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Thousands of sexually exploited children in England- OCC Inquiry launched into gang-associated and group-associated

14 October 2011

A major two-year Inquiry, under the Children Act 2004 powers, launched today by the Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) will throw light on the scale, scope and extent of the sexual exploitation, victimisation and abuse that girls and boys are subjected to by street gangs and loosely formed groups in England. 

Current data based on limited reporting indicates that up to 10,000 children may be affected. However, reports by statutory services and preliminary investigation by the OCC suggests that girls and boys are being exploited, victimised and abused in potentially larger numbers and in every part of the country.

The Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups (CSEGG) will be led by Sue Berelowitz, the Deputy Children's Commissioner. She will be supported by a panel of experts from the children's sector, academia, voluntary and health sectors.

The CSEGG Inquiry, conducted under the powers granted to the Children's Commissioner in the Children Act 2004, will require Government and those in local authorities, police, health, youth justice, the judiciary and education to provide information so that for the first time the true picture can be established.  There will also be a dedicated email address so that people can share information confidentially. 

Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, said:
"We are using our unique powers under the Children Act 2004 to protect children's right to be safe from exploitation and abuse - this is in line with the requirements of Article 34 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This Inquiry will be a wake-up call for us all."

Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children's Commissioner, speaking at ‘What's Going on to Safeguard Children and Young People from Sexual Exploitation' - organised by the University of Bedfordshire, said:
"The research available to date, notably that conducted by ROTA, CEOP and the University of Bedfordshire, reveals a great deal. The picture we are getting is of serious and violent sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Right now substantial numbers of children in all parts of England are being abused and exploited by multiple perpetrators.

"All agree that we simply don't yet have the full picture as the data is still inadequate. This is why, using our unique powers we will bring to light the hidden and unknown truth, producing an interim report in July 2012.

"The emerging evidence is that the children and perpetrators involved are very diverse and seem to reflect the local demographic of where the abuse is taking place. It would be wrong for anyone to conclude or assert that this is an issue for one particularly ethnic community.

"Accurate data is essential so that Government, police, local authorities, schools, the youth justice sector and health professionals can properly identify and protect child victims.

"As a society we have a collective responsibility to uncover the facts and deal with the grim reality so that children can be properly protected."

A young person who has been sexually exploited by a gang told us:
‘Why would I go to police, I would never go to police, they don't do anything and they can't.'

Another young person affected by group-associated sexual exploitation said: "Families just think it's a lovely place to go and play but people should know what really goes on there - it's really terrible stuff."

The OCC has commissioned the University of Bedfordshire to specifically explore gang-associated sexual exploitation and abuse of children and young people and best practice among agencies to prevent this happening.

The panel of experts supporting the CSEGG Inquiry will join Sue Berelowitz on confidential data gathering and evidence sessions around the country to determine and examine the scale and nature of the problem and identify areas of good practice to safeguard children.

The CSEGG Inquiry Panel members are:

Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children's Commissioner for England
Sue Berelowitz has worked across a broad spectrum of local authority children's services ranging from early years provision to safeguarding for over thirty years as a speech and language therapist, social worker and senior manager.  In 2008 Sue was appointed Deputy Children's Commissioner and Chief Executive of the Office of the Children's Commissioner. She was previously Director of Business Development for Adults and Children's Services in West Sussex County Council. 

As Deputy Children's Commissioner, she engages strategically with children and young people across the country and those working with and for them, to promote their view and interests and seek to ensure that every child achieves their rights under the UNCRC.  Areas of particular interest for Sue include mental health, youth justice, safeguarding and family court proceedings. 

Martin Houghton-Brown
Formerly Deputy Director at The Children's Society, Martin Houghton-Brown joined Missing People as the charity's new Chief Executive in August 2009.

Martin is one of Europe's leading authorities on the issue of runaway children, having produced the ground-breaking report 'Stepping Up', which led to HM Government's Young Runaways Action Plan, and was subsequently Rapporteur for the Council of Europe for runaway children. Most recently, he successfully secured the Government's commitment to the first-ever cross cutting strategy for Missing Persons.

