Friday, 14 October 2011
A major inquiry is to be established to discover “the hidden and unknown truth” about groups of men involved in the systematic grooming and sexual abuse of thousands of English teenagers.

The two-year investigation has been ordered by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, which says that the plight of child victims across the country “is not being adequately addressed”. It pledged last night to throw light for the first time on “the scale, scope and extent of the sexual exploitation, victimisation and abuse that girls and boys are subjected to by street gangs and loosely formed groups”.

The move follows a six-month inquiry by CEOP (the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre), initiated by the Government after an investigation by The Times revealed an extensive, hidden pattern of street grooming across northern England and the Midlands.
It also comes as ministers put the finishing touches to a new national action plan on child sexual exploitation.

CEOP identified more than 2,000 child victims but said that that was likely to represent “a small fraction of the full picture”.

Offenders were found to be 96 per cent male, and the victims were 87 per cent female, 91 per cent white and mostly aged from 12 to 16. Of the 753 offenders whose ethnicity was known, 49 per cent were white and 46 per cent Asian.

In criminal trials involving multiple offenders from towns and cities including Bradford, Rotherham, Blackburn, Oldham, Manchester, Burnley and Derby, most of the convicted men were members of the British Pakistani community.

Sue Berelowitz, the deputy children’s commissioner, said last night that the new inquiry was necessary because the information obtained by CEOP had been “very limited, despite their best endeavours”.

“They’re handing the baton on to us. We have the power to require authorities to provide us with their evidence. The issue of child sexual exploitation is not being adequately addressed and this inquiry will act as a wake-up call for everybody.

“Substantial numbers of children in all parts of England are being abused and exploited by multiple perpetrators. The picture we are getting is of serious and violent sexual, physical and emotional abuse.”

Ms Berelowitz, who will lead the new inquiry, said that it would be carried out with “a completely open mind” but she added that “it would be wrong for anyone to conclude or assert that this is an issue for one particular ethnic community”.

“The emerging evidence is that the children and perpetrators involved are very diverse and seem to reflect the local demographic of where the abuse is taking place,” she said, suggesting that more than 10,000 children may be affected.

The Child Sexual Exploitation — Gangs and Groups Inquiry will use its legal powers to require the Government, local authorities, police forces and other statutory bodies to provide evidence relating to victims and offenders.

An interim report is due to be produced by July. Particularly under the spotlight will be the multi-agency safeguarding children boards in each local authority region which have a statutory responsibility with regards to child sexual exploitation.

When CEOP requested information from every safeguarding board earlier this year, only 13 responded.

Ms Berelowitz said that too many safeguarding boards were not paying attention to their duties. The inquiry meant “they won’t have the excuse of saying this is not happening in our back yard”.

The Times has learnt that the Government’s national action plan will give safeguarding boards a central role in preventing vulnerable teenagers from being exploited by gangs or groups.
Source: The Times (£)


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