500 children 'at risk of sex abuse'
Almost 500 children were sexually exploited or at risk of sexual exploitation in the West Midlands in the first half of last year, a report has found.
The majority of victims were female and around a third of the 488 children identified were in local authority care, the analysis by West Midlands Police, children's charity Barnardo's and seven local councils showed.
The number detected is likely to be "a significant underestimate of the true scale of the problem" in the region, the report, published on national child sexual exploitation (CSE) awareness day states.
West Midlands Police are conducting 70 CSE probes, with 97 people on bail in connection with the problem.
The number of victims identified in the Solihull area was proportionately greater than any of the other six local council areas, the report found, but added that this was due to "well-developed processes for identifying children at risk" rather than the area being a "hot spot" for CSE.
Most online predators are white young and middle-aged males, the report said, while there was a disproportionate number of those suspected of abuse on the streets from an Asian Pakistani background.
Victims are sometimes trafficked to areas including London, Greater Manchester and North Wales and abused by multiple men, interviews conducted with children when they returned home after going missing showed.
Stephen Rimmer, regional strategic lead on preventing violence against vulnerable people, said the report is the first real insight into the threat across the area.
He said: "This assessment gives us a proper picture for the first time of the scale and nature of the CSE threat across the West Midlands.
"Since this snapshot we have put into practice common standards and a shared regional approach to coordinate our operational activity, we have launched an awareness raising campaign to inform young people, parents and communities and we have engaged directly with front line staff - teachers, GPs, taxi drivers and many others.
"This is to improve our support to children and young people at risk and to make life increasingly difficult for perpetrators of this crime - our number of investigations is growing as a result."
Solihull's chief executive Nick Page, speaking on behalf of the seven local authorities involved in the analysis, described the work as "an important staging post".
He said: "However we cannot be complacent in any way. The perpetrators of this horrendous abuse are, whilst evil, very adept at disguising their activity. As the statutory agencies our duty, responsibility and purpose to protect children and young people is crystal clear.
"Working together with our communities and partners across the West Midlands has to be the way to go. So we can say today that some progress is being made, whilst being clear there is so much more we must do."
Detective Chief Superintendent Danny Long of West Midlands Police public protection unit said CSE remains a top priority for police.
"Over the past 12 months our public protection unit has been doubled in strength to some 800 officers and staff," he said.
"This means around 10% of the entire force are engaged in the fight and shows just how committed we are to tackling CSE.
"There is nothing more important than safeguarding children and our continuing work with all local authorities and other partner agencies strengthens everybody's ability to stamp out the problem."