The grooming and sexual exploitation of children by adults happens in every town and city across the country and is “not confined to Asian gangs in gritty northern towns,” a charity said today.
Although the exact total number of young people at high risk of sexual abusers in the UK is not known – said to be more than the 16,000 quoted by a BBC report – the “global crime” is said to be likely to occur in every part of the country.
Fleur Strong, a spokeswoman for Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace), told The Independent: “Sexual exploitation of children has been going on for a very long time and it is a global crime so we will find it across the UK.
“We need to get past the idea that it only happens in gritty northern towns to certain types of girls by certain types of perpetrators.”
The claim is echoed by a report by the Children's Commissioner, which shows that children from all locations, ages and socio-economic backgrounds have been victim to sexual abuse by adults.
Grooming is the term used to describe the acts of distancing a vulnerable child away from their parents and family with the use of gifts and attention with the intent to sexually abuse them. So-called legal highs are also used by predators to hook young people on them before potentially using harder drugs.
Ms Strong added that focusing solely on the cases of sexual abuse found in northern parts of the country ignores the possibility that it could happen to young people who do not fit the “cliché”.
In Rochdale, Greater Manchester, a gang of nine who were - all but one - British Pakistani men were sentenced in 2012 to a total of 77 years in prison for the conspiracy and act of raping under-age white girls in 2008 and 2009. More than a dozen more sex abuse rings by Asian men in northern England have been investigated since.
Ms Strong added: “If we just always try to make it look like a certain type of perpetrator it actually takes away from the fact that the crime is more subtle than that. We have got to be careful that it doesn't become a cliché.
“There’s no question that there is a certain modus operandi that is going on, we shouldn’t challenge the facts but it is not the whole picture.
“We’re not seeing the victims that come from black and ethnic minority background, the boy victims, the white middle class girls. It’s a more complex crime than I think society realises.”
A child abduction order against an adult who a child insists is their boyfriend or girlfriend can be issued up until the age of 16 for young people who live in a family home, however they are extended to the age of 18 for those in the care of a local authority.
The grey area is cited by Pace as being one of the major block in the social services assisting parents with their concerns as Ms Strong claims that many teenagers are sexually abused right up until at least their early 20s.