Education Secretary Michael Gove reportedly said a study had downplayed the abuse of white girls by groups of Asian men (Reuters)
Education secretary Michael Gove reportedly said study downplayed abuse of white girls by groups of Asian men (Reuters)

A report which claims that thousands of children are being abused by gangs in England each year has been criticised by the government as being "hysterical" and downplaying the ethnicity of perpetrators.

The study, by the Office of Children's Commissioner, said there were 2,409 victims of child abuse between August 2010 and October 2011. A further 16,500 children were believed to be at high risk of abuse.

The report, I thought I was the only one - the only one in the world, is the most in-depth investigation of gang child exploitation in England.

But it was criticised by senior government sources as "hysterical and half-baked" who accused the authors "sensationalising" the numbers, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Education secretary Michael Gove said the study had overlooked the numbers of white girls abused by groups of Asian men.

The report found that, where recorded, 35 percent of the perpetrators were white and 27 percent Asian.

Twenty-eight percent of the victims reported to the inquiry were from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The report said: "This information is significant, given that the general perception appears to be that sexual exploitation by groups, in particular, is primarily a crime against white children."

The deputy children's commissioner, Sue Berelowitz , who led the report, dismissed claims that the study was exaggerated.

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This is a very calm, measured report.

"We have left out the most harrowing details, really shocking distressing stories that children have told us, that we have heard from police. I would say to the government: This is a wake-up call."

Berelowitz added that the evidence showed that the perpetrators "come from all ethnic groups and so do their victims, contrary to what some may wish to believe.

"When people focus on that one model they are unfortunately not identifying all victims because they think that all victims are white girls."

Berelowitz argued it was irresponsible to dwell on data from the report that revealed Asian men were disproportionately more likely to be involved in such abuse.

The conclusions were drawn from evidence obtained by police, local authorities, health services, voluntary sector agencies and children and young people themselves. 

Former Labour MP Ann Cryer also weighed in against the study's conclusions.

She told the Times: "I can understand why she [Berelowitz] is afraid of being called a racist but this is about protecting young victims.

"We cannot ignore the statistics staring us in the face. We need to look at perpetrators and ask what is in their background that makes them behave this way."

Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: "Sex offenders come from all backgrounds but if there is a problem with one community in a particular areas we must be bold enough to address it and not just turn a blind eye."

Tory MP Margot James said: "On the face of it, this is an issue for all ethnicities, but there is a specific problem in certain Asian communities - specifically the Pakistani community - in too many cities to ignore the phenomenon."