YOUNG people are currently being groomed in every town in Britain, according to a charity.
In the last 12 months, a “shocking” level of child sexual exploitation (CSE) has been reported to police and cases of abuse have been hidden for too long, a senior officer has acknowledged.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
Detective Superintendent Paul Sanford said CSE was taking place in “all communities” across the country.
His comments were echoed by Fleur Strong, director of Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace), who said acts of child abuse were taking place “in every town”.
Police have seen a rise in reports of CSE and other forms of abuse following the revelations about sex gangs in Rotherham and Rochdale, and historical cases involving celebrities such as Jimmy Savile.
Pace said it had noticed an increase in people using so-called “legal highs” to groom youngsters for sex and the crime was widespread across Britain.
Ms Strong said: “I can show you families from Torquay to Exeter to Norfolk. There are families in Edinburgh, Belfast. All of them will be suffering from this type of crime that lasts, for many families, for years and years.
“I would say without doubt there are thousands of families being affected today. I couldn’t tell you whether it is high or low, but it is a significant number. This type of child abuse is in every town.”
She added: “We are working in areas like Exeter where we have one mother at the moment who is having a very difficult time. Her daughter has turned 16, she has been groomed, she has been groomed partly through legal highs, which is something increasingly being used by perpetrators.
“So things that you could have used to safeguard a child – for instance, child abduction notices – you can no longer use those if the child is 16 and living at home.”
Meanwhile, DS Sanford, a spokesman for the national child protection working group, said: “Child sexual abuse has been hidden in our society for too long and, certainly in recent months, that picture has changed.
“The last 12 months have been shocking, in terms of the scale. What we know is the Office of the Children’s Commissioner have estimated that there are some 16,000 children at risk of CSE across the country.
“That CSE takes place in all communities. There has been a model which has been frequently reported in the media over the last 12 months linked to cases such as Rotherham and Rochdale, but let’s be clear: it takes place in all communities, urban, rural, small and large.
“I don’t think there will be a community that could not potentially be affected by CSE.”
Up to 1,400 children were estimated to have been victims of abuse in Rotherham alone between 1997 and 2013, it emerged last year.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS