Almost 19,000 children have been sexually groomed in England in the past year, according to official figures that have prompted warnings of an “epidemic”.
Several grooming gang investigations and prosecutions remain ongoing across the country, including in Huddersfield where several abusers have already been jailed in a series of linked trials. The Department for Education statistics showed that Lancashire recorded the highest number of children (624) as grooming victims out of any single local authority area, followed by Birmingham (490), Surrey (447), Bradford (414) and Gloucestershire (409).
The combined totals of Leeds and neighbouring Bradford, where investigations are ongoing following the imprisonment of nine grooming gang members earlier this year, would be the highest at 649.
There are several methods of grooming, with the best-known “boyfriend” model seeing an abusive relationship used to force victims into sex with others. Drugs and alcohol are frequently used by grooming gangs to incapacitate girls or coerce them into sex, with the criminality later discouraging victims from going to police. Children can also be trafficked, befriended online or – in the so-called party – targeted by groups of men who lure them to gatherings with offers of drinks, drugs, money and car rides. Some sexual exploitation has been linked to criminal gangs, who also pay or force girls to run drugs or keep them in their homes.
In high-profile cases such as Rotherham and Rochdale, perpetrators have been much older than their victims, but police say peer-on-peer abuse by teenagers from the same school or area is more common in some areas. Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, said officers were “committed to doing all we can to pursue and prosecute criminals who exploit and abuse young people” and added “More must be done to stop abuse happening in the first place, those with direct contact with children need to ensure they are keeping them safe from risks through honest conversations, education and appropriate safeguarding. Internet and social media companies need to acknowledge their responsibility, do more to stop children accessing harmful content and prevent abuse on their platforms.”
Jordans Solicitors represent victims of sexual abuse.
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