Children are being sexually exploited by gangs in communities in Britain regardless of the ethnicity of the perpetrators or their victims, investigators have warned.
The results of a two-year inquiry by the Children's Commissioner, due to be published in November, will debunk the myth that the crime is confined to Asian areas in northern mill towns.
The failure of policymakers to understand the pervasive nature of the problem could lead to more innocent victims being abused, investigators warned.
This week, eight men who plied underage girls with drink and drugs before abusing them were jailed for a total of 52 years at Derby Crown Court. Judge John Gosling told the predominantly white gang they had taken advantage of vulnerable girls to "satisfy your middle-aged desires to have sex with them."
In a separate case, heard at Reading Crown Court last week a nationwide paedophile gang was jailed for 35 years for hosting sex parties where underage victims were filmed being assaulted by four men. The gang included a former farmer, a bank manager, a Scout leader and a member of the Household Cavalry.
The warnings followed the publication yesterday of an independent report which found that a series of failures and missed opportunities allowed a gang of nine men to continue abusing dozens of girls – some of them in local authority care – in Rochdale, Greater Manchester for nearly four years before they were jailed in May.
The report by the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board concluded that social workers failed to pass on intelligence to police that could have led to their earlier arrest. It said professionals were too ready to accept the abuse as consensual behaviour or the result of children making their own choices.
Failures in training of front-line staff and "flaws" in the response of police and prosecutors to victims were also highlighted.
Deputy children's commissioner Sue Berelowitz said she was "far from surprised at the revelations of horrific acts of child sexual exploitation".
She said: "In our two-year inquiry into child sexual exploitation, we are continuing to uncover what is happening to far too many vulnerable children and young people..."
The extent of child sexual abuse is still largely unknown with increasing publicity and awareness by authorities giving the impression of a growing problem. Figures published by the children's protection charity, NSPCC, in 2010 however suggested that coerced sexual acts against under 16s had declined from 6.8 per cent in 1998-99 to five per cent in 2009.
Jon Brown of the NSPCC said abusers needed to know that their chances of being caught was increasing.
Mr Brown said that while there were intensified problems in certain areas of the country the reality was more complex. "Child sexual exploitation takes a lot of different forms and is part of a much bigger picture. It is widespread across the UK. It is a problem in cities, towns and rural areas," he said.
Figures from Greater Manchester Police have revealed that 95 per cent of those on its sex offenders' register were white.
Peter Davies, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and On-line Protection Centre, said more understanding was needed. "We are still not in the place that we want to be which is where every front-line practitioner in the police or the children's services is aware of the issues associated with this offending, knows the signs and knows what to do about it," he said.
"If you paint a picture that this kind of offending is only perpetrated by British Pakistani men for example you might reduce victims' awareness that it may be perpetrated by other people and put children at risk."
Former children's minister Tim Loughton, who in the summer, announced urgent reforms to protect children in care from grooming gangs warned the problem was not confined to Rochdale but was going on "beneath the radar" in communities across the country. But he said authorities were often unwilling to act because of "political correctness."
5% Of under 16s were coerced into sexual acts in 2009, down from
6.8% In 1998, according to the NSPCC
95 Percentage of people on the Greater Manchester Police's sex offenders' register who are white