“I thought I was the only one. The only one in the world”
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner’s Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups Interim report November 2012
Authors: Sue Berelowitz
Carlene Firmin, MBE
Dr Sandra Gulyurtlu
Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report
ABOUT THE OFFICE OF THE CHILDREN’S COMMISSIONER 4
INQUIRY PANEL AND TEAM 8
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 9
INTERIM REPORT 19
BACKGROUND TO THE INQUIRY 19
• Definition of child sexual exploitation 19
• Definition of ‘gangs’ and ‘groups’ 19
• Definition of ‘consent’ to sexual activity 19
• ‘Tamzin’s’ story 20
• What prompted the OCC Inquiry 22
• Growing concern about child sexual exploitation 22
• Recent studies 23
• Recent policy changes 23
• The fractured response 24
• The structure and aims of the Inquiry 25
• Legislation enabling the Inquiry 27
EVIDENCEGATHERING AND ANALYSIS 28
• Methods of gathering evidence 28
• Commissioned research 28
• Methods of analysing evidence 29
• Reliability and validity of the data submitted 30
THE NATURE OF THE ABUSE 34
• Differences between gang and groupassociated CSE 34
• Similarities in gang and groupassociated CSE 37
• Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse 38
• Location of abuse 41
• Use of technology 43
• Use of pornography 44
• Commercial abuse 45
• Links to family abuse 45
• Consent and coercion 47
• Impact of the abuse 49
• Signs of risk and vulnerability 51
Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report
THE SCALE OF THE ABUSE 53
• The number of children being sexually exploited 53
• Cases reported to the CSEGG Inquiry 55
• Numbers of children at risk 58
• Reported versus potential scale 60
• Patterns within and between risk indicators (warning signs) 62
• Trends across age, gender and ethnicity 63
• Patterns between individual indicators 69
• Gaps in the figures 80
WHO ARE THE VICTIMS? 82
• Children at risk 82
• Victims’ histories 82
• Children in care 84
• Victim/offender overlap 85
• Age 85
• Gender 87
• Ethnicity 91
• Disability 96
WHO ARE THE PERPETRATORS? 98
• The information gap 98
• Identification 100
• Age 102
• Gender 103
• Ethnicity 104
• Disability 109
• Urgent action required 110
• Identifying victims 110
PHASE 2 113
APPENDIX A – WARNING SIGNS AND VULNERABILITIES CHECKLIST 114
APPENDIX B – METHODOLOGY 117
APPENDIX C – FULL SITE VISIT TABLE 125
APPENDIX D – LEGISLATIVE CONTEXT 130
APPENDIX E – EVIDENCEGATHERING PREPARATION PROCESS 132
APPENDIX F – LIST OF DOCUMENTS CURRENTLY REFERENCING ‘PROSTITUTION’ IN
RELATION TO CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE 134
APPENDIX G – HELP AND SUPPORT 136
Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report
ABOUT THE OFFICE OF THE CHILDREN’S
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner is a national organisation led by the Children’s
Commissioner for England, Dr Maggie Atkinson. The post of Children’s Commissioner for England
was established by the Children Act 2004. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
(UNCRC) underpins and frames all of our work.
The Children’s Commissioner has a duty to promote the views and interests of all children in
England, in particular those whose voices are least likely to be heard, to the people who make
decisions about their lives. She also has a duty to speak on behalf of all children in the UK on nondevolved
issues which include immigration, for the whole of the UK, and youth justice, for England
and Wales. One of the Children’s Commissioner’s key functions is encouraging organisations that
provide services for children always to operate from the child’s perspective.
Under the Children Act 2004 the Children’s Commissioner is required both to publish what she finds
from talking and listening to children and young people, and to draw national policymakers’ and
agencies’ attention to the particular circumstances of a child or small group of children which should
inform both policy and practice.
As the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, it is our statutory duty to highlight where we believe
vulnerable children are not being treated appropriately and in line with duties established under
international and domestic legislation.
