Campaigners highlight growing list of abuse cases

The sentencing of Abid Mohammed Saddique and Mohammed Romaan Liaqat is the latest in a growing list of similar abuse cases in the UK but is not a new form of grooming, an anti-trafficking campaigner said today.

On-street grooming is a well-established, lucrative and successful method of coercion of young people that has been around for more than a decade, Gill Gibbons from the Coalition for the Removal of Pimping (Crop), said.

"I don't think it's particularly new I'm afraid," she said, "I think it's been going on for many, many years; it's just that what's new is that there is an increased awareness that it is going on.

"We've been running for 14 years and it's been going on for all the 14 years that we've been operating."

Part of the problem of discussing the practice, she said, was that some organisations were accused of racism when many of the alleged perpetrators of such child sexual exploitation turned out to be of Asian descent.

"When we first started up at Crop and coming across families who were victims of Asian gangs, we started talking about it but people then thought we were aligned with the British National Party and, actually, it was causing us problems, so we sort of just shut up about it.

"It was the families who wanted to talk about it and we're here to support them, we were just speaking the words of the families and their experiences; not necessarily being racist but just saying it how it is.

"For political reasons it has been suppressed because people don't want to be seen to be racist."

Ms Gibbons said a "very high percentage" of people the organisation dealt with had been victims of Asian gangs but, almost regardless of that fact, what they were doing was criminal behaviour and should be dealt with accordingly.

One difficulty in recognising when youngsters were being abused was that gangs used "sophisticated techniques" of the kind used by international traffickers, which made the way they treated youngsters seem normal, meaning those being abused did not often realise.

"The way they groom the children at a very young age," Ms Gibbons said, "When they haven't yet formed opinions about how sexual relationships should be conducted, and influence them and turn them against their families and their parents, and isolate them from those who love and protect them, is so they can influence more control over them.

"The whole targeting and grooming process is to normalise what is happening to them so they don't realise it is actually extreme behaviour."

The whole process from when young girls were first identified by the gangs as potential targets to when the abuse actually started could happen in just a few weeks, and sometimes almost over night, she said.

Youngsters with a troubled personal life or an unstable family background were not the only ones susceptible to abuse.

Ms Gibbons said: "We've got a lot of parents from quite posh backgrounds of children being exploited who would not normally be considered as families with a lot of issues.

"But we also have families who have a multiple number of problems.

"Children from all backgrounds are affected, it's not just people with problems."

In addition, she said, recent prosecutions taking place in the Midlands and the North were not indicative of the rest of the country, where similar abuse was also being investigated.

"Basically it is happening across the whole country," Ms Gibbons said.

"Particularly in relation to Asian gangs I guess there's more concentration for Asians living in cities where there are industries which attract them, and I think that's particularly why the attention has come on the northern towns, but we know that we've got other cases in numerous parts of the country because we're a national organisation and they may be targeted by other groups, not just Asian gangs."