At least 19,000 children have been sexually groomed in England over the last year, according to official figures.
The figures obtained by the Department for Education have prompted warnings of an ‘epidemic’
The true figure is likely to be far higher say campaigners who accuse the government of failing to tackle child sexual exploitation, despite the promises they made following high-profile cases.
MSN reports: More than 18,700 suspected victims of child sexual exploitation were identified by local authorities in 2018-19, up from 3,300 five years before.
Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, said the figures show that grooming “remains one of the largest forms of child abuse in the country”.
“Too many times, government has said it will ‘learn lessons’, yet 19,000 children are still at risk of sexual exploitation,” she told The Independent.
“The government has singularly failed to tackle this issue head on. Its approach has been piecemeal and underfunded.”
Sajid Javid promised a review into the characteristics of grooming gangs in 2018, saying high-profile cases included a “high proportion of men of Pakistani heritage” and that “cultural reasons” could be at play.
The Independent understands that the Home Office started internal analysis of data from police and other agencies, and will use it to inform policy development and prevention strategies.
But the findings may not be published and the Queen’s Speech, which set out Boris Johnson’s legislative agenda, did not include any mention of a public review.
Department for Education statistics on children referred to social care show the number of known cases dramatically increasing from 2013, when grooming was recorded as an assessment factor for the first time, to a peak of 20,000 in 2017-18.
Several grooming gang investigations and prosecutions are ongoing across the country, including in Huddersfield where several abusers have already been jailed in a series of linked trials.
In Rotherham, where revelations over the abuse of an estimated 1,500 victims sparked a national scandal in 2012, the National Crime Agency has identified more than 190 suspects.
Sammy Woodhouse, a Rotherham victim who helped expose the scandal, said she is still receiving reports of current abuse in parts of the country.
“You hear this bulls*** line, ‘lessons have been learned’, but they haven’t learned anything,” she told The Independent.
“I still hear a lot about the authorities aren’t doing things as they should. It’s not very often I hear something good and for all different reasons – if the police won’t act on reports, people feel they’re not being listened to or supported properly, or information not being shared.”
Ms Woodhouse, who was abused by rapist Arshid Hussain from the age of 14, said the scale of child sexual exploitation currently reported by local councils did not surprise her.
“I think the most scary thing is all the people it’s happening to that they don’t know about,” she added. “Most won’t report and they go under the radar.
“I’ve said for years that this country’s in epidemic when it comes to abuse and exploitation. Authorities claim it’s under control but it’s not.”