1. In January 2011, The Times published an
article about a number of prosecutions in northern towns and cities
where girls under the age of 16 had been subjected to sexual assaults
by men whom they had met locally. They met them in places such
as shopping centres, arcades, parks or even on the street. The
phenomenon was labelled "localised (or on-street) grooming".
The article highlighted that in many cases, the defendants were
Asian or British Asian and the victims were White. The article
was controversial, particularly around the question of whether
the perpetrators' ethnic origin was a significant factor in these
2. In May 2012, nine men were found guilty of offences
relating to a localised grooming network based in Rochdale. Newspaper
articles reported that fifty-six men had been interviewed by police
regarding an investigation in to the sexual abuse of forty-seven
girls aged between 12 and 16.
One of the five victims had been placed in a residential care
home in Rochdale by another Local Authority. Concerns were raised
that the care system was failing those vulnerable children it
was designed to support. A further report referred to a police
officer yawning during a recorded interview discussing a sexual
attack on one of the victims.
Finally, it emerged that the CPS had originally decided not to
prosecute, because of doubts about the victims' credibility as
witnesses The prosecution only went ahead when this decision was
reversed by the Chief Prosecutor for the North-West of England,
Nazir Afzal, following his review of the case.
3. The Rochdale case quickly came to epitomise the
wider phenomenon of localised grooming in the eyes of many people:
a) it involved a large network of suspected abusers
and also a large number of potential victims;
b) the victims were generally (though not invariably)
vulnerable girls aged 12-16, a disproportionate number of whom
were looked after by local authorities;
c) victims were passed around from one abuser
to another, in some cases being taken to other towns and cities
to be raped and sexually assaulted;
d) the abusers were Asian or British Asian and
the victims were White;
e) the victims were not always taken as seriously
as they should have been by the police and prosecutors, who were
often unfamiliar with the phenomenon of sexual exploitation of
f) prosecution was hampered by prosecutors' assessment
that these victims would lack credibility in court.
4. In June 2012, we started taking evidence on the
issue of localised grooming. We would like to thank those who
assisted us with this year-long inquiry. We have taken evidence
from a wide range of witnesses including those involved with investigations
and prosecutions in to localised grooming, those involved in social
care, representatives of third sector organisations, victims,
the Children's Commissioner and Ministers. We are particularly
grateful to Andrew Norfolk, chief investigative reporter of The
Times whose articles have done much to reveal the true extent
of the suffering of victims at the hands of both their abusers
and of failing agencies. We congratulate him on receiving the
Orwell Prize for Journalism for his work on this subject and consider
that it is fully deserved. We would also like to thank Emma Jackson,
who gave evidence to us about her own experience of being exploited
by a group. Her
bravery, her eloquence and her dedication to improving the understanding
of how and why localised grooming takes place commands respect.
5. In May 2013, a year after the Rochdale verdict,
seven men from Oxford were convicted of offences relating to child
sexual exploitation at the Old Bailey in London. The offences,
which had taken place from 2004 to 2011, included rape, arranging
child prosecution, sexual activity with a child and trafficking
a child within the UK for sexual exploitation. Once again, the
victims were vulnerable, White British girls and the offenders
were mainly of Pakistani heritage. The victims had frequently
gone missing from home and several had been exploited whilst in
the care of Oxfordshire Social Services. The victims or their
families had approached social services and police for help at
several points in the past and accusations had previously been
made to police about some of the offenders. No connection was
made between any of the individual complaints until 2010. A serious
case review is underway to establish how such serious, widespread
abuse could have gone on so long without effective intervention.
Child Sexual Exploitation: scale
6. The phenomenon of child sexual abuse has only
been fully recognised in the relatively recent past.
Over the years there has been a change in the perception of child
sexual exploitationfor many years the idea of 'stranger
danger', that children were most at risk from predatory paedophiles
not known to them, held sway. Later on, it was recognised that
intra-familial abuse or abuse by an adult known to the family
was more common than abuse by a stranger. However, the growth
of the internet, and in particular social media which are popular
among children, has created a new form of 'stranger danger', in
the form of on-line grooming, and awareness has been raised about
the need to keep children safe online. Localised grooming, the
subject of this Report, has been recognised only very recently,
in the wake of the Operation Retriever case (see below).
