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Report finds exploitation victims

A report has found that at least 132 children in Birmingham have been victims of sexual exploitation or are "vulnerable" to it.

The city's council carried out a year-long investigation into child sex abuse amid fears that grooming rings like those uncovered in Oxford and Derby could be operating in the area.

They found that teenage girls who are in care are most at risk of sexual exploitation, while some girls said they were raped as part of gang initiation ceremonies.

The report, entitled We Need to Get it Right, highlighted 83 children who are most at most risk of sexual exploitation - 80 girls and just three boys.

Of these, one is under 13 years old, 57 are aged 14 to 16, and 25 are 17 or older.

While child sex exploitation scandals in Rotherham and Rochdale overwhelmingly involved men of Asian origin preying on white girls, officials said they did not see the same pattern in Birmingham.

Around half - 39 - of children who are most at risk of child sexual exploitation in the city are white British, while 40 are from black and minority ethnic groups and 44 are in care, according to the report's figures, which were collected in September.

Anita Ward, chairwoman of the Education and Vulnerable Children Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said the council was spurred to launch the investigation following child sex scandals across the country.

In the report she said: "For far too long, child sexual exploitation (CSE) was a hidden issue, but following the recent number of high profile cases across the country the problem has been exposed and we can no longer pretend that it does not exist within our society."

She said that "having concluded that if it was happening in areas like Derby, Oxford, Telford and Rochdale, it was in all likelihood happening in Birmingham".

The report's authors described the abuse they were told about as "harrowing" and said that some children are being let down by "failures" in the safeguarding services that are meant to protect them.

In one case highlighted in the report, a 15 year-old girl was raped by three men in a local park who filmed her ordeal, b ut when she tried to speak out no-one believed her because she was seen as a "troublemaker" at school.

Her rapists began plying her with drugs, alcohol and money and groomed her so she began to see them as her friends.

But they continued to rape and physically attack her, and she lived in fear that the men would kill her family.

The report's authors said this case is far from unique, and that young victims of sexual exploitation are "imprisoned" psychologically by their abusers

They said: "Such imprisonment is not always caused by a locked door, but by the terror of possible retribution, or just because they still think their so called boyfriend/girlfriend 'still loves them'.

"We heard of many cases where lives have been put back on track due to timely interventions and we also heard of many examples of, at best, frustration with the systems in place, and at worst failure of procedures, multi-agency working or a lack of resources.

"The committee feels that whether or not these were isolated incidents or indications of broader systemic failure, leaving one child vulnerable is one child too many."

They added: "This report should act as a wake-up call as it is important for everyone to understand that CSE is occurring in Birmingham and can occur within any part of the city or community and to boys as well as girls."

The report comes amid major concerns that Birmingham's children's services are failing to cope, as regulators Ofsted have rated the service inadequate since 2008.

Concerns have also been raised over West Midlands Police's response to child sexual exploitation cases.

A national Child Protection Inspection earlier this year warned: "In the cases examined by inspectors, the police response was mixed. The service was generally good if the risk was clearly identified by another agency.

"However, five of the nine cases of child sexual exploitation examined were assessed as inadequate. Signs of risk were missed, lines of inquiry were either not followed up or took too long, and there were failures to respond to information and intelligence and to pursue offenders."

They added: "Overall, the force's response to tackling child sexual exploitation has been slow, with inconsistent practice across the force area."

The disclosures follow a damning report by Ofsted last week which said the most vulnerable children in society are at risk of sexual exploitation due to unacceptable failings by social services, health workers and police.

Ofsted said local authorities have been "too slow" to face up to their responsibilities in preventing child sexual exploitation.

Arrangements to tackle sexual exploitation at a local level were described as "underdeveloped", while leadership was criticised as being "frequently lacking".

Ms Ward added: "My aim is for this report is to galvanise action now. We cannot and should not wait for a high profile case to rear its head in Birmingham. Much has been achieved already here, but there is more to be done. Abuse of children requires our full attention."

Jon Brown, NSPCC lead for sexual abuse, said: "Behind the facts and figures contained in this report are the lives of children and young people in Birmingham whose childhoods are being blighted by sexual exploitation. As the report acknowledges, this is just a snapshot and it is highly likely that more children across the city are at risk of harm.

"We welcome the focus Birmingham City Council has placed upon taking action to address this important issue and recognising that child sexual exploitation is a significant problem, as it is in towns and cities across the UK.

"However, it is vital that this report acts as a marker in the ground for all those working with children and young people in Birmingham to improve the way they work together and share information to protect children and prevent his abhorrent crime. Crucially, professionals must listen to young people, recognise the signs when they are at risk of abuse and take action to keep them safe.

"All those working with children must act like a good parent would. They must listen to children, understand what's happening in their lives and how their needs can be met to protect them."

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