Victims of child sex abuse are falling through the net because of a pre-occupation with Asian men targeting white girls can mean that investigators ignore other forms of abuse, the deputy children’s commissioner has warned.
Thousands of children each year are being sexually exploited by gangs and groups in England, an interim report by the Office of the Children's Commissioner found.
Figures published midway through a two-year inquiry, which was ordered by the Government, found 2,409 children and young people were confirmed victims between August 2010 and October 2011.
A further 16,500 children were at “high risk” of sexual exploitation between April 2010 and March 2011, the report found.
The report comes after nine Asian men who groomed white girls as young as 13 in Rochdale with drink and drugs were jailed at Liverpool Crown Court in May.
Sentencing the men, Judge Gerald Clifton concluded that one of the reasons they had targeted their victims was because the girls had not been part of their community or religion.
Two months ago, documents emerged which allegedly showed agencies in Rotherham were aware of allegations of widespread targeted abuse of teenage girls in the town by groups of Asian men.
However, the report's leader, Deputy Children's Commissioner Sue Berelowitz, said the “model” of Asian men targeting white girls was just one of “a number of models”, and warned that if investigators concentrated on those patterns, victims could fall through the net.
The report provided evidence of 1514 perpetrators of child sexual exploitation. Where the ethnicity of the perpetrator was provided, 545 were white, 415 were Asian and 244 were Black.
While acknowledging that this number of Asian perpetrators appeared high, Ms Berelowitz said that the data was incomplete as the focus of the inquiry was on the child victims not on their abusers.
She said: “The reality is that each year thousands of children in England are raped and abused by people seeking to humiliate, violate and control them.
”The impact on their lives is devastating. These children have been abducted, trafficked, beaten and threatened after being drawn into a web of sexual violence, sometimes by promises of love and sometimes simply because they know there is no alternative.
“This abuse and violence can be relentless and take place anywhere - as they go home from school, as they walk to the shops, in their local park.
”The vast majority of the perpetrators are male and, in both gang and group contexts, different models of exploitation have been identified.
“Perpetrators range in age from young adolescents to older men. The evidence is clear that they come from all ethnic groups and so do their victims - contrary to what some may wish to believe.”
The report concluded that both boys and girls could be victims of sexual exploitation, although the vast majority were girls. The majority of sexually-exploited children were living at home when their abuse began. However a disproportionate number were living in residential care compared to the total number of youngsters in care. Almost three out of ten victims (28 per cent) were from ethnic minority backgrounds. This was significant, the report concluded, given that the “general perception appears to be that sexual exploitation by groups, in particular, is primarily a crime against white children”.
Although the report found victims aged between four and 19-years-old with a peak age of 15, Ms Berelowitz said the abuse covered by her inquiry involved children aged at least 11.
She added: “We are not talking about pre-pubescent children. We are not talking about a paedophile profile we are taking about adults who exploit children who have at least hit puberty, children from the age of 11 up.”
Children’s charities welcomed the report but said its findings showed that urgent action was needed.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “This report is a sobering reminder that child sexual exploitation tragically remains a widespread problem that can happen to any child, in any community.
”The numbers in this report are shocking, yet they may only represent the tip of the iceberg. Way too many victims are still going undetected.”
Andrew Flanagan, CEO of the NSPCC, said: “This report quite clearly shows that the terrible problem of children being groomed for sexual abuse is widespread and needs urgent action to bring it to a halt.
“Sex offenders come from all backgrounds but if there is a problem with one community in a particular area we must be bold enough to address it and not just turn a blind eye. The grooming and organised rape of vulnerable young girls is obviously a serious and disturbing crime which cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.”
Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “The scale of this crime is truly shocking. Child sexual exploitation is an appalling criminal act and the ugly truth is that it can impact on children from any background or part of the country.
“This report highlights that more can be done to keep children safe from harm and offer them the protection they deserve.
“It’s now vital that councils, the police, the health service and other agencies work more closely, and hand in hand with local communities, to stamp out this disturbing criminal behaviour.”