7. The Department for Education defines Child Sexual
a form of child abuse ("child" being
defined as anyone under 18 years of age). It can manifest itself
in different ways but essentially involves children and young
people receiving somethingfor example, accommodation, drugs,
gifts, or affectionas a result of them performing sexual
activities, or having others perform sexual activities on them.
It can occur without physical contact, when children are groomed
to post sexual images of themselves on the internet.
In all cases those exploiting the child or young
person have power over them, perhaps by virtue of their age or
physical strength. Exploitative relationships are characterised
in the main by the child's limited availability of choice, compounding
their vulnerability. This inequality can take many forms but the
most obvious include fear, deception, coercion and violence.
8. Localised grooming, for the purposes of this Report,
is a model of child sexual exploitation in which a group of abusers
target vulnerable children, including, but not confined to, those
who are looked after by a local authority. The group typically
makes initial contact with victims in a public place such as a
park, cinema, on the street or at a friend's house. The children
are offered gifts and treatstakeaway food, sweets, cigarettes,
alcohol or drugsin exchange for sex, sometimes with dozens
of men on the same occasion. There will often be occasions where
they are missing from home although such times may be less than
24 hours. The children sometimes identify one offender as a 'boyfriend',
and might regard the sexual abuse by multiple offenders as 'normal'.
The gangs sometimes use younger men or boys to make the initial
approach, reinforcing the misapprehension that the children are
involved in consensual relationships with partners of a similar
age. In a number of cases, victims are internally trafficked within
the UK, being taken to other towns for the express purpose of
being 'given' or 'sold' for sexual exploitation.
9. The awareness of this model of child sexual exploitation
has increased significantly and before The Times article
appeared in recent years. In November 2010, nine men were convicted
of 70 offences against girls aged 12-18 including rape, false
imprisonment, sexual assault, sexual activity with a child, perverting
the course of justice, and aiding and abetting rape. Twenty-seven
girls in total had come forward to say that they had been victims
of the group and convictions were secured for offences against
15 of them. The prosecutions followed an undercover operation
by Derbyshire Police, Operation Retriever. Derbyshire Police described
the case as 'the most horrendous case of sexual exploitation they
had ever faced' and said they were shocked at the scale of abuse.
Operation Retriever and the subsequent trial are often cited
as the starting point for the growing awareness of localised grooming.
10. In January 2011 Barnardo's published a report
entitled 'Puppet on a string' which looked at child sexual exploitation.
The report noted a worrying trend that the grooming of children
for sexual exploitation was becoming more sophisticated. Children
were being "brainwashed by abusers in the most pernicious
way ... often transported between towns and cities to be subjected
to multiple acts of abuse by groups of men".
In June 2011 a thematic assessment by the Child Exploitation and
Online Protection Centre (CEOP) highlighted the growing awareness
of the issue of localised grooming.
'Localised grooming' has been subject to considerable
media attention following a number of prosecutions of adult males
for the grooming and sexually exploitation of children and young
people in various towns and cities in the UK. Several NGOs have
reported that large numbers of victims of this type of child sexual
exploitation have accessed their services across the UK. However,
there have been comparatively few prosecutions, and there is a
general lack of knowledge of grooming and sexual exploitation
in the UK and the threats posed to children and young people.
The main conclusions of the CEOP assessment were:
- In most areas of the UK there
had not been a proactive approach to tackling this type of sexual
exploitation, but where police, children's services and the voluntary
sector had worked together, offenders had been held to account
and victims identified and supported.
- The majority of Local Safeguarding
Children Boards were not fulfilling their responsibilities as
prescribed in statutory guidance.
- All agencies need to improve their ability to
recognise exploitation to enable them to intervene early.
