The first attempt at a nationwide assessment of patterns of child sexual exploitation reveals that 26% of those who engage in on-street grooming of young girls are Asian, an information very rapidly relegated by the media and certain politicians.
But Peter Davies, the director of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre (Ceop), which carried out the research warned against jumping to any conclusions from the findings on the ethnicity of offenders because the data gathered by his investigators was incomplete, not nationwide and of poor quality.
"I would send a note of caution about trying to extrapolate anything from this. Looking at this issue through the lens of ethnicity does not do the victims any favours," he said.
From the data, Ceop was able to say 2,379 offenders were identified between March 2008 and January 2011. There were 2,083 victims, 90% of whom were white girls, with strong links between children going missing from homes and the care system and becoming victims. Offenders were predominantly males aged between 18 - 24 who acted alone or in groups. Social services and charities revealed that of the 2,379 offenders identified by the research, ethnicity had not been recorded in 32% of cases. The data also showed 38% of offenders were white and a small number were black or Chinese.
Investigators from Ceop spent six months gathering intelligence and data from police forces across the country, social services, health authorities and charities working with victims in an attempt to quantify the scale of the problem.
The Ceop report also found that in 1,087 cases agencies have failed to identify the background of the child victim. And in many cases no one bothered to record even the gender of the victims. Last year alone, charities across the sector dealt with 2,900 children who had been sexually exploited, according to figures released a fortnight ago by Barnadoes.
In 2010 alone, Barnadoes worked with 1,098 children who had been sexually exploited; a 4% increase on the year before.
The head of Ceop initially commissioned the assessment after a national debate over what some people had identified as a pattern of Asian men operating in gangs to groom young white girls and sexually abuse them. However Davies insists the organisation also started the study to identify any patterns of offending and victimisation as it would in turn help improve responses.
Davies said despite the media and some politician already brandishing the 26% figure as a sign that Asian men constitute a large portion of offenders that prey on children and young girls, the findings did not support this suggestion.
In contrast, when looking at the document, what emerges is that not enough is being done by the police, by social services and particularly by local children's safeguarding boards to identify and investigate child sexual exploitation that goes on in local areas.
"The key message for me is that this is a horrific crime and involves the systematic, premeditated rape of children. It needs to be understood, it needs to be brought out of the dark. There should be no hiding place anywhere for people who take part in this kind of crime," he said.
Davies said he was "surprised and disappointed" that two thirds of local safeguarding children's boards were failing to do their statutory duty on child sexual exploitation as it should be required for them to assume that child sexual exploitation was going on in their area unless there was clear evidence otherwise. Only one third was doing this.
Studying crimes whilst linking them to people's ethnicity will certainly not find child abuse, but will on the other hand help push for a deeper stigmatisation of ethnic minorities communities. Being marginalised will only deepen social fractures and incite to generalisation and racism. Other clues however should be carefully analysed as questions regarding the root causes of child abuse still need to be answered. As the study shows, we should also question why most local children's safeguarding boards are failing to fulfil their statutory responsibility to identify child sexual exploitation and protect children, why the size and scale of the crime is not known, why there are strong links between runaway children and victims of child sexual exploitation and most of all realise that more research is needed to provide a more comprehensive picture.