An interim report prepared by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner suggests that the incidence of child abuse in this country is more widespread than we feared.
The report, which follows the allegations made against Jimmy Savile and other high profile figures, makes chilling reading and is likely to come as a shock to policymakers..
The authors highlight the activities of organised gangs and the pressing need to break through a conspiracy of silence surrounding sexual abuse. Steps need to be taken to alleviate the fear experienced by victims when exposing their abusers and to raise awareness amongst those who are in a position to protect victims of child abuse.
According to the research carried out, at least 2,409 children were victims of rape or abuse by gangs in England between August 2010 and October 2011. An in-depth investigation into child exploitation by gangs in England found that a further 16,500 children were at great risk of abuse. The actual figures are potentially much higher.
Many children who are in need of protection are simply falling through the net because agencies across the country are not taking action to protect them. More often than not, this is because they are not sufficiently aware of the warning signs and what to look out for.
Even when sexually exploited children show signs of being victims, they are not always correctly identified. Such signs include children going missing from the family home (or their care home), estrangement from their families, committing criminal offences, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harming, mental health problems and change of appearance.
People will recall a recent high profile case where nine men were found guilty of grooming girls as young as 13 years old and jailed for their crimes. The report is quick to point out that this is just one example of a “gang model”; there are many other models to look out for. Gangs and abusers come from all backgrounds and, alarmingly, abusers can be as young as 14 years old.
As well as predatory males using weapons and drugs to subdue victims, groups of males also use social networking sites.
The sites are being used by predators to link up with each other and groom young children. Some of these children end up being taken to parties where they are raped, often by more than one male and money is exchanged.
Several girls say they have been taken to “parties” simply to be abused and/or raped. One of the girls who has spoken out (though will not make an official report) was only 13 years old.
This particular girl has seen a book, which has been described as a “menu”, containing details of young girls including their ages and photographs. The men choose from the “menu” and the girls are transported to the party. If the victims refuse to comply with the demands being made by the abusers, they risk being beaten and threats being made against their family.
Often the victim is raped by several males over the course of a night and the rapes are filmed.
Facebook says that they have a zero tolerance policy on child exploitative materials and do everything they can to seek out abusers and bring them to justice.
Everyone has a part to play in identifying both victims and abusers. Everyone must work together to expose the magnitude of the problem, protect and help the victims and ensure that gangs and individuals are being brought to justice for their crimes.