Child protection agencies are failing to protect vulnerable children from falling victim to a rising tide of "on-street" sex grooming, the child exploitation watchdog has warned.
A report by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) agency revealed a surge in gangs who search the streets for young girls and boys to groom for sex.
But two-thirds of Local Safeguarding Children Boards are not following national guidelines to detect this abuse, the report said. The head of Ceop, Peter Davies, said he was "shocked, surprised and disappointed" at the lack of action.
Last week it emerged that more than 2,000 young victims of grooming have been identified since January 2008, but the problem is a "hidden issue" and likely to be seriously underestimated by police, social services and charities.
The report also included figures which appear to suggest that a disproportionate number of offenders are Asian when compared to the proportion of Asian people in the population, although Mr Davies warned that the data was not comprehensive enough to draw firm conclusions.
The report found there were 2,379 offenders recorded since the start of 2008, mostly men aged 18 to 24, and ethnicity had been identified in around half of the cases.
Of these, 26 per cent were Asian, 38 per cent were white, 32 per cent were recorded as unknown, 3 per cent black and 0.2 per cent Chinese. Around 90 per cent of the victims were white. The report comes after the conviction of the ringleaders of a grooming gang which targeted girls aged 12 to 18 in Derbyshire.
The study focused on "localised grooming" in person, for example on the street, rather than via the internet. It found that victims had trouble engaging with police and were "hugely reluctant" to give evidence against their "ruthless" abusers in court.