Whitney Iles
Whitney IIes is a social entrepreneur and community activist who for the last nine years has actively sought out people and projects that have enabled her to make a difference. In recent years this has moved on to creating enterprises that recognise specific social challenges, then organising and managing theses ventures to move forward towards positive social change. She is vice-chair of Equanomics UK, a founding member of the SOLA Foundation and also co-founder of NoSexWithOutLove a movement established to promote the objective of community development with a primary focus on young women.

Marai Larasi MBE
Marai Larasi is the Director of Imkaan, a UK-based national second tier organisation dedicated to challenging violence against Black, Minority Ethnic and Refugee women and children. She has worked in the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) field for over 16 years and has developed and led cutting edge programmes which address gender violence within marginalised groups. Marai is committed to ensuring that services are developed, delivered and sustained within a strong gendered framework.

Marai has delivered presentations to a range of audiences in the UK and internationally, covering a variety of themes including VAWG, women's homelessness, and equality. She is the co-chair of Women's Aid, England and co-chair of EVAW (the End Violence Against Women Coalition). Marai also contributes to a number of working groups at regional, national and international level.  Marai has been awarded an MBE for her work with Black and Minority Ethnic women.

Jenny Pearce
Jenny Pearce is Professor of Young People and Public Policy at the University of Bedfordshire, UK, where she is Director of the Institute of Applied Social Research and the ‘International Centre for the Study of Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Young People'. She is Chair of the UK Home Office ‘Child Trafficking Information Sharing Forum' and co-founder and management group member of the ‘National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People' (www.nationalworkinggroup.co.uk). She is a member of the Policy Steering Committee of ‘Eurochild', Brussels, and works with the Council of Europe as invited expert on child sexual exploitation.

Professor John Pitts
John Pitts is Vauxhall Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Bedfordshire. He has worked as a school teacher; a street and club-based youth worker; a group worker in a Young Offender Institution and as a consultant on youth crime and youth justice to the police and youth justice and legal  professionals in the UK, mainland Europe, the Russian Federation and China. In the recent years he has acted as a consultant and researcher on violent youth gangs to local authorities, police forces and ‘think tanks', and as an ‘expert witness'.

Dr Mike Shaw
Dr Mike Shaw is a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist of nearly 20 years experience.  His particular specialist expertise is assessing and treating children who have been abused or neglected.  Based in the Child and Family Department of the Tavistock Clinic, he is Clinical Lead for the Family Drug and Alcohol Court Intervention Team (FDAC) and the Monroe Family Assessment Service. Both teams provide expert evidence to the Family Courts in care proceedings.

Mike is part of various groups promoting interdisciplinary discourse and training around safeguarding children, including the Expert Training Sub-Committee of the National Family Justice Council, and an advisor to the British Association of British Association for Adoption and Fostering. He is interested more broadly in child mental health and the law and has written and taught extensively on competence, consent and confidentiality. 

Sheila Taylor MBE
Sheila Taylor has been involved in the issue of sexually exploited children and young people for over ten years.  Formerly the Chief Executive of Safe and Sound Derby, a charity located in Derby City that seeks to reach out to these children and young people.  The charity provides a safe haven and support for young people at a level appropriate for them, as well as training for professionals, an annual national conference, local outreach and educational resources for schools.  Sheila joined Safe and Sound Derby in 2005 after developing a service for young runaways in Derby City, 

Sheila is extremely determined to highlight the problem of child sexual exploitation and as such resigned from Safe & Sound Derby to become the Director of the National Working Group for Sexually Exploited Children and Young People (NWG) from 1st July 2011, a network organisation of more than 570 who all have an interest in the field of Child Sexual Exploitation.

