Chosing An Agency|Ethics

SLAPP, Threats & other Agency Bullying Tactics

A few years ago a t least one well-known and poorly reputed facilitator made an attempt to  put an end to the negative publicity she had garnered through years of corrupt behavior by bringing lawsuits against several parents for defamation after they spoke out against her corruption in public forums including a large email list. Some of these defendants later won the lawsuit brought against them but not before paying out significant amounts of money in legal fees. Other are still engaged in legal battles, to this day.*

Of course this facilitator, and others like her,  have no legal case to speak of . However they often work for lawyers and so legal fees were no consideration. They also knew legal fees would be a very large consideration for these adoptive parents who speak out against them and might very well get them to shut up, fast, to avoid a large expensive battle to defend the bogus allegations of defamation. And while they are at it, maybe they would send a message to other brave and outspoken parents and scare them into silence as well.

This is not an original move on the part of these facilitator. This type of lawsuit has existed for a long time and has a name: Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation or SLAPP. They are filed against those who speak out in negative ways about a corporation or entity. The goal of these lawsuits is not to win but to shut up the opposition by scaring them into submission or outspending them and forcing them to settle with gag clauses.

In this day and age where we expect to be able to thoroughly research our options before paying out money for important goods and services, and during a time that the Internet makes research so incredibly easy, it is shocking to find out that such lawsuits are so common in the adoption world, of all places. I know I can research public opinion, safety records and customer reviews on a $20,000 car because people will talk, often loudly, about their experiences without fear that the dealership or salesman or manufacturer will take action against them for defamation. Even if the customer claims the salesman “ripped him off”, he knows he can say this without fear of retribution. But engage in this $20,000 transaction called adoption, where an actual human life is on the line, and suddenly mum’s the word? Something is very very wrong.

It may be a little extreme to suggest that you can tell an ethical agency by the lack of lawsuits against parents but I think the opposite very much is the case: the unethical agencies are the first to jump all over a parent who speaks negatively in an effort to keep the quiet. Their reputation depends on it and it is clear they won’t build a positive reputation through their actions, alone. They must use other more forceful bullying methods to make themselves seem more ethical than they are.

Do good agencies get negative publicity? Sometimes. But a truly ethical agency won’t blink in the face of negative publicity. Giving it attention just attracts more negative publicity. And as long as an agency is truly ethical, their own work and reputation will overcome the words of any disgruntled parent on a smear mission. A good agency knows that there is no point in threatening or otherwise engaging a parent with a vendetta. An unethical agency knows there is truth behind the negative publicity and knows to shut it down, fast, or face exposure. In a business where word of mouth is everything and corruption is a very bad word, it becomes quickly easy to see which agencies are more concerned with forcing negative publicity to go away through threats and lawsuits and which agencies are more concerned with developing a good solid ethical reputation through hard work and a proven track record.

SLAPP suits aren’t the only method of keeping parents quiet. It is not unusual to find some agencies resorting to gag clauses in the adoption contract to require parents to keep quiet and not just during the adoption itself but afterward as well. Gag clauses are a big red flag. When you read a gag clause, I hope you will read: We will do unethical things and this protects our reputation so you can’t tell anyone about it.  Because this is the protection it provides. You don’t need to agree to not discuss your adoption for the rest of your life in order to adopt a baby! An ethical agency will not offer a gag clause.

Even without gag clauses I was alerted to a horrifying situation recently where a family who has not yet traveled but has received a referral was repeatedly threatened with removal and reallocation of that referral (in English: no more baby for you, we’ll give the baby to someone more appreciative) if they did not, in writing, agree to apologize for everything negative that they might have shared with higher level government officials, tell these same officials that they were lying and never speak negatively of the agency again (regardless of how negatively the agency speaks of this family to others). These kinds of bullying tactics are the lowest of the low. This is agency desperation – hitting a family where it hurts most. Do what we say or you will lose everything you love: your child. This is extortion. This is corruption.

Good news for families and bad news for corrupt agencies: we’re onto you!! The irony of the unfortunate lawsuits against parents is that it had the opposite effect intended: it did not shut down communication, ultimately it heightened it.  It also educated parents about agency bullies. Their own lawsuit smeared the agency and facilitator’s reputations more seriously than anything that parents could have ever said or did in the first place!