- A commitment to multi-agency working would be
key to tackling localised grooming.
- The research did not find any consistent patterns
connected to culture or ethnicity in the profile of offenders.
11. In July 2012, the Howard League for Penal Reform
published a report which noted that victims of child sexual exploitation
were 2.5 times more likely than average to have a criminal record.
The report linked their offending behaviour directly to the sexual
exploitation and questioned why these victims were being punished
instead of being helped.
In October 2012, ChildLine published a report which provided
an insight into the contacts it had from young people who had
been sexually exploited through grooming, both in online and face-to-face
situations. It noted a number of features which were typical of
grooming offences, and which could prevent the problem being identified
- Victims might see the situation
as a genuine relationship and the groomer as a "boyfriend".
- The offender typically plays on the victim's
insecurities, making them feel "special" or "loved".
- The victim might nonetheless feel ashamed of
the sexual activity itself, or of ancillary activities such as
the consumption of drugs or alcohol, further increasing their
reluctance to come forward.
- Grooming might extend to befriending the child's
family or carers, so the victim feels unable to tell them about
- Adults may misunderstand the grooming process
and assume that the young person was a willing participant in
a relationship, rather than the victim of sexual abuse. This can
further amplify the victim's sense of shame.
- About 60% of calls to ChildLine which relate
to grooming relate to on-line grooming; 40% involve face-to-face
12. In November 2012, the House of Commons Education
Committee produced a report which looked at the Child Protection
System in England. It noted that many of those involved in child
protection considered older children to be less vulnerable than
those under five.
The report cited Ofsted's view that older children are often in
contact with a wider range of agencies than younger ones (for
whom it is mainly health):
children's social care, health, the police and
education, practitioners from the Connexions service, the Youth
Offending service, the Probation service, drug and alcohol misuse
services, leaving care services, housing, and CAMHS may all be
involved. Commonly, young people 'bounced' around the system,
with no one agency taking overall responsibility for their welfare
or holding a comprehensive understanding of their needs.
The Select Committee found evidence that these children
were vulnerable to 'specialised' forms of abuse such as child
sexual exploitation as those involved in child protection were
more used to dealing with cases of familial abuse
and so the recognition of localised grooming as a form of abuse
was not recognised by professionals. They were therefore unable
to piece together the different parts of a puzzle in order to
create a clear picture of what was happening.
13. In October 2011 the Office of the Children's
Commissioner launched a two-year inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation
in Gangs and Groups (CSEGG) The inquiry has already produced two
reports. The first was an 'accelerated report' specifically addressing
the extent to which children in residential care are affected
by localised grooming, which was requested by the Secretary of
State for Education following the convictions of the Rochdale
men in May 2012. The second was an interim report, which detailed
the scale of the problem and made a number of recommendations.
The final report is due to be published in autumn 2013.
14. The accelerated report, published in July 2012
found that although the majority of victims of child sexual exploitation
lived at home with their families, those in care were disproportionately
represented. It was found that victims were more likely to be
exploited if they were living in care homes than if they were
in foster families.
The accelerated report made a number of recommendations:
- Government should undertake
a thorough examination of residential care, including the profile
of children, location and type of homes, recruitment, qualification
and training of staff, and analyses of how local authorities are
meeting their duties under the sufficiency requirements.
- A child's care plan should include a safety plan
when the child/young person is at risk of or has experienced sexual
exploitation. This should be based on a thorough assessment of
need and explicitly address the risks the child faces, be negotiated
with the child and engage family, supporting adults and, as appropriate,
- Regulations should prohibit any child in care,
or leaving care, from being placed in bed and breakfast accommodation.
- Monthly inspection visits to private children's
homes should be by a person independent of the organisation running
the home and appointed or approved by the local authority.
- Consideration should be given to current planning
regulations in relation to children's homes to ensure that children's
homes are not opened in areas that present a high risk to the
children being placed, including checks on numbers of registered
sex offenders in the area.
- Ofsted should be allowed to routinely share its
information about the location of children's homes with the police.
