'Almost 19,000 children have been sexually groomed in England in the past year, according to official figures that have prompted warnings of an “epidemic”.
Campaigners say the true figure is far higher and accused the government of failing to tackle child sexual exploitation, despite promises made after high-profile cases in Rotherham and Rochdale.
More than 18,700 suspected victims of child sexual exploitation were identified by local authorities in 2018-19, up from 3,300 five years before.
Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, said the figures show that grooming “remains one of the largest forms of child abuse in the country”.
“Too many times, government has said it will ‘learn lessons’, yet 19,000 children are still at risk of sexual exploitation,” she told The Independent.
“The government has singularly failed to tackle this issue head on. Its approach has been piecemeal and underfunded.”
Sajid Javid promised a review into the characteristics of grooming gangs in 2018, saying high-profile cases included a “high proportion of men of Pakistani heritage” and that “cultural reasons” could be at play.
The Independent understands that the Home Office started internal analysis of data from police and other agencies, and will use it to inform policy development and prevention strategies.
But the findings may not be published and the Queen’s Speech, which set out Boris Johnson's legislative agenda, did not include any mention of a public review.
Department for Education statistics on children referred to social care show the number of known cases dramatically increasing from 2013, when grooming was recorded as an assessment factor for the first time, to a peak of 20,000 in 2017-18.
Several grooming gang investigations and prosecutions are ongoing across the country, including in Huddersfield where several abusers have already been jailed in a series of linked trials.'
Read more: Grooming ‘epidemic’ as almost 19,000 children identified as sexual exploitation victims in England
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