The number of child sex grooming cases uncovered by police has soared by a third in just a year, ministers have admitted amid warnings abuse is happening in every town in the country.
The Home Office has revealed that 495 sexual grooming offenses were recorded by police in the year to June, up 32 per cent on the same time in 2013.
It comes as council leaders hold a summit today on how to protect youngsters from being exploited by gangs of sex offenders.
Police say they have been inundated with reports of child sexual exploitation, including historic cases and allegations of grooming and trafficking across the country.
It follows high profile historical cases involving celebrities such as Jimmy Savile and revelations about sex gangs in Rotherham and Rochdale.
Fleur Strong, director of Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace), told MailOnline last month that this type of abuse is ‘in every town’ and warned that people retreated to a ‘comfort zone’ of thinking grooming and abuse only happen ‘elsewhere’.
Challenged about the remarks, Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone insisted the risk of child abuse and grooming was not limited to certain areas.
‘We know that child sexual abuse and exploitation are not confined to any particular areas of the country,’ she said in response to a parliamentary question. ‘It can take on many different forms.’
Revealing the sharp rise in sexual grooming offences recorded by the police in England and Wales of 32 per cent, Ms Featherstone added: ‘This Government is absolutely determined that every case of child sexual abuse or exploitation is fully investigated and all perpetrators prosecuted, we will do nothing to jeopardise those aims.’
We know that child sexual abuse and exploitation are not confined to any particular areas of the country.
Lynne Featherstone, Home Office minister
Today the Local Government Association (LGA) is holding a high-level summit to examine what more can be done to tackle historic weaknesses in councils in dealing with child abuse.
David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: ‘Keeping children safe is the most important thing that councils do, but we know we cannot do it alone.
‘Protecting children does not fall only to councils, but to the police, health services, schools and local groups. Inspections must reflect this.’
But Labour MP John Mann criticised the event, , claiming victims were being excluded from the platform at the LGA ‘talking shop’ in Westminster.
He said: ‘There has been a shameful lack of support for the survivors of child abuse. I met with a constituent last week for example who was refused support by local mental health services.
‘It doesn’t appear that a single representative of survivors’ groups will actually be speaking at the meeting … in London and unless they are members of the LGA it will cost them over £345 to even attend.’
Also today experts involved in the Government’s troubled child sexual abuse inquiry will appear before MPs.
The inquiry set up by Home Secretary Theresa May has stalled following the resignations of the two people appointed to chair it and uncertainty about how it will be granted extra powers.
Two members of the inquiry panel and the body’s expert adviser Professor Alexis Jay, who wrote the damning report on sexual exploitation in Rotherham, will appear before the home affairs select committee.
Fleur Strong, director of Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (Pace), said child abuse and grooming is happening in every part of the country
Mrs May revealed in a letter last month that she was considering standing down the panel in favour of a royal commission or a new inquiry on statutory terms.
As well as Prof Jay, the MPs will hear from panel members Drusilla Sharpling and Professor Jenny Pearce as part of their investigation into the inquiry, which is without a chairman following the resignations of Baroness Butler-Sloss and Dame Fiona Woolf after each became entangled in allegations of conflict of interest.
There has been a rise in reported cases of abuse following revelations about sex gangs in Rotherham and Rochdale.
But campaign groups and the police warned parents and officials not to assume the problem was restricted to some areas.
Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation has warned of an increase in people using so-called ‘legal highs’ to groom youngsters for sex and the crime was widespread across Britain.
A major problem for police and social services is that where teenagers have been groomed they are not even aware that they are being abused and often believe they are in a loving relationship.
Ms Strong said last month: ‘It’s a global crime so the concept of it only happening in a section of the country is wrong, it’s across the whole country. This type of abuse is in every town.’
She said one of the problems was that parents and other adults prefer to think that child sex abuse is not the sort of thing that happens where they live.
‘We are all in a much better comfort zone if we think this type of abuse happens elsewhere and its other people who are affected and it’s other people doing the crime, that there is another ring going on.
‘And it’s something that we need to try and change.’
She said she knew of serious cases involving families in Exeter, Norfolk, East Anglia, Cumbria, the Borders and Torquay.
She warned that it was wrong to think only children in major cities were at risk.