Monday, 20 June 2011
Police are to be urged by ministers to take more seriously the growing problem of young girls and boys being groomed for sex.

Tim Loughton, the Children’s Minister, and James Brokenshire, the Crime Minister, are behind an action plan being prepared in Whitehall amid mounting concern over sexual grooming. A key element of the plan will be the need to gather more accurate figures about the problem, which has been highlighted by The Times.

An investigation by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) will call this month for police and social services to be more proactive in seeking out child sex grooming.

Of the 2,083 victims identified by CEOP, 61 per cent were white but they were unable to identify the ethnicity of most of the remainder.

There was little information on the background of the victims, such as whether they had been on child protection registers or their family had been in contact with social services.

The inquiry found that 842 of the victims had been reported missing from their family home or from local authority care. A further 172 had not been reported missing and information was not available for the remaining 1,069.

The lack of information about victims and perpetrators means that the report offers an incomplete picture of the extent of a problem, which children’s charities believe is widespread.

Ann Coffey, the Labour chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary committee on runaway and missing children, said: “What is clear is that children are being trafficked across local police force borders, from flat to flat, for sex. Sometimes it is only for a short period but it is happening.

“Some of these children are from care homes and that is particularly disappointing as they are people we, the state, have taken into care because we think they are at risk and then they suffer this.”

Tomorrow she will initiate a debate in the Commons on the links between runaway children and child sexual exploitation. Ms Coffey will highlight the poor recording of missing children. Local authorities have to disclose how many children in care go missing for longer than 24 hours, she said.

There were 920 recorded in England and Wales in 2009-10 but police figures from just three force areas were larger. Ms Coffey added: “The under-reporting and non-recording of missing children is an issue. I do not think the penny has dropped about how serious this is, particularly the link between a child going missing and grooming taking place.”
A source close to the investigation said yesterday: “The risk at the moment is that the focus is on child sexual exploitation and that this is seen in isolation from children who run away from home. That is the real issue and unless you deal with that you will not deal with this horrific abuse.”

The CEOP investigation also found that police officers are often unaware of the link between missing children and sexual exploitation. It claimed that police find it difficult to engage with victims, many of whom have negative views of state agencies.

Source: The Times (£)

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