Sexual exploitation is a curious term, for it runs the risk of glossing over the reality of what is done to
The reality is that each year thousands of children in England are raped and abused from as young
as 11 years by people seeking to humiliate, violate and control them and the impact on their lives is
This report, coming at the end of the first year of this Inquiry into the sexual exploitation of children in
gangs and groups, has uncovered for the first time the extent to which children in England are being
sexually exploited. We publish the number of known victims over a set period of time but can say
with certainty that our figures are an undercounting of the true scale of this form of abuse. We know
that because, although many agencies and organisations responded to our request for information
and data, there were some notable gaps, with a few local authorities failing to do so. Furthermore,
we know that children are sexually exploited in contexts other than in gangs and groups, including by
lone perpetrators. Evidence about those children is not included in this report.
During the course of this Inquiry we have heard from young people who have been raped in the
most unbearable ways. These have included children who have been abducted, trafficked, beaten
and threatened after being drawn into a web of sexual violence by promises of love and others
who have suffered in silence for years as they are casually and routinely raped by the boys in their
neighbourhoods – as they come out of school, as they walk to the shops, as they play in their local
The vast majority of the perpetrators of this terrible crime are male. They range in age from as young
as fourteen to old men. They come from all ethnic groups and so do their victims – contrary to
what some may wish to believe. The failure of agencies to recognise this means that too many child
victims are not getting the protection and support they so desperately need.
If the recent allegations against Jimmy Savile are true, a conspiracy of silence allowed him and those
who acted with him to continue to rape children with impunity for decades. It is too easy to simply
blame the BBC as if what happened was entirely due to a failure in one organisation.
The truth is much more difficult and challenging. We need to ask why so many males, both young
and old, think it is acceptable to treat both girls and boys as objects to be used and abused. We
need to know why so many adults in positions of responsibility persist in not believing these children
when they try and tell someone what they have endured.
This report is a wakeup call. As one young woman said after telling us her story: “I can let go now
because you are dealing with this.” Each and every one of us owes it to her and all other victims to
listen, to believe and to act to stop this terrible abuse. Using the warning signs lists, produced in this
report, is the first step to identifying and protecting children.
Year two of the Inquiry will focus on how to tackle the sexual exploitation of children and we will
be investigating examples of good practice so that these lessons can be shared nationally. We
will complete the work being undertaken by the University of Bedfordshire into young people’s
experiences of living in ganginvolved neighbourhoods. The interim report on that research is
published along with this report. We have also commissioned London Metropolitan University to
examine children and young people’s understanding of consent because so many appear not to
appreciate that forced sex, including oral sex, is rape.
This report is dedicated to the thousands of children and young people who are victims of sexual
violence in the form of sexual exploitation. I am particularly indebted to those who shared their
stories with us and am humbled by their grace and courage in the face of their ongoing distress
and trauma as a result of their shocking experiences. Tragically, many disclosed that in their early
childhoods they were also sexually abused by family members and friends. Too often this was not
identified and no action was taken to protect them. Without exception, all chose to share their
accounts because they want to stop other children suffering as they did.
I am profoundly grateful to the panel members and secretariat for their commitment to this Inquiry.
Their determination to uncover the truth has been unstinting even when listening to the most
harrowing accounts. My special thanks go to Carlene Firmin, Gareth Edwards and Sandra Gulyurtlu
without whom this report would not have been possible.
This report is not a comfortable read and the content may be distressing to some readers. We owe it
to the victims to face up to the realities of sexual exploitation.
Deputy Children’s Commissioner/ Chief Executive
This report has been made possible because of the dedication and commitment of a great many
people all of whom care deeply about the children and young people whose lives are so cruelly
affected by sexual exploitation. Each is driven by a determination to expose the truth so that children
can be given the protection and support that they deserve. I am particularly indebted to the following
without whom this report could not have been produced:
Carlene Firmin, Dr Sandra Gulyurtlu, Gareth Edwards, Lisa Prendergast, Denise Malcolm, Jenny
Clifton, Shaila Sheikh, our wonderful panel members whose names are listed in full on page 8,
Stanley Ruszynski, the 115 agencies who submitted evidence, the police constabularies, local
authorities, and primary care trusts who submitted data, the 68 professionals who gave oral
evidence and the 167 professionals who met with us on our 14 site visits. Above all, profound
thanks are due to the young people who spoke so openly to us of their appalling experiences. Their
courage and fortitude in the face of what they have endured remains humbling. It is for them that we
do this work.
I extend special thanks to Dr Maggie Atkinson, Children’s Commissioner, for her unfailing support
and encouragement throughout this Inquiry.
