Truth and abuse

THE sensitivities around the grooming of vulnerable teenage girls, and the suggestion of a link to Britain's Pakistani community, are immense.

They should not, however, prevent a thorough investigation into how children are spotted and abused. In fact, the reluctance to talk about the problem only underlines why such a study is necessary.

Experts from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop) have little choice but to investigate the claims surrounding on-street grooming. The jailing last week of two Asian men for abusing girls, as well as an escalation in the political debate about such crimes, means it is time to separate truth from ugly stereotypes.

It would be offensive and absurd to claim that grooming is somehow the hallmark of a particular ethnic group. It would be wrong, however, to deny a pattern of offending among a tiny minority of individuals in the Midlands and North of England. As a former Home Secretary, Jack Straw should be aware of the need to speak in calm terms. He has often done so but in describing young Pakistani men as "fizzing and popping with testosterone" he risks giving cover to unpleasant fringe groups which seek to whip up tensions.

He would do well to follow the sober example of Ann Cryer, the former Keighley MP, who has warned of the dangers of abuse being "swept under the carpet". Discussing such issues may feel deeply unpleasant but, as with child abuse in any community, a culture of silence only fosters the problem.When it comes to its report, Ceop must not pull any punches. The Home Office too must look afresh at what has been claimed, because the amount of research covering the background of on-street abusers is scarce. Out of the fog of political debate the truth must emerge.