Now we know that lawsuits can happen and we know the typoe of agencies who are likely to employ such tactics. These unethical agencies can keep trying to bully individuals with your emotional or financial threats but the Internet won’t be bullied!! More and more states have anti-SLAPP laws in effect to protect people and organizations from this type of bullying. More and more people are protecting themselves with insurance to cover malicious bullying lawsuits. There are legal precedents that cover Internet communications, now. People are sharing copies of agency contracts and names of agencies with known gag clauses. People who have their referrals threatened aren’t caving; they are sharing so others will know what agencies to avoid.  Knowledge is power and people are talking. They are talking to each other, they are talking to the Embassy, to the USCIS, to the IAD. The Internet and email have made this a winning battle for adoptive parents. Finally, we are beginning to have the freedom to speak openly and freely and afforded the same protections as we have when we buy a car or elect a president. Free speech!!! Agencies that continue to threaten, bully and intimidate will quickly develop a reputation as agencies that use threats and bullying and intimidation – they will hurt themselves badly. Agencies that chose to let their reputations speak for themselves will quickly develop a reputation as agencies that let their actions speak louder than the parents who smear them and parents will trust them and recommend them.

Agencies need to understand that the adoption world, thanks to the Internet, is not the same as it used to be. Even in programs, like

Vietnam, where transparency is the goal but is still a long way away, the Internet’s many resources produce a kind of transparency that even governments can’t create with all their laws and decrees and agreements. There is no room for unethical agencies. They won’t be tolerated. They won’t intimidate. They won’t bully. They can try. But they will have to choose: act ethically or be prepared to be exposed. If government officials can’t or won’t, parents will. If acting ethically for ethics’ sake is not enough, perhaps knowing that they are fighting a losing battle will be enticing. But the bullying has got to end, one way or another.

*upon request, I have added information to this article from its original publication to reflect that at least one lawsuit from the past is still outstanding.


I adopted my daughter from Phu Tho province, Vietnam in the fall of 2006. I have seen, first hand, the corruption that can and does routinely occur both within agencies and within the government and I have seen parents held at the mercy of the corruption. I have also seen beautiful, ethical adoptions occur and these adoptions have inspired me to actively promote a more thorough education and understanding of adopting with integrity in Vietnam and worldwide.


  1. absolutely great post! it is so crazy to me that people do not feel like they can talk openly about their completed or in-process adoptions for fear of retaliation. hopefully, at some fuzzy point in the future, that fear will be a thing of the past.

  2. I’m very interested in the case you are referring to, as I too am a defendant in a defamation case that has been ongoing for the past three years, and it seems that the facts in our case mirror those you have reported on here. However, our case has not been settled.

    I am unaware of additional cases in the Florida courts that revolve around Vietnam adoptions, and specifically, claims stemming from public posts on adoption support lists. I assume that you have spoken directly with all defendant in the case that you refer to in your writing, or that you have acquired documentation directly from the courts.

    Either way, I would appreciate any information you could provide (CASE#) as these finding are relevant to the case that we continue to battle.


  3. Great post Nicki! It still shocks me to hear of situations like this, and know that it could have possibly been prevented 🙁 Parents need to protect themselves by doing their research before signing on with any agency. That poor family 🙁

  4. Thank you for the excellent post. I agree that there is power in numbers and community, and collectively we can spread the word about agencies who use these tactics. There are, much to my chagrin, far more of them than I ever knew.

    But I don’t know if I share your optimism that corrupt agencies will not be tolerated. The Achilles heel seems to be the number of potential parents who will use these agencies anyway — because they are the ones promising quick referrals in the over-heated, under-regulated Vietnam adoption market. Proof of corruption is rarely unequivocal: you rarely see the smoking gun. It has to be drawn from inference, and many people who, like myself, desperately want Vietnamese children will simply not draw the inference if they don’t have to. They are willfully ignorant, and it doesn’t take a terribly strong will. They hide quickly behind facially plausible excuses given by their agencies (who have an enormous financial incentive, even the most fabulous of them, to lie or themselves stay ignorant): my agency is the only one working in that province, so that’s why they have all these baby girls; my agency works in several provinces, so that’s why they have all these baby girls; my facilitator knows the system well; my agency just started, so they have no backlog; I just got lucky. Information that casts doubt on these explanations is hard to find. Has anyone seen the breakdown–and it exists–of which agencies licensed are actually getting referrals — and how thoroughly and completely lopsided it is in favor of certain agencies? Have we really collected the information on who requires cash payments — and MANY do — and where they are going, or do we just know it’s happening? Other information, though, is not so hard to find: one look at the structure of Vietnamese adoptions — agencies pay an orphanage via “humanitarian aid”, and the same orphanage rustles up a healthy infant — and you know there is an enormous opportunity for money to change hands.