HELP AND SUPPORT
The NSPCC is assisting the Office of the Children’s Commissioner providing immediate assistance to
anyone affected by sexual abuse or exploitation.
If you are a child or young person affected by abuse or exploitation you can call Childline for advice
and support 24 hours a day on Tel: 0800 1111.
If you are an adult who needs support or information, or are concerned about a child or young
person, call the NSPCC helpline on Tel: 0808 800 5000. See Appendix G for further contacts.
INQUIRY TEAM AND PANEL
Inquiry Chair Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England
Martin HoughtonBrown Chief Executive of Missing People
Whitney Iles Director of NoSexWithOutLove
Marai Larasi MBE Executive Director of Imkaan
Professor Jenny Pearce Director of the Institute of Applied Social Research,
University of Bedfordshire
Professor John Pitts Vauxhall Professor of SocioLegal Studies,
University of Bedfordshire
Dr Mike Shaw Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the
Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust
Sheila Taylor MBE Director of National Working Group for SexuallyExploited
Children and Young People
Kate Wallace UK Programme Director, Barnardo’s
Deborah Hodes Consultant Community Paediatrician, University College
Hospital London and Named Doctor for Child Protection,
Camden, London; representing the Royal College of
Paediatrics and Child Health
Commander Christine Jones Association of Chief Police Officers
Principal Policy Advisor and
Head of the Secretariat for the
Carlene Firmin MBE
Researcher: Dr Sandra S Cabrita Gulyurtlu
Data Analyst: Gareth Edwards
Senior Communications Officer: Denise Malcolm
Principal Participation Advisor: Shaila Sheikh
Administrative Support: Lisa Prendergast
Clinical Consultant: Stanley Ruszczynski, Director, The Portman Clinic
In addition to the panel, the Deputy Children’s Commissioner has established an advisory group,
government officials’ group and a number of specialist advisory groups to confer with the wide range
of people and organisations who have shown interest in the CSEGG Inquiry.
The participation of children is intrinsic to the CSEGG Inquiry. It has been our priority throughout this
Inquiry to ensure that children and young people can participate safely and securely, and in a way
that promotes their healing and best interests. We have taken steps to ensure that throughout the
Inquiry, the voices of children are heard in a safe and secure way.
THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN ABUSED OR AT RISK OF ABUSE
Imagine that within three medium sized secondary schools every pupil was being subjected to sexual
violence on a routine basis over months, and sometimes years, by multiple perpetrators; or that
within 20 medium sized secondary schools every child was displaying behaviours which indicated
they were at significant risk of being sexually exploited, and only a small number of staff acted on
these warning signs.
The equivalent of this is true.
Based on evidence submitted to the CSEGG Inquiry, 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 14month period from August 2010 to October
Evidence to the Inquiry indicates that in any given year the actual number of children being abused
is far greater than the 2,409 that have been confirmed. Interviews with children and young people,
evidence collected during site visits and gathered at hearing sessions all indicated that many children
who were sexually exploited either remained unseen by professionals or, even when known, were not
recorded in the call for evidence submissions received by the OCC.
16,500 children from across England were identified as being at high risk of child sexual exploitation
during the period April 2010March 2011. This figure is based on children who displayed three or
more signs of behaviour indicating they were at risk of child sexual exploitation.
These are the main findings of the Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups
(CSEGG) by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner (OCC).
This report is the most indepth investigation to date of child sexual exploitation (CSE) by gangs and
groups in England.
Over the past 20 years evidence has shown that large numbers of children are being sexually
exploited in the UK. The convictions of a group of men, who sexually exploited children in and
around Derby, and research into the impact of gangassociated sexual violence on women and girls,
have raised awareness of the problem in gangs and groups. Several studies and policy changes
have been undertaken to tackle the problem. While awareness of CSE has increased substantially,
and there has been considerable progress in agency coordination, much still needs to be done to
prevent exploitation and protect and rescue child victims.
It was against this background that the OCC embarked on its Inquiry. It was divided into two
Phase 1 was launched in October 2011 and ran to September 2012. This gathered evidence on the
nature and scale of child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups across England.
The Inquiry marks the first occasion on which data have been pulled together from the police, local
authorities, central government and primary care trusts on children displaying the warning signs
associated with this form of abuse. This has been compared with details of confirmed victims to
produce a body of evidence that demonstrates the deeply troubling extent and nature of child sexual
exploitation in gangs and groups.
