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Don’t talk to Strangers

It’s funny how we think it can never happen to us. It’s funny how we never see statistics as real people, who live and breathe and cry and laugh. The statistic that in the UK one child is reported missing every 3 minutes, seems fictional and unreal. That is probably why one parent of missing children once expressed the heart-felt lament “We are not statistics. We are living, breathing human beings enduring a hell on earth”. I hope that I am never the parent of a missing child. I hope never to meet a parent of a missing child. I hope never to hear again that a parent has had to endure the agony, pain and distress that a missing child brings. But the roller coaster of emotions suffered by the parent depends on who the abductor is – right? 

I’ve heard this said many times before. The intellectual argument certainly seems attractively compelling, but I suspect that the pain of enforced separation soon dulls a grieving parent’s ability to be rational. As a matter of logic, however, the anxiety experienced by a mother who knows her young child will be safe, despite being snatched by the father, must be different to the anguish suffered by parents of children abducted by a complete stranger.

Perhaps the array of emotions also depends upon the age of the child. How would the furious, frenzy of pain, suffered by the parents of Madeleine McCann (who disappeared aged 6) compare to the emotional journey of the parents of the 15 year old school girl who was abducted by her teacher, Jeremy Forrest? He is a man (I use the term loosely) who had chosen to ‘ignore the cardinal rule of teaching’. Her mother is reported to have felt as though she had ‘failed as a mother’. Madeleine’s parents have expressed similar sentiments over the years.

No doubt we are all united in expecting and demanding that the criminal courts deal with those convicted of child abduction without any element of leniency, so as to properly reflect the pain, distress and heart-break that parents, families, friends and communities experience in these situations. But what measures can we as parents introduce to prevent our worst nightmare becoming a reality? There is no short answer. For my young one, the first lesson will be the widespread proposition “don’t talk to strangers” designed to sum up the danger associated with adults whom children do not know. It’s a start, at least. You almost wish that Jeremy Forrest was a stranger and not a teacher – don’t you?

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