It is launching a two-year inquiry aimed at lifting the lid on the scale of the shocking crimes that reach into all parts of society. The investigation will examine how often vulnerable children are being sexually exploited by organised criminal gangs and other groups.
It will study the appalling phenomenon of Asian men grooming white girls for sex and how teenage girl gang members can be forced into prostitution.
Experts said there is a lack of reliable official information about the true scale of sexual abuse across England. Fears have been repeatedly raised that teachers, social workers and police are missing the warning signs when children fall prey to abusers.
Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz, who is leading the inquiry, said estimates suggest up to 10,000 children could be victims. But she said available evidence suggests many more girls and boys of all ages are being abused in much larger numbers.
Experts at the University of Bedfordshire found guidance issued two years ago on safeguarding children is not being followed in three out of four areas. They found that children are coerced into sexual activity by grooming, pressure from a friend who is already a victim, or powerful neighbourhood gang members.
Children in local authority care are more than four times as likely to fall victim as those in families. Earlier this year an investigation found one in four [more like three in four] men accused of street-grooming vulnerable underage girls for sex is Asian. It followed a series of shocking cases in which white girls were lured into abuse, often with drugs and alcohol.