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Last updated at 1:56 AM on 14th October 2011
As many as 10,000 children could be the victims of gang-related sexual abuse, it was claimed last night.
And the Children’s Commissioner’s Office said many more could be subjected to exploitation.
It is launching a two-year inquiry aimed at lifting the lid on the scale of the shocking crimes that reach into all parts of society.
The investigation will examine how often vulnerable children are being sexually exploited by organised criminal gangs and other groups.
It will study the appalling phenomenon of Asian men grooming white girls for sex and how teenage girl gang members can be forced into prostitution.
Experts said there is a lack of reliable official information about the true scale of sexual abuse across England.
Fears have been repeatedly raised that teachers, social workers and police are missing the warning signs when children fall prey to abusers.
Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz, who is leading the inquiry, said estimates suggest up to 10,000 children could be victims.
But she said available evidence suggests many more girls and boys of all ages are being abused in much larger numbers.
TRICKSTER WHO LURED GIRLS FOR RAPE
A young woman who lured two white teenage girls to be raped by three Asian men was jailed for seven years last month.
Stephanie Knight, who was 17 at the time, told the pair they were going clubbing but instead plied them with vodka and drugs.
She forced them to have sex with ‘her boys’ after driving to a derelict terraced house in Accrington, Lancashire.
The two 16-year-old victims were subjected to an appalling ordeal in which both were threatened and subjected to sex attacks.
Three men, brothers Amjad Hussain, 34, and Shahid Hussain, 37, and their cousin, father-of-four Tanveer Butt, 39, were all convicted of rape.
They were jailed indefinitely at Preston Crown Court and must serve at least seven-and-a-half years before they can be considered for release.
The case was the latest to feature Pakistani sex attackers who preyed on vulnerable young white girls.
Politicians and police have repeatedly clashed over how best to tackle what some suspect is a potentially incendiary hidden crimewave.
Jack Straw, former Home Secretary, has accused some Pakistani men in Britain of seeing white girls as ‘easy meat’ for sexual abuse.
Several police forces have investigations currently ongoing into gangs suspected of abusing young girls.
Children’s Minister Tim Loughton has suggested that closed Asian communities have turned a blind eye to child sex grooming by gangs of men.
Mrs Berelowitz said: ‘Right now thousands of children are being horrifically abused by gangs and in groups. Children are being failed up and down the country – in every village, town and city. Accurate data is essential so that government, police, local authorities, schools, the youth justice sector and health professionals can properly identify and protect child victims.
‘As a society we have a collective responsibility to uncover the facts and deal with the grim reality so that children can be properly protected.’
The inquiry was announced after one academic study found much more needs to be done to protect children from sexual exploitation. Experts at the University of Bedfordshire found guidance issued two years ago on safeguarding children is not being followed in three out of four areas.
They found that children are coerced into sexual activity by grooming, pressure from a friend who is already a victim, or powerful neighbourhood gang members.
Children in local authority care are more than four times as likely to fall victim as those in families.Earlier this year an investigation found one in four men accused of street-grooming vulnerable underage girls for sex is Asian. It followed a series of shocking cases in which white girls were lured into abuse, often with drugs and alcohol.
The report was the most detailed assessment yet of the crime but the new inquiry will have a wider remit to include all types of abuse.
In January, Barnardo’s said children as young as 10 are being sexually exploited by organised gangs of men. It revealed staff were working with more than 1,000 children who have been groomed, abused and trafficked for money, and the problem is growing.
The Government is due to publish a renewed action plan later this year detailing how it will respond to concerns about child sexual exploitation.
Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson said the inquiry will be ‘a wake-up call for us all’.