Around one in ten young people being treated for drug and alcohol problems in three key Greater Manchester boroughs have disclosed that they have been sexually exploited.
The figures for under 18 year-olds have been released by Ann Coffey MP, who is conducting an inquiry on behalf of Tony Lloyd, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Greater Manchester, into what more can be done to safeguard young people from sexual exploitation.
Ms Coffey said that the data from Public Health England, was very significant and was “just the tip of the iceberg” because most children and teenagers are frightened to disclose that they are sexual abuse victims.
Preventing child sexual exploitation should be designated as a Public Health priority issue in the same way as is smoking, alcohol, drug use and obesity, said Ms Coffey, so that more effective earlier interventions can be adopted to prevent child sexual exploitation.
She said collecting and sharing Public Health data was vital in the fight back against child sexual exploitation because it helps us to understand the devastating effect on the physical and mental health of young people of sexual exploitation.
Eleven per cent of young people receiving help for drink and drug problems in Stockport admitted they were victims of sexual abuse with nine per cent in the two boroughs of Rochdale and Oldham.
These figures are up to two and half times higher than the national average, which is just 4 per cent.
Ms Coffey said the disclosure figures could be higher in the three Greater Manchester boroughs because there is a higher level of awareness after the high profile sexual grooming case in Rochdale in May 2012 when nine men were jailed and the 2013 case in Stockport when three men were jailed for the grooming and rape of two Stockport teenagers.
CSE takes many forms, including groups of men preying on groups of girls like the Rochdale case, but 90 per cent of sexual abuse still takes place in the family, according to the NSPCC.
Ms Coffey, who is also chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, said:
“Public health data is vital in the fight back against child sexual exploitation. It is a wealth of valuable information which can identify children at risk. Preventing child sexual exploitation should be designated as a public health priority.
“These disclosure figures are just the tip of the iceberg. We know that child sexual exploitation is under reported because victims are frightened, either that they will be blamed or not believed, or because they are terrified of their abusers. In some cases they do not even realise they are being abused.”
Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd said:
“I echo the words of Ann in saying that child sexual exploitation in the UK remains under reported. Publishing this kind of data is vital so that agencies that are involved in the protection of children can understand the challenges, but also so that victims can see they are not alone.
“We have to create a culture within which victims feel comfortable enough to come forward about this abhorrent abuse, so that we can learn more about exactly what the police and public services can do to protect vulnerable individuals and punish the perpetrators.
“There is a very real link between alcohol and drugs misuse and child sexual exploitation, with many individuals resorting to using as an escape from their ordeal. It’s fundamental that we create a system within which victims of child sexual exploitation can be confident that there is support available from police and other agencies, and that they will be taken seriously and their abusers brought to justice. No child must suffer in silence.” Tony Lloyd
Ms Coffey added: “These figures are just for the young people who have dared to talk about their horrific experiences. We can only imagine how many other young people are suffering in silence.”
Ms Coffey added: “Young people turn to drink and drugs to anesthetise themselves from traumatic experiences of sexual exploitation. But it just makes them more vulnerable to sexual abuse.”
During a visit to the Rochdale Sunrise team which works on child sexual exploitation cases, Ms Coffey was told that in one case it took 12 months to gain the trust of a known victim and the average time is 3 months with intensive support to gain their trust enough for them to tell their story.
NSPCC research last year found that it took on average, seven years for the young people they interviewed to disclose sexual abuse. The younger the child was when the sexual abuse started, the longer it took for them to disclose.
Ms Coffey said: “When we weave together different pieces of data from different agencies like health and the police and schools we start to build up a picture of what has been happening in these young people’s lives, which hopefully makes it easier to intervene to help them escape sexual exploitation.”
*Last month Ms Coffey released previously unpublished data, as part of her ongoing inquiry, which revealed that Greater Manchester Police received 2,286 pieces of intelligence relating to child sexual exploitation in the ten months to January this year, revealing a high level of public awareness since the horrific Rochdale grooming case.
The thousands of alerts included tip offs from worried members of the public; observations of police officers on the streets; social services, schools and other agencies about suspected sexual exploitation.
These were the first batch of intelligence figures since the new system of “flagging” potential child sexual exploitation victims and perpetrators was introduced by GMP on its Command and Control system about a year ago, following the Rochdale scandal.
Ms Coffey said the figures showed that the public now had its eyes and ears wide open and were “prepared to fight back together against those who exploit our children and young people.”