    My only hope was that the US embassy would be screening people very, very carefully, and parents who proceed with risky agencies face the risk that their adoption is not approved. But that is a very blunt tool, and can trap legitimate adoptions as well as suspect ones, as we all saw in Cambodia.

    I, myself, am very slowly starting to think that I may not be able to find a program that is ethically sound and that can still complete adoptions within the next 18 months or so. It has caused me enormous agony, as I have had my heart set on this, but had no idea what a flawed system Vietnam and the US had set up. I haven’t given up hope, but the options right now are very slim.

    But maybe I have come full circle, and you are right. It is ONLY because of what I have read on the internet about others’ experiences and wisdom that I have known to proceed so carefully. If everyone just kept saying, “do your homework,” but never actually named names — even just to say, “I would not trust x, y, and z” — then there would be no information to be had except for one or two agencies involved in public litigation. We all DO need to keep sharing information with one another, and I sincerely thank all of you who have educated me so far.

  5. Nicki writes:
    “Even in programs, like Vietnam, where transparency is the goal but is still a long way away…”
    I personally do not believe that transparency is the goal in Vietnam adoptions. If transparency of VN adoptions was a goal of the US Government, certainly VN publication of a fee schedule in accordance with the US/VN adoption agreement would have been insisted upon by now by the United States. Transparency is certainly not a goal of US adoption agencies for obvious reasons. Transparency also does not seem to be a goal of Vietnam. For example, can anyone say how much the fee is for a US agency to become licensed by VN? Perhaps transparency is a goal of some adoptive parents, but too many of them look the other way. How many adoptive parents are refusing to adopt until a uniform fee schedule is published? It should not be that hard to have transparency if it really was a goal. But I am afraid it really is not.

  6. Natalia,
    Where can we find the list of agencies & number of referrals? I have never seen it and would like to, just out of curiousity.
    Thanks, Ellen

  7. Keep up the pressure. I work in VN and just noticed that a new law just came down the pipline: under the Ministry of Finance – Decision 67/2007/QD-BTC of Aug. 1, 2007. ‘Guidelines for collecting, paying, managing and using charges required in adopting a child.’ [Guidelines are usually rather specific and actually say something.]

  8. I’m starting my research now. I live in Florida. I really need to know what agenices are having difficulty and which in Florida are good. Help me please. Email me with any info you can spare.

  9. Hi Gwen – please know when you are doing your research that you, by no means, need to focus your search for an agency only on the state of Florida. Agencies are allowed to work out of state and it is often preferable to find a good solid, ethical agency out of state than a local but possibly unethical agency. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any agencies I would personally recommend in Florida.

