We have a tendency to block out information that makes us feel uncomfortable and helpless. We tend to consider that despicable events do not happen in our countries and cities, in our neighbourhood, in our street. It is so much easier to consider horrific events as only possible to occur in far away places.
I am writing these lines from Oxford, England that this week has been shocked by the revelations made in a very high profile sex gang court case where six victims aged between 11 and 15 were abused between 2004-2012. This 18 week long trial not only revealed horrific details of the abuse and tortures that these young girls suffered but also the astonishing inadequacy with which the police had handled the case since two of the girls had reported being raped as far back as 2006. This case also revealed that popular misconceptions that this type of brutal and totally unacceptable crimes could only happen in poor and underprivileged areas. In the case of Oxford, this could not be further from the truth since it is a very wealthy university town with one of the highest percentage of educated population and one of the wealthiest in the UK. The local Chief constable has said ”we had failed to understand the extend of organised sexual exploitation of young girls”. This high profile case also highlighted the inefficiency of the system in detecting sexual abuse of young girls and young children in general.
A recent survey in Cyprus has shown that an overwhelming majority of parents are unaware of the risks of their children being abused online, which is a major problem because it leaves kids vulnerable to Internet predators. The figures available are shocking: 91% of the parents whose child has received harmful or offensive messages via the Internet thought that their child has never received such messages. A further 82% of the parents whose child met someone in person after meeting them online also were unaware of this. These findings demonstrate the need to urgently take action and raise awareness on the issue.
This report provides an important source of information not only on what happens in Cyprus but also draws on the experience and the lessons that can be learned from other countries. It highlights the inefficiencies of the legislative measures and the need to raise awareness so that the police and the social services are trained to address this problem. It remains now to be followed up with concrete actions by all relevant institutions.
Finally, each and every one of us needs to take the responsibility to be vigilant and react strongly not only when it concerns children that are close to us but also to protect all children from this horrific crime of sexual abuse.
European Commission Director – Currently EU Senior Fellow at St. Antony’s College Oxford
27th of May 2013
NB: Text written as a preface to a report by the Hope for Children UNCRC Policy Centre, Nicosia, Cyprus