- All references in Guidance and Regulation to
'prostitution' when speaking of children should be amended to
'child sexual exploitation'.
- The requirement for authorities to notify the
area authority where a child is to be placed could be strengthened
by requiring the placing authority to consult with the area authority
to assist their assessment that the placement is the most appropriate
placement available and that it will meet the child's needs identified
in the care plan. This would enable the placing authority to establish,
for example, if there is known intelligence locally of sexual
exploitation associated with the children's home or local area.
- Consideration should be given, in the National
Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan, to the role of Local Safeguarding
Children's Boards in having oversight of:
- (i) The relationships between
police and local authority children's homes in the local area,
so that intelligence about groups of exploiters in the area and
support to staff and young people can be provided
- (ii) Children who go missing and children
at risk of or who have experienced exploitation: ensuring analysis
of information gathered through Runaway Children and Missing From
Care (RCMFC) records.
- When children have run away
from care, all return interviews should involve an independent
person, preferably an advocate or trusted adult from outside the
home. These should enable young people to talk about any concerns
including about the home. The content should feed into local police
intelligence about sexual exploitation. Police 'safe and well'
interviews should be considered as well - with the young person's
- A child's Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO)
should be informed when children run away and consider bringing
forward the review. The IRO service should be informed about the
pattern of absences or running away by children in care.
15. The interim report, published in November 2012,
found that at least 16,500 children were identified as being at
risk of child sexual exploitation during one year and 2,409 children
were confirmed as victims of sexual exploitation in gangs and
groups during the 14-month period from August 2010 to October
2011, although it warned that the scale of abuse was likely to
be much larger.
The report highlighted a number of issues, including the
reluctance on the part of official agencies to share data, inconsistent
recording of data, with different agencies using a range of methods
across the country,
and worrying assumptions about the ability of many victims
to 'consent' to their exploitation.
The report emphasised the need for all professionals who come
into contact with children and young peoplepolice, teachers,
social services and health servicesto be aware of the signs
of sexual exploitation, for agencies to work co-operatively together,
and for reliable intelligence-gathering and information-sharing
16. The interim report provides the clearest indication
of the scale of child sexual exploitation. However, the Deputy
Children's Commissioner has emphasised that, due to a lack of
response for requests for data from several local authorities
and agencies, the estimate that 16,500 children were at risk of
child sexual exploitation during one year, and 2,409 children
were confirmed as victims of sexual exploitation in gangs and
groups during the 14-month period from August 2010 to October
2011, needs to be reinforced by robust data gathering and may
well turn out to be an understatement.
When talking about the scale of child sexual exploitation,
Sue Berelowitz told us that "there is not a town, village
or hamlet in which children are not being sexually exploited."
It is obvious that child sexual exploitation is a large-scale,
nationwide problem and evidence to the Committee indicates that
it is increasing.
Despite recent criminal cases laying bare the appalling
cost paid by victims for past catastrophic multi agency failures,
we believe that there are still places in the UK where victims
of child sexual exploitation are being failed by statutory agencies.
The police, social services and the Crown Prosecution Service
must all bear responsibility for the way in which vulnerable children
have been left unprotected by the system. The recent verdict in
the Oxford trial demonstrates that contrary to ill-informed beliefs
that localised grooming is a crime confined to Northern cities,
in fact, no assumptions can be made about where child sexual exploitation
takes place. This is a crime that can happen anywhere. Belatedly
agencies have made positive steps to try and improve the situation
but there is no doubt that both in terms of support for victims
and prosecution of offenders, a postcode lottery still exists
and agencies are still failing to work effectively together. Those
cases of children at risk identified by the Office of the Children's
Commissioner must be monitored by local authorities who have overriding
responsibility for the welfare of those children.
17. The Office of the Children's Commissioner has
the power to require statutory agencies to respond to its recommendations
but no sanctions available to it should those recommendations
fail to be implemented.
We take this opportunity to record our gratitude to the
Office of the Children's Commissioner for its work in the area
of child sexual exploitation and support all of the recommendations
made as part of both the accelerated report and the interim report.
