Sue Berelowitz told MPs the “horrific” issue of child sex exploitation is “much more complex” than simply gangs of British-Pakistani men targeting white girls.
Concern over the sexual exploitation of young girls in areas such as Rotherham, Bradford and Rochdale have exploded over the past 12 months following a series of harrowing testimonies and high-profile court cases.
Much of the attention has focused on gangs of Asian men and their attitude towards young white girls, with former Keighley MP Ann Cryer and her successor, Kris Hopkins, telling a Parliamentary committee last month of their concerns about some elements within Yorkshire’s British-Pakistani community.
But speaking before the Commons education committee yesterday, Ms Berelowitz said the problem spanned far wider, and that focusing solely on Asian gangs may be allowing some child rapists to slip through the net.
She said: “People are bringing particular perceptions to their understanding of sex exploitation that this is exclusively white victims and Pakistani perpetrators.
“It’s a much more complex picture than that.
“There are victims from all ethnic groups, and I’m really worried that too many are falling through the net because people are only looking for white girls – and that other perpetrators are slipping away because people are thinking it’s only Pakistani males.
“The biggest factor that crosses all perpetrators is that they are almost without exception male – but they do come from all ethnic and faith groups, in our experience.”
Local authorities, prosecutors and police chiefs have been heavily criticised for their failure to deal with the problem, with Ms Cryer accusing those in power of failing to act through fear of being dubbed racist.
But Ms Berelowitz said: “I haven’t come across any areas where there has been evidence of sexual exploitation by any ethnic group where people are saying they don’t want to do anything about it for fear of upsetting a particular ethnic group or inflaming ethnic tensions.
“That’s not evidence we’ve found anywhere.”
She added: “I think the reluctance is that this is so horrible – it is the most horrible violent, sadistic stuff I have ever encountered by a pretty long chalk, quite frankly.
The reluctance is just to believe that these levels of depravity are being enacted upon children.”
Ms Berelowitz, who is carrying out an inquiry into child sex exploitation that concludes this autumn, gave horrific accounts of young girls being exploited and warned some headteachers are reluctant to tackle the issue for fear of the message it will send out about their school. “We are encountering a reluctance in some schools to face up to the fact that some of the bullying that takes place within the school environment actually amounts to sexual exploitation, certainly sexual violence,” she said.
“The reason they don’t want to is because heads are worried that people will think there’s a problem in their schools.
“I can’t comment on how prevalent that is, I don’t have that evidence. But it’s an issue that needs to be taken seriously.”