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Cyprus Stranger Danger: Should We All Be Worried?

Read my new CultNoise article on the recent reports of alleged attempted child abductions in Cyprus, the concerns of British holidaymakers and a ‘stranger danger’ story from my own childhood:

Cyprus Stranger Danger: Should We All Be Worried?

We are often lulled into a false sense of security when on holiday. The sun is shining. There’s a pool and usually a beach only a short walk away. You get to experience new, exotic food. You get to go on day trips and learn about a different culture. You’re surrounded by loads of other holidaymakers and hotel staff who make you feel secure. And you allow your worries to melt away in the basking heat.

But the paradise holiday of British families at the Anastasia Beach Complex hotel in Cyprus quickly turned sour on Tuesday as a gang of men dressed as waiters were allegedly seen taking pictures of children and attempting to abduct them from the resort. Three children are reported to have been lured into the cars just as the child-snatchers were caught.

The details of this highly publicised story, which is sending panic waves through every family in Britain, are, for the most part, unclear and conflicting. Following the incident, police in Cyprus have denied that there was any attempt to abduct children from the hotel. Yet approximately fifty British holidaymakers were moved from the Anastasia complex, near Protaras, by Thomas Cook after the incident took place.

Police spokesman Nikoletta Tyrimou informed the Cyprus Mail on Thursday that one 19-year-old man, arrested after holidaymakers called police, was later released without charge. Tyrimou said: “We questioned the suspect, went through his phone and also searched his home. Nothing we found suggests that he is part of a child-abducting gang or that he was stalking children. He has since been released while police take statements from all those present at the scene.” The hotel operator Tsokkos also denied the reports of attempted child abductions and said: “According to the police investigation, the claims of child abduction are completely unjustifiable and invalid as nothing was found to suggest that the person involved intended to carry out such an act.”

The more I read about this story, the more I start to think that perhaps this could have been a minor incident that was exaggerated and blown out of proportion by over-protective parents. But that doesn’t mean that their claims should not be taken seriously and it certainly does not mean that holidaymakers should take a relaxed approach towards the safety of their children on holiday.

Following the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, who went missing while on holiday with her family in Portugal in 2007, and the broadcast of TV shows like BBC’s The Missing, there seems to be a growing sense of anxiety when it comes to taking children abroad. But I think what a lot of us fail to remember is that abductions can happen just as easily on our own doorstep and that parents should exercise caution regarding the safety of their children no matter where they are.

When I was child, sometime between the ages of 6-9 (I can’t quite remember how old I was), my cousin, who is three years older, and I were playing in the garden at my old house which was in the countryside, around a mile outside of the nearest town. We had a big garden and our house was quite cut off and secluded so it seemed like a fairly safe place to play. As we were playing in the garden, a man on a bicycle approached us from the main road just outside the house.

The man was pushing his bike beside him and he started talking to us. He was holding a camera and he told us that he had dropped it while he was cycling and asked if he could take some pictures of us to see if it was still working. This should have been the point when alarm bells started ringing. But they didn’t. Despite the numerous talks in school and lectures from our families on ‘stranger danger’, we were naive and trusting and didn’t recognise anything suspicious or ‘bad’ about this man. He asked us to sit down in front of some bushes in the garden, making us just out of sight of the view from the house. Something I don’t really remember, but that my cousin later told me, was that the man had asked us to sit with our knees up to our chests, baring in mind that we were both wearing skirts.

A moment later, my mum came out into the garden to get us and instead found us with this man. She started talking to him and even she didn’t think anything suspicious of him at the time but then again, nobody mentioned his camera. It wasn’t until a few weeks later when my cousin told her mum about the pictures and after hearing reports of a man on a bike taking pictures of children in the local area that our parents realised something was wrong and the police were called.

My cousin and I were both interviewed separately, which was really scary and, at that age, I was convinced they were there to arrest me. I described to the police what I could remember of the man’s appearance but to this day all I can picture in my mind is that he was wearing blue and green and he had a helmet on. Everything else is a blur. After talking to the police officers, we never heard anything else about the man on the bike. No updates from the police. No more stories from the surrounding towns. Nothing.

Whether this man was a predator and subsequently arrested, I do not know. But remembering that day is still chilling. I didn’t realise we were in any kind of danger until someone said to me that he could have, for instance, had a van at the other side of the road that he could have bundled us into. And I suppose he could have. We were just little. We wouldn’t have been able to put up much of a fight against a grown man.

I’ve tried to find stories about this man on Google a million times and I never find anything that matches the description of the man who approached us. The sad thing is, a lot of people have similar stories to this one. We were young girls, playing somewhere that felt safe and secure and had my mum not come into the garden to find us, who knows what would have happened next.

No matter where families are, whether it be on holiday or at home, it is so important to be vigilant when it comes to the safety of children. Even as a 19-year-old, I still get paranoid if I find myself walking home alone or in an area I’m unfamiliar with because the truth is that none of us are 100% safe no matter where we are.

These news reports from Cyprus certainly shouldn’t discourage British families from going abroad. Going on holiday, exploring new places, having fun and creating memories with your family is so important and something that shouldn’t be tainted by worry or fear. We should still travel the world and have fun doing it but we should never become complacent or too relaxed with our surroundings. We should keep caution in mind but never allow it to overwhelm our holidays or our lives.

In the grand scheme of things, abductions are incredibly rare and while we should always be thinking about staying safe, we should also try to keep our worries and anxieties at bay and continue to enjoy our lives whether we are at home or anywhere else in the world.

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