This Interim Report comprises the findings. It also pinpoints concerns about the ability of
professionals to identify CSE and to support victims. The report makes recommendations on how to
improve the identification of CSE in gangs and groups, along with victims and perpetrators, and also
the gathering of data and evidence.
Phase 2, which will run from 201213, will identify measures required to prevent child sexual
exploitation in gangs and groups and will recommend how to put these measures into force.
CHILD SEXUAL EXPLOITATION IN GANGS AND GROUPS
The broad definition of child sexual exploitation in gangs and groups is this:
1) gang – mainly comprising men and boys aged 13 – 25 years old, who take part in many forms of
criminal activity, such as knife crime or robbery, who can engage in violence against other gangs,
and who have identifiable markers such as territory, a name, sometimes clothing etc. While
children can be sexually exploited by a gang, this is not the reason why a gang is formed.
2) By contrast, child sexual exploitation by a group involves people who come together in person
or online for the purpose of setting up, coordinating and/or taking part in the sexual exploitation
of children in either an organised or opportunistic way.
For the full definitions please see the main report.
RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY OF THE DATA SUBMITTED
The evidence and data collected to inform the findings of this report is the most thorough and
comprehensive collection of information on child sexual exploitation collected to date in England.
The evidence on known victimisation is based on 115 submissions to the call for evidence request,
14 site visits, oral evidence from 68 professionals and interviews with 20 sexually exploited children
across the country. Data enabling the identification of children at high risk of being sexually exploited
was received from 100% of police constabularies, 88% of local authority children’s services and
services operating in 66% of Primary Care Trusts.
At the same time CSE goes largely undetected. There are some inconsistencies in relation to
detention and data capture at the local level.
These include: gaps in data on victims and perpetrators; biased data, given that some agencies go
looking for CSE and others do not; varying definitions of CSE in groups and gangs; data gaps on
specific warning signs of CSE; datasets held by a number of departments and agencies that are not
joinedup; health statistics on abortions and sexuallytransmitted diseases not made available
to the Inquiry.
The Inquiry also encountered inconsistent recording and collection of data by external agencies.
Sometimes information on CSE is buried in records on offending (in relation to gang association) or
broader categories of child sexual abuse.
Warning signs linked to CSE, such as a child going missing, are not recorded consistently. Local
authorities do not have a common definition to determine what data to record on children missing
from care, with some local authorities logging details only of children missing for a period of 24 hours
or longer. Police forces have different ways of recording instances where children repeatedly go
There is no standardised process for recording sexual offences by multiple (more than one)
perpetrators. Each police force has its own way of coding sexual offences against children, many of
which cannot distinguish where groups of individuals are reported to have carried out the offence or
directly set it up.
At local level this means that both datasharing and the flaggingup of possible CSE cases are
disjointed. At a national level this inconsistency forestalls the collation of accurate numbers of
reported cases, the number of children affected, and their profile.
This lack of and inconsistencies in datarecording locally mean the number of children identified in
this report as being at risk of child sexual exploitation will be lower than the actual number.
THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM
The Inquiry heard evidence of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of children.
Sexual abuse involved vaginal, anal and oral penetration and was reported in both gang and group
CSE. These cases involved different forms of sexual touching, including penile penetration and
penetration with objects.
Oral sex was used particularly when several perpetrators were involved. Men and boys may stand in
line (a ‘lineup’) or enter a room one at a time without a break. Professionals reported oral rape more
than any other form of sexual assault during the evidence hearings.
In some instances girls were made to witness sexual abuse of others and then forced to participate.
The panel was concerned about the reported levels of anal rape of both boys and girls in both
groups and gangs. There were numerous accounts of children being anally raped by several
In the call for evidence submissions, oral rape was reported most frequently, followed by anal rape.
Vaginal rape was the least frequently referenced form of abuse. There was a consensus amongst
experts that anal and oral rape could be viewed as more humiliating and controlling than vaginal rape
and, as such, may be favoured by those who are sexually exploiting children.