Kate Wallace
Kate Wallace is UK Deputy Director for Policy and Research at Barnardo's.  Kate joined Barnardo's in November 2010 as Assistant Director - Research and Influencing (parenting and cross-cutting) and was appointed UK Deputy Director in May 2011 to lead Barnardo's policy and research activity.  As UK Deputy Director Kate heads up the UK policy and research team and is responsible for developing the evidence-base and influencing external policy and practice on behalf of the organisation. Prior to joining Barnardo's Kate managed policy and research functions in a wide range of public and voluntary sector organisations, including the Scottish Association for Mental Health and the Scottish Arts Council.

Carlene Firmin MBE
Carlene Firmin MBE, Principal Policy Advisor at the Office of the Children's Commissioner, is Advisor and Head of the Secretariat for the CSEGG Inquiry. For five years Carlene researched the impact of criminal gangs on women and girls, at the charity Race on the Agenda, following which she took up the post of Assistant Director of Policy and Research at children's charity Barnardo's with responsibility for youth justice and child sexual exploitation.

Carlene writes a monthly column in Society Guardian, sits on a number of boards and advisory groups, and has spoken at national and international conferences. Carlene has provided local authorities and central government departments with strategic and operational policy advice, and in 2010 she founded The GAG Project to train young women to influence policy on gangs and serious youth violence. Carlene was awarded an MBE for services to Women and Girls Issues in the 2011 News Years Honours list.

Proposed timeline and milestones for the two-year CSEGG Inquiry: 

  • October 2011 to 20th January 2012 - Phase one evidence gathering
  • November 2011 to March 2012 - Oral evidence sessions held. Inquiry visits are made
  • July 2012 - Interim report published
  • October 2012 to February 2013 - Phase two evidence gathering
  • November 2012 to April 2013 - Oral evidence sessions held. Inquiry visits are made
  • September 2013 - Final Inquiry report published
  • October 2013 - Response to report requested

Notes to editors:

1. Sue Berelowitz is available for interview.

2. The CSEGG Inquiry will be conducted under the power of inquiry granted to the Children's Commissioner in the Children Act 2004. The CSEGG Inquiry will focus specifically on gang-associated and group-associated sexual exploitation, victimisation and abuse of children, and is not intended to cover all models of child sexual exploitation or duplicate the work of other organisations in the field.

3. Definition of gang-associated and group-associated sexual exploitation: Many vulnerable children and young people are caught up in harmful, controlling relationships in gangs where they can be ‘traded' as ‘goods' or subjected to degrading sexual or unsafe acts amongst its members. Others are sought out by individuals or a group of associates' intent on manipulating and sexually harming their victims. Children can remain in these situations for years, unable to extricate themselves because they are confused, afraid or fear reprisals.

4. The purpose of the CSEGG Inquiry is to promote children's rights to protection from sexual exploitation in accordance with the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Specifically,

  • Article 19 - Protection from all forms of violence
  • Article 34 - Protection from sexual abuse and exploitation
  • Article 35 - Protection from abduction
  • Article 37 - Protection from torture
  • Article 39 - Right to rehabilitation from abuse, exploitation and torture 

5. The CSEGG call for evidence document can be downloaded from this website.

Evidence can be submitted to: CSEGG.Inquiry@childrenscommissioner.gsi.gov.uk  by noon on 20th January 2012.

6. The participation of children in the CSEGG Inquiry is essential and a participation strategy has been devised to ensure that the voices of children are heard throughout the Inquiry in a safe and secure way.

7. The Children's Commissioner for England was established under The Children Act 2004 to be the independent voice of children and young people and to champion their interests and bring their concerns and views to the national arena. The Commissioner's work must take regard of children's rights (the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) and seek to improve the wellbeing of children and young people.  

8. ROTA - The Female Voice in Violence Project. Final report: This is it. This is my life... Download here

9. CEOP - Out of Mind, Out of Sight. Download here

10. Barnardo's - ‘Puppet on a String'. Download here

For media enquiries, please contact the Office of the Children's Commissioner's media team on Tel: 020 7783 8580 / 8330