  10. I know this has nothing to do with VN, but there are so many agencies that are behaving in the same manner.
    I didn’t adopt in VN, I adopted in Estonia. I was told ther was very little medical information on a child I had seen on a web site. She had been in the care of the orphanage since birth (I adopted her at almost 8 y.o.). I told them that there HAD to be more information on ever a well child. I visited her, and there were excuses all along the way. I was told that I did not sign the paperwork that I had seen all of her medical information, then the adoption was off. Since she had “mild FAS”, I wanted to know more. The agency refused. When I met her, she had pretty long hair, well dressed and fed, and dropped of at the apartment with me. Granted I had a HS, but to just drop a child with strangers, seemed a little odd. I decided to adopt her. Excuses were made when others had selected their child after I had for a travel date. I finally said, there is nothing against me traveling to the country, and waiting. I very quickly got a court date, and asked if I had seen al of her medical, well from what the agency had said, I suppose I had. Within days of my arrvial I went court (the girl was not at court) and then they dropped the girl off. Her hair had been hacked off, and looked like synthetic doll hair. The body odor was very noticable, nearly unbearable, and not 2 baths a day would rid her of the smell. I wanted to visit someone I had met online in Estonia that was wiling to show me around. The agency was told about it, and I got a call at midnight from the agencies director screaming at me as to where had I been and if I left the area, she could not guarantee my safety of the finalization of the adoption. I went anyway, and visited the local town, but nothing out of town. As court was over and I was leaving the Embassy I was given 5 years of medical information . She had been born at 27 weeks from a failed abortion and was very septic at birth. I countinied to ask for further medical, and finally after 2 years I got excerpts from her 2 years of missing medical information. Within 2 months of her arriving in the US, I knew something terrible was wrong with her. She would crawl on all four, and act like a dog, licking strangers (to her) exposed skin. I would find her with a bowl of dogfood in her room. My then 3 1/2 y/o/ son started defecting and urinating in a trash can, but I could no find the BM’s. Coem to find out this girl was eating the feces. I had her in therapy as soon as she was able to verbalize anything, or sign what was going on. 5 months after arriving here, she was playing a relay game with other kids how you would help and injured person, and the kids had torn sheets to opretend s as they were bandages. The girl promply bound and gagged the “injured” girl. The was a hush that fell over the game. That evening I had taken off my $25,000 ring given to me after my Fatehrs death, and she took it , wadded it up in tissue and threw it awat. Since the next morning was trash day, it ended up in the land fill. She never admitted it went to the trash until much later. 2 of our large dogs died. They were not sick, I just found them dead. 5 large parrots were found at the bottom of their cage.. Day long screaming, stomping rages went on, but she never lost her voice. I nwas told by the agency it was just my parenting, and beferred me to the agency therapist who said, the child mush have gone through these things in order to know them. She wandered at night, I placed an alarm on her door. I had her match her socks from the laundy (just as my son did). anext I knew DFS was at my door witha complaint of abuse b/c my dd had told them she was locked in her room everyday and had to do all of the laundry. Upon interview of DFS it was found that she sodimised and molested my son. I tried even harder to keep them apart, alarms went on all doors. Days of from school, I didn’t shower, and going tot he bathroom would require me taking one or the other to the bathroom with me and standing at the open door with their backs turned. This went on for 2 years. She had promised the therapist (PhD) that she was no onger “messing” with my son. A long story short, one even after bed, my son got up and told me what had been going on, and earlier that evening when I was loreparing dinner, and both were on different floors of the hosue, my dd had tried to strangle him. While he was gasping for a breath, she tried to shove a stick down his throat. He had been hammering nails into a board, and still strangling him, she pulled down his pants and uderwear and tried to impale his penis with one of the 2″ nails he had been pounding into a board. That ended it, she was taken into custody, no charges were filed, and now we are in litigation trying to terminate my parental rights. The judge said she offered in home services (which meant my dd would have to be in the home), I refused. They placed my dd 4 blocks from where my Mother lived even though my dd had threated my son if he told my Mother, me and him would be killed. The day that my Mother moved, it was only a matter of hours before DFS was at the door charging abuse and neglect. This is probaby the worst case senario of an adoptin. I have contacted the US Embassy, and the State Dept.
    Other parents (and I can’t really speak for them), but saw that they were given children in an apt, and they didn’t even have a HS. These children were not even available for adoption. Another couple were there to adopt a boy, and all of a sudden there was a long lost sister they had to be adopt at the same time (though they really didn’t want 2 children), or the adoption of the boy was off.
    All of us have been threatened to not speak with others. One Mom told me she adopted in early 2000 and her son came up with a + opiates tests in Estonia and again wen she brought him home. The explaination was that was the means of controling the children, tea, laced with opiates.
    I was considering adopting an infant. The baby house was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. no sounds of laughter, screaming, babbling, NOTHING!!
    I doing reserach, the agency has 5 different names, and now they are spreading out doing adoptions in Haiti and Mexico.
    My dd told of the brutality she endured. She told of the family that ws going to adopt her, but she didn’t like them so she started throwing things at them….maybe why I was never told about it. She told of being held by gunpoint and forced to do prostitution, and other unspeakable things with dogs. She had scars on her wrists and ankles where she had been bound, and a healing cut on her lip where she said they cut the tape off. Of curse no mention of it was in her last 2 years of medicals.

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