Child exploitation agency reveals extent of sexual abuse

Ceop completes six-month exercise gathering data on the targeting, grooming and abuse of children

The first nationwide assessment of the scale of child sexual exploitation has identified more than 2,000 young people who had been raped, prostituted and internally trafficked.

Investigators from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) spent six months gathering intelligence and data covering the period of March 2008 to January 2011.

Police forces, social services, health authorities and charities working with victims contributed to the attempt to quantify the scale of the problem.

The findings, to be published on Wednesday, are expected to reveal that the perpetrators were Asian in 20% of the cases examined, but it is understood that Ceop’s head, Peter Davies, will say that the research does not show that child grooming can be associated with any particular ethnic group. The data is so patchy that the perpetrators’ ethnicity was marked as unknown in about 40% of cases.

Enver Solomon, head of policy at the Children’s Society, which provided evidence to Ceop, said: “This is obviously disproportionate to the population, but the problem here is that the data is incomplete and poorly recorded so there are questions about the validity and accuracy of the data. We need to be cautious about drawing conclusions but, if patterns are beginning to be identified, we need to begin to understand them more, with more research so we can draw evidence based conclusions rather than jump to any assumptions.”

It is understood that Ceop will reveal that 2,083 child victims of sexual exploitation were identified in the study. Of these, 311 came from the care system and 570 were runaways from family homes.

The report is expected to reveal that not enough is being done to investigate the targeting, grooming and abuse of children.

In 1,087 cases, agencies failed to identify the background of the child victim, suggesting police forces, social services and charities are failing to properly investigate the problem. In many cases, no one bothered to record even the gender of the victim.

The number of victims also appears low compared with those identified by charities. Last year, charities across the sector dealt with 2,900 children who had been sexually exploited, according to figures released a fortnight ago by Barnado’s.

In 2010, Barnado’s alone worked with 1,098 children who had been sexually exploited; a 4% increase on 2009.

Solomon said the figures in the report represented “a scratching at the surface”.

Davies commissioned the assessment after public controversy over an apparent pattern which suggested Asian men were disproportionately involved in grooming and sexually abusing young girls. The outcry came after the two ringleaders of a group of Asian men – Mohammed Liaqat, 28, and Abid Saddique, 27 – were sentenced at Nottingham crown court in January to eight years in prison.

The pair were jailed for raping and sexually abusing girls from the Derby area aged between 12 and 18. The case led to claims that a pattern had emerged in which Asian men appeared to be disproportionately the perpetrators of child sexual exploitation.

In response, Davies said he needed to examine whether any patterns of offending, victimisation and vulnerability could be identified.