Children's Commission Report into Child Sex Abuse FULL REPORT

“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

Gareth Edwards

Dr Sandra Gulyurtlu

Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report









• 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


• Methods of gathering evidence 28

• Commissioned research 28

• Methods of analysing evidence 29

• Reliability and validity of the data submitted 30


• 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 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


• Children at risk 82

• Victims’ histories 82

• Children in care 84

• Victim/offender overlap 85

• Age 85

• Gender 87

• Ethnicity 91

• Disability 96


• The information gap 98

• Identification 100

• Age 102

• Gender 103

• Ethnicity 104

• Disability 109


• Urgent action required 110

• Identifying victims 110

PHASE 2 113











Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report



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.


Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report


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

often devastating.

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.


Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report

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.

Sue Berelowitz

Deputy Children’s Commissioner/ Chief Executive


Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report


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.


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.


Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report


Inquiry Chair Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children’s Commissioner for England

Inquiry Panel

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

CSEGG Inquiry:

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.


Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report



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

consecutive phases.

Phase 1 was launched in October 2011 and ran to September 2012. This gathered evidence on the


Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report

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.


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.


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


Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report

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 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.


Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report

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 child.

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

for it”.

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


Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report

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 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.


Office of the Children’s Commissioner | Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation In Gangs and Groups | Interim report

Signs that a child has already been a

Share this post