AT RISK: Girls are being sexually exploited by gang members
SHOCKING FINDINGS of an inquiry into child sexual exploitation by gangs must be considered a ‘wake-up call’, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner has said.
The report – published last week – found 2,409 children and young people had been sexually assaulted by gangs or other groups of men between August 2010 and October 2011.
Up to 16,500 children were identified as being at risk but could be much higher because of gaps in data, the panel found.
There was also a higher rate of victimisation – 28 percent - amongst black and minority ethnic (BME) children and young people than previously thought. Of this figure, six percent were recorded as mixed race and 13 percent identified as black.
While the report stressed all children were at risk, black and mixed heritage girls were more likely to be exploited by gangs. Those in state care or living in gang-affected areas were most at risk.
Gangs were described as comprising men and boys aged 13 to 25-years-old who were involved in criminal activity or engaged in violence against rivals identifiable by markers such as territory, a name or specific clothing.
“The violence and hyper-masculinity of street gangs brings with it the sexual exploitation of girls and young women,” the report stated.
It pointed to two broad motives which included a sense of entitlement that meant it was acceptable for girls and young women to be “passed around by young men in a casual manner.”
Sexual violence was also used to threaten, punish or control young women who associated with rival gangs, or who were perceived to have ‘disrespected’ members of the gang with which they were associated.
In some cases, examples were found of young women being exchanged to avoid punishments or settle drug debts.
The panel was also concerned by evidence that showed that anal rape was one of the most frequently reported forms of abuse after oral rape. Vaginal rape was the least likely to be reported.
Experts agreed that anal and oral rape was viewed as more humiliating and more powerful as a means of control.
In one case study, a 15-year-old black British girl was forced by a group of 14-year-old girls to have sex with a boy in the girls’ toilets at their school and threatened to beat her up if she refused.
It resulted in the schoolgirl being anally raped by a 14-year-old boy, the report said.
Her ordeal was filmed on a mobile phone which was a recurring theme of child sexual exploitation alongside the use of social networking sites through which perpetrators groom, bully or pursued victims.
Examples included threats of sharing images online to coerce victims into on-going sexual abuse, harassment by text messaging, viewing violent pornography and discussing it during sexual assaults and distributing Blackberry PIN numbers for girls labelled as ‘easy.’
Sue Berelowtiz, deputy children’s commissioner who chaired the inquiry, said: “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 wake-up call.”
Most of the cases involving black children were likely to be identified by BME and faith groups or statutory and voluntary sector youth justice agencies. They were rarely identified by police forces or local authority children’s services.
The report highlighted a major concern was the lack of 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 often described by professionals as “promiscuous”, “liking the glamour”, “prostituting herself” or “asking for it.”
The next phase of the inquiry was launched in September 2012 and aims to identify measures to prevent child sexual exploitation by investigating examples of good practice so lessons can be shared nationally.