Physical abuse, inflicted by the use of violence, has been found in both groups and gangs, most
commonly: punching; hitting or ‘beating up’ the victim; use of physical force to restrain a victim;
grabbing the victim; attempted strangulation; kicking all over the body and burning, particularly with
Use of weapons was mainly identified where a gang is involved. Examples included using firearms,
knives, bottles, bricks or bats to intimidate and/or coerce the victim into sexual activity.
Emotional abuse was identified in various forms throughout the cases presented to the Inquiry.
The most prominent form involved victims living in a state of anxiety and acute fear of their abusers.
Threats were used to ensure compliance, including filming sexual abuse and threatening to post
images of victims online. Children reported feeling they had lost all control over their lives.
Some children reported that the grooming process lasted a long time – months or even two years in
one case. This led them to believe they were in a loving relationship – but with those who then went
on to abuse them. The perpetrators would use this emotional attachment to manipulate and exploit
The use of mobile phones, social networking sites and other forms of technology are
highlighted in the report as channels through which perpetrators groom, bully and pursue victims as
part of CSE.
The impact of pornography, particularly extreme and violent types, was a concern reported by
professionals from many agencies, in particular its impact on both children’s and young adults’
understanding of what is acceptable, required or expected during sexual contact.
Some children’s experiences of familial child sexual abuse, neglect or physical abuse increased
their vulnerability to future exploitation.
The panel was presented with confused and inconsistent understanding on the part of both
professionals and young people of the concept of consent to sexual activity.
Children and young people who were being sexually exploited were frequently described by
professionals in many localities as being “promiscuous”, “liking the glamour”, engaging in “risky
behaviour” and being generally badly behaved. Some of the most common phrases used to
describe the young person’s behaviour were: “prostituting herself”, “sexually available” and “asking
The Inquiry panel believes this labelling reflects a worrying perspective held by some professionals,
namely that children are complicit in, and responsible for, their own abuse.
Given the violent and traumatic nature of CSE in gangs and groups it is not surprising that the Inquiry
was provided with substantial evidence of its devastating impact.
Areas of particular concern included: children going missing as a result of sexual exploitation;
the health of victims (particularly drug and alcohol problems, selfharming and mental health
problems); children and young people offending either as part of the process of being exploited
or as a consequence of it.
From evidence collected on site visits, it is clear that agencies are all too frequently not sharing
sufficient information or not cooperating enough in tackling child sexual exploitation. Agencies often
do not agree over whether a particular CSE incident should be categorised as a child protection or
youth crime case, or both.
All agencies, police units and other organisations need to do much more to work in partnership with
each other and to share information, to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation.
THE SCALE OF THE PROBLEM
The number of confirmed cases of children being sexually exploited by gangs and groups in the
period covered by the Inquiry is given at the start of this Executive Summary. There is also a figure for
the number of children who were at risk of child sexual exploitation during one year.
It is not possible to state definitively how many children are victims of CSE in any given period
because there is no recognised category of abuse for sexual exploitation as part of standard child
protection procedures. Furthermore, whilst perpetrators have been convicted for their involvement in
the sexual exploitation of children, using offences such as ‘grooming’ or ‘sexual activity with a child’,
there is no specific crime of child sexual exploitation and therefore it is not possible to obtain figures
through a trawl of police crime data on sexual offences.
With regard to victims, agencies in 19 out of 39 police constabulary areas did not submit any
information on cases of child sexual exploitation in either gangs or groups in their responses to the
call for evidence.
Compared to the 115 submissions received on victims, only 30 agencies submitted data on
perpetrators. Data on perpetrators were provided in full in only 3% of call for evidence submissions,
with no perpetrator data provided in 68% of submissions.
It is clear that sexuallyexploited children are not always identified even when they show signs
of being victims.
Those children and young people interviewed for the Inquiry (including young adults for whom the
abuse was in the past) were clear that their experiences were extremely traumatic and violent. Child
sexual exploitation has had an enduring impact on their lives.
The evidence points to several factors that can increase a child’s vulnerability to being sexually
exploited. These include: living in a chaotic or dysfunctional household; history of abuse (including
familial child sexual abuse, risk of forced marriage, risk of ‘honour’based violence, physical and
emotional abuse and neglect); attending school with young people who are sexually exploited;
experiencing a recent bereavement or loss; and in cases of CSE in a street gang, children who
were gangassociated either through relatives, peers or intimate relationships, or living in a gang
neighbourhood, were also vulnerable.
Signs that a child has already been a