she was abandoned by her adoptive parents in Moscow, she said she felt like she was in jail, but now believes she was partially responsible, since she had agreed to her parents’ version of events and lied about hallucinating.
Then again, she was just a child at the time.
After two months in the mental hospital, Nina Kostina, who had helped arrange her adoption, rescued Sabrina and brought her back to the United States. Three years later she adopted by another family in North Carolina. n 2008, Sabrina volunteered for the non profit Mercy Ships, spending two years providing medical care to the poor in Africa. That led to a job at a hospital when she returned to North Carolina. Two years later, she fell in love with fifth grade teacher Phil Caldwell, whom she met through her church. Before she would agree to marry him, she made him watch the “48 Hours” episode about her first adoptive parents. He told Roberts that he was stunned at what she had gone through. They were married in 2014, and now have three daughters and an infant son. Sabrina Caldwell has never been diagnosed with any mental or emotional illness, and takes no medication for such disorders. Continue reading →
At the end of last year, CBS’s “48 Hours” broadcast an update of a horrifying episode from two decades ago. I missed both programs, but I stumbled upon a rerun of the December 2021 follow-up last night. The tale is a true ethics train wreck that, incredibly, had a happy ending, making it also an abject lesson in moral luck.
The story had special resonance for me because it involved the aftermath of an American couple adopting of a Russian orphan, a process my wife and I went through as well. In 1997, Crystal and Jesse were a young married couple who had tried and failed to conceive. They fund Russian adoption agency’s website and were smitten by a photo of a beautiful 9-year-old girl. The couple began the adoption process. The child’s medical records from the adoption agency, were concerning, though: they described developmental problems.
CBS made a big deal about this, but essentially all older Russian orphans have developmental issues. Crystal told CBS that the “were assured that this child was healthy and that in a good home … with the best doctors in America helping her with the developmental issues, that she should be fine.” That was accurate advice (and she and her husband should have known that by doing responsible research before deciding to adopt a Russian orphan). I should also mention here that Russian medical records regarding orphans are notoriously unreliable. Our son, who has been freakishly healthy, came with ten pages of supposedly serious medical problems. Our pediatrician literally laughed at the document. Continue reading →
The Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act allows the U.S. President to impose visa sanctions and asset freezes on human rights abusers who kill, torture or violate the rights of human rights defenders, as well as government officials responsible for acts of significant corruption. The law and its various amendments that expanded its reach are at the heart of the sanctions currently being enforced against Russia. It was this law, and Russian efforts to blunt its force, that apparently was the real reason that Donald Trump Jr. was induced to meet with an indefinite number of Russians, Russian-Americans, and various individuals “connected” to the Russian government, the list of which is currently expanding like the roster of women allegedly raped by Bill Cosby.
The news media doesn’t seem to feel the Magnitsky Act is anything the public needs to know, perhaps because Donnie Jr. didn’t know much about it, if anything. The stories about his aborted meeting typically mention the Act briefly and without elaboration. They really don’t elaborate on Putin’s retaliation for the Act, which was to stop U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans. (I wrote about this indefensible conduct by Russia at the time, in 2012. The post had a grand total of eight comments. Five years was too long to wait for an update, and I’m sorry. Of course, we are supposed to have responsible and competent professional journalists to keep us informed. )Russia had been one of the primary sources of foreign adoptions by childless U.S. parents before 2012, when the Russian strong man retaliated against loving U.S. parents to show his annoyance with our government and his support of corruption at home.
It’s worse than that, though. The real victims of Putin’s retaliation are his nation’s own, innocent, most vulnerable children. There is virtually no domestic adoption in Russia, because parents can’t afford the children the have. There are lots of orphans though, because parents can give up infants they can’t care for, and the government is quick to remove children it believes are abused or neglected. Unfortunately, once these children are warehoused, there is no way out. The orphanages are underfunded and over-crowded. Once the children “age out,” they are sent to live in hospitals, clinics and other Russian institutions ill-equipped to care for them, and eventually dumped out into the street, where they often are abused or turn to crime. Continue reading →
As a parent of a former Russian orphan, I have been disturbed by the deterioration of the international adoption environment there and elsewhere. We have a son who was healthy from the start, and our adoption process, while chaotic (we were rushing against a deadline, as the Russian government was in the process of blocking all American adoptions), was handled openly and legally. Now my wife and I read about true horror stories involving abused children, cruel parents, and unscrupulous agencies and brokers here and in Russia. Except for the very worst cases, most of these never crack though the relative trivia on cable news.
