Analysis by West Midlands police, Barnardo’s and seven councils finds 488 children were sexually exploited or at risk in six-month period and there were disproportionate numbers from an Asian Pakistani background suspected of abuse and exploitation on the streets.
Almost 500 children were sexually exploited or at risk of sexual exploitation in the West Midlands in the first half of last year, a report has found.
The majority of victims were female and around a third of the 488 children identified were in local authority care, the analysis by West Midlands police, children’s charity Barnardo’s and seven local councils showed.
But the number detected was likely to be “a significant underestimate of the true scale of the problem” in the region, the report, published on national child sexual exploitation (CSE) awareness day, stated.
It added: “Many victims worry they will not be believed or are threatened by the offenders and don’t feel able to seek help. Many victims of grooming do not see themselves as victims of abuse as they have been so significantly manipulated by the perpetrators.”
The report said victims were sometimes trafficked to areas including London, Greater Manchester and north Wales and abused by “multiple men”.
Stephen Rimmer, regional strategic lead on preventing violence against vulnerable people, said the report was the first real insight into the threat across the area.
He said: “This assessment gives us a proper picture for the first time of the scale and nature of the CSE threat across the West Midlands.
“Since this snapshot we have put into practice common standards and a shared regional approach to coordinate our operational activity; we have launched an awareness-raising campaign to inform young people, parents and communities; and we have engaged directly with frontline staff – teachers, GPs, taxi drivers and many others.
“This is to improve our support to children and young people at risk and to make life increasingly difficult for perpetrators of this crime – our number of investigations is growing as a result.”
The key findings were:
- 488 children or young people were identified by West Midlands police and local authorities as sexually exploited or at risk of sexual exploitation across the West Midlands in the first six months of 2014.
- Children and young people experiencing CSE and/or at risk of CSE peak between the ages of 14 and 16. 87% of victims identified were female, 7% were male (6% not recorded). 54% of victims were recorded as white European, 19% African-Caribbean, 8% Asian, 2% other, 17% not recorded.
- There were named defendants or suspects recorded for 26% of the incidents reported to the police. 92% of them were male, 8% female, with an average age of 27. Suspects were from a wide range of backgrounds, but there were disproportionate numbers from an Asian Pakistani background suspected of abuse and exploitation on the streets; and primarily white male suspects in relation to online offending.
- About a third of the children identified were in local authority care. Of those living at home, some 25% had lived in a care home at some point.
- Victims of CSE were not typically resident in areas of high crime, deprivation and unemployment. They are often in social networks which are targeted by networks of offenders.
Solihull council’s chief executive, Nick Page, speaking on behalf of the seven local authorities involved in the analysis, described the work as “an important staging post”.
He said: “However, we cannot be complacent in any way. The perpetrators of this horrendous abuse are, whilst evil, very adept at disguising their activity. As the statutory agencies our duty, responsibility and purpose to protect children and young people is crystal clear.
“Working together with our communities and partners across the West Midlands has to be the way to go. So we can say today that some progress is being made, whilst being clear there is so much more we must do.”
DCS Danny Long of West Midlands police public protection unit said CSE remained a top priority for police.
“Over the past 12 months our public protection unit has been doubled in strength to some 800 officers and staff,” he said.
“This means around 10% of the entire force are engaged in the fight and shows just how committed we are to tackling CSE.
“There is nothing more important than safeguarding children and our continuing work with all local authorities and other partner agencies strengthens everybody’s ability to stamp out the problem.”