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Should Mom of Adopted Russian Boy Be Charged with Abandonment?

Posted by Elisabeth Wilkins

Last week, Torry Hansen sent her 7-year-old adopted Russian son to Moscow with a note that said, “I no longer wish to parent this child.” She stated that the child, Artyom Savelyev, was “mentally unstable, violent and has severe psychopathic issues” and that for the safety of her friends, family and herself, she was sending him back.

When it comes down to it, don’t understand why Torry Hansen and her mother Nancy did not see that this child, though not biologically Torry’s son, was hers legally, nonetheless, the moment she signed those papers. Experts on both sides are now debating whether or not Artyom is a U.S. citizen — and many say he became one the day he was adopted. (As of today, officials here are now saying he is a U.S. citizen.)

I am guessing that Artyom might have behavioral problems, though I don’t know that for sure. Any child who has been abandoned by his biological mother at age 6 (due to alcoholism) and then beaten with a broomstick in a Russian orphanage, as has been reported, is suffering on every level. Additionally, I’ve read that Reactive Attachment Disorder is common amongst adoptees from Russia and other former Eastern Bloc countries. My guess is that Torry Hansen soon realized she was in over her head and didn’t know what to do.

Her mother Nancy described Artyom’s outburts and said he drew a picture of their house burning down. She said the last straw was when they found Artyom trying to set fire to their house.
“We were afraid,” Nancy said, and I am guessing that they truly were. Parenting is hard no matter what, but parenting an RAD child who probably has limited English, has been abused and is already 7 years old must be incredibly difficult— especially when you don’t have a firm set of effective parenting skills in place to begin with.

To add to the story, everything seemed to be going very well up until January. In fact, things were going so well that Torry applied to adopt another child from Russia. So my question is, why didn’t they contact the Department of Human Services when Artyom’s behaviors emerged. Why didn’t they try to get some help for the boy, or send him to counseling, or even arrange for family counseling, rather than buy him a one-way ticket back to Russia and arrange for a complete stranger to pick him up.

I’m not saying that these measures — counseling, and help from the school and social services — are foolproof, but at least they would have been something. Now a criminal investigation is underway in Bedford County, Tennessee, where Hansen lives. Torry Hansen might be charged with abandonment, if it’s determined a crime has actually been committed here. So far, she isn’t talking and said through her lawyer that she will not do so unless charged.

All I can think is that the problems that this boy once had are now compounded, because he’s been abandoned once again. The driver who picked him up in Moscow said Artyom was friendly and communicative, and spent most of the two-hour ride talking and playing with his Spiderman action figures. Before the driver left, Artyom gave the man two gifts: his United Airlines wings and a picture he had drawn at the Education Ministry.

There is a silver lining to the story, though — thousands of Russian families have stepped forward and are offering to adopt Artyom. Maybe he’ll find a home — and some help— after all.


U.S. State Department officials are in Russia today in an attempt to persuade the government not to freeze all adoptions to the United States. Some say this case highlights the problems inherent in international adoptions — and that it might make the rules around the vetting process become much more stringent.

Where do you weigh in? Should the Hansens be charged with abandonment? Or do you understand where they were coming from and think the story should end here?


About Elisabeth Wilkins

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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