In New York, a court has been ordered by a New York Judge, Edward J. McCarthy, to open proceedings about one such horror story. Adoption proceedings are always closed to the public and press, put the judge has ruled that these proceeding must be open, because… Continue reading →
Puppy, child, what’s the difference? The point is t0 make it someone else’s problem, right?
Every time you see a national newscast take up valuable time telling us about Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians, Chelsea Clinton or the White House waterdogs, think about Inga, or Quita, victims of the increasingly common practice of underground adoption known as “private re-homing,” in which adopted children are traded around like dogs or kittens, and abused dogs and kittens at that.
I don’t have a lot of commentary about this horrible practice. My life was a little bit happier before it was brought to my attention. In the history of Ethics Alarms, perhaps the most upsetting story I have had to write about was the horrific conduct of Torry Hansen, a Tennessee mother who adopted a Russian child and then, finding that she couldn’t cope with his problems, put him, alone, on a plane bound for Russia with a note pinned to his jacket. I wrote that post with tears in my eyes; it upsets me to write about it now. Yet something very like what Hansen did to her son is being done via the internet, frequently and with little interference from the government or anyone else. I wish I didn’t know about this—no, that’s not quite right. I wish this wasn’t a feature of our society, so I wouldn’t have to know about it, much less write about it. Continue reading →
Two years ago, Ethics Alarms featured the story of Torry Hansen, the Tennessee adoptive mother who couldn’t handle her adopted Russian child, so she pinned a note on him and sent him back to Russia, alone, on an airplane. I wrote:
“Sending an innocent child back to the orphanage, like he was a defective toaster returned to Walmart, is the ultimate betrayal, as unforgivable as treason, and far, far worse than adultery. A child who, in Justin’s case (his Russian name had been Artyom), was neglected by his alcoholic mother and taken by the state, sent to an orphanage and given to an American mother, has been rejected again and abandoned. I cannot imagine what this would do to a child. I cannot imagine allowing anyone’s child to endure this, least of all my own.
“Her son was making her life impossible. She couldn’t handle the stress; she looked into the future and saw only problems. Check: I understand. I empathize with Mrs. Hanson completely, for we knew when we adopted our son that this was a possible scenario. Again, it doesn’t matter. Sending an adopted child back to Russia is not an option, because it is absolutely wrong, like murder, like torture, like sacrificing one human being to save another. Never. Absolutely never. Nothing can ever justify treating a child—your own child— like that.”
Now CBS has reported that Hanson will have some consequences of her actions in addition to being roundly detested by every adoptive parent in the world (like me) and being a permanent member of the Bad Mothers Hall of Infamy. Continue reading →
I don’t want to pick on Cara, who made this comment in reply to my response to her earlier comment that objected to the original post referring to forcing a seven-year-old child to drink hot sauce and making him stand in a cold shower as punishment as “abuse.” That comment had such gems as “screaming is not necessarily an indication of abuse, some children just can not express themselves” and “depending on how you look at it, all disciplinary methods could be called abusive.” Her follow-up message, even more than her first, shows how people can come to excuse, rationalize and eventually accept truly terrible and cruel conduct, by others and eventually themselves. Rationalization cripples the ethics alarms, and eventually, as in Cara’s reasoning, we are excusing evil, and condemning those who stand against it, arguing, as she does here, that they have no standing to judge others, since everybody makes mistakes.
The comment makes a better case than anything I have written thus far for the importance of us all to engage in constant efforts to perfect our ethical sensitivity, to improve our ethics alarms, and to be vigilant against facile rationalizations.
Here’s a challenge: How many rationalizations can you count being used here? I find at least six, and perhaps as many as eight.
I stopped watching Dr. Phil when I discovered that he was a fraud. There have been some substantial benefits of this pledge on my part; for example, I didn’t see the recent episode about problem children, which showed videotape of a mother from Anchorage, Alaska torturing her child.
Incredibly, Jessica Beagly, mother of six, oversaw the videotaping of her squirting hot sauce into the mouth of her adopted Russian son and forcing him into a cold shower. She made the tape so Dr. Phil could give her some advice on a segment that aired in November called “Mommy Confessions.” The studio audience was brought to tears by the tape, and Dr. Phil, no fool he, described the punishment as “over the top.”
Fifteen years ago, my wife and I flew to Moscow to adopt our son. It was the best thing we ever have or ever will do, but it was harrowing: we were rushed through the process along with four other couples at fugitive speed, because Boris Yeltsin’s government was about to shut down foreign adoptions any day. The whole experience felt like a spy movie, being pushed into black cars driven by strangers, watching bribes take place, and racing from building to building, from doctors to mysteriously grim bureaucrats. We got our son his passport at the American Embassy just as word arrived that foreign adoptions in Russia would be suspended for months.