We recommend that the Government publish a timetable for implementation
of these recommendations which will ensure they are in operation
by January 2014.
18. In January 2013 the former Minister responsible
for tackling child sexual exploitation, Tim Loughton MP, told
our colleagues on the Education Committee that the child sexual
exploitation agenda was not being implemented by the Department
for Education and that he would have expected a number of measures
such as data sharing to have been put into practice by now. He
spoke about three working groups on child sexual exploitation
that he established, none of which had produced any practical
actions. Sheila Taylor
of the National Working Group noted that the current Minister,
Edward Timpson MP, has a wider portfolio than his predecessor
but emphasised that the commitment to work on the issue of the
Department was obvious. However, she did highlight concerns around
the impact on reductions in resources to agencies tackling child
The Minister explained that he had both gained and lost
items from his predecessor's portfolio, so there was no overall
expansion in the ministerial workload.
He also cited work which was currently ongoing to assist
local authorities in reducing the impact of a decrease in resources.
We do not doubt the commitment of either the Minister or the
Department for Education to tackling child sexual exploitation.
However, the commitment must be maintained in the future if the
Government wishes to tackle the issue with any degree of success.
The failure of these cases has been both systemic and cultural.
Rules and guidelines existed which were not followed. People employed
as public servants appeared to lack human compassion when dealing
with victims. Children have only one chance at childhood. For
too long, victims of child sexual exploitation have been deprived
of that childhood without society challenging their abusers. Such
a situation must never happen again.
1 http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/crime/article3408724.ece Back
Manchester Evening News, 'Yawning cop who seemed to sum
up how the girls were not taken seriously. Tribute to bravery
of the girls who were persuaded to talk', May 9, 2012 Back
Emma Jackson is a pseudonym. Back
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, "Mistakes
were made.", HMIC's review into allegations and intelligence
material concerning Jimmy Savile between 1964 and 2012, 2013,
Department for Education, Tackling Sexual Exploitation Action
Plan, 2011, p4 Back
Ev w5 [Missing People] Back
Derby City Council Website: http://www.derby.gov.uk/health-and-social-care/safeguarding-children/child-sexual-exploitation/ Back
Qq 101, 159 Back
Barnardo's, Puppet on a String, 2011, p2 Back
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Out of Sight,
Out of Mind,2011, p5 Back
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, Executive Summary,
Out of Mind, Out of Sight; Breaking down the barriers to understanding
child sexual exploitation, June 2011, p9 Back
Howard League for Penal Reform, Out of place: The policing
and criminalisation of sexually exploited girls and young women,
July 2012 Back
ChildLine, Caught in a Trap, Oct 2012, p12 Back
ChildLine, Caught in a Trap, p10 Back
Ibid., p11 Back
Ibid., p5 Back
Ibid., p9 Back
Ibid., p10 Back
Education Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2012-13, Children
first: the child protection system in England, HC 137, para
Ibid., para 79 Back
Ibid., para 94 Back
Ibid., para 117 Back
Office of the Children's Commissioner, Accelerated report, Briefing
for the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education,
on the emerging findings of the Office of the Children's Commissioner's
Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups, with
a special focus on children in care, July 2012, p40 Back
For example Schedule 5 to the Children's Homes Regulations 2001
(as amended by the Children's Homes (Amendment) Regulations 2011). Back
Office of the Children's Commissioner, Accelerated report, p44 Back
Office of the Children's Commissioner, Interim report, "I
thought I was the only one. The only one in the world",
November 2012, p9 Back
Office of the Children's Commissioner, Interim report, p11 Back
Ibid., p12 Back
Ibid., p16 Back
Q 672 Back
Q 134 Back
Qq 211, 251, 802, 850 Back
Qq 690-2 Back
Oral evidence taken before the Education Committee on 16 January
2013, HC (2012-13) 851-i, Q35 [Mr Loughton] Back
Q 853 Back
Q 905 Back
Q 906 Back