The Prime Minister has pledged that “political correctness” will not get in the way of a crackdown on grooming gangs, as ministers promised tougher sentences and new support for local forces to protect children from abuse.
Rishi Sunak will travel to northern England on Monday to announce a new set of measures the Government says will protect young women and girls from sexual abuse, which will also see ethnicity data used to support police investigations.
Part of the plan will see specialist officers assist local police forces to solve child sexual exploitation investigations as part of a new grooming gangs taskforce, as Mr Sunak warned that for too long “political correctness has stopped us from weeding out vile criminals who prey on children and young women”.
He vowed: “We will stop at nothing to stamp out these dangerous gangs.”
The plan will also see ethnicity data used to assist the police in investigating grooming gangs, something ministers will argue is necessary to ensure “cultural sensitivities” are not used to prevent criminals being caught.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman on Sunday singled out British Pakistani men over concerns about grooming gangs as she accused authorities of turning a “blind eye” to signs of abuse over fears of being labelled “racist” or “bigoted”.
Ms Braverman, who alluded to high-profile cases including in Rotherham and Rochdale that involved groups of men of mainly Pakistani ethnicity, pointed to a “predominance of certain ethnic groups – and I say British Pakistani males – who hold cultural values totally at odds with British values, who see women in a demeaned and illegitimate way and pursue an outdated and frankly heinous approach in terms of the way they behave”.
Previous Home Office-commissioned research found most group child sex offenders are men under the age of 30 and the majority are white, while adding there is not enough evidence to suggest members of grooming gangs are more likely to be Asian or black than other ethnicities.
Her language was criticised by some campaigners, while the NSPCC emphasised that an excessive focus on race could create new “blind spots”.
It came as Ms Braverman announced plans for a consultation on introducing a mandatory duty on professionals working with children to report concerns about sexual abuse.
Mr Sunak, who will be in Leeds and Greater Manchester, will also say that grooming gang members and leaders will receive the toughest sentences possible, with the introduction of new legislation that would make membership an aggravated factor in sentencing.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “Grooming gangs are a scourge on our society and I want to send a clear message to anyone who exploits vulnerable children that they will face the full weight of the law.
“This builds on the extensive action this Government has already taken to introduce tougher sentencing, and the reforms introduced last week in the Victims and Prisoners Bill to keep the most dangerous offenders behind bars, while making sure victims get the support they need at all times.”
The announcements come after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse last year described sexual abuse of children as an “epidemic that leaves tens of thousands of victims in its poisonous wake”.
The seven-year inquiry into institutional failings in England and Wales concluded that people in positions of trust should be compelled by law to report child sexual abuse.
Professor Alexis Jay, who chaired the inquiry, welcomed the announcements.
She said: “The commitment to mandatory reporting is very encouraging, and I look forward to working with the Government to ensure that the full package of the inquiry’s recommendations in its final report is taken forward to better protect children from sexual abuse in the future.”
Labour said it had long called for mandatory reporting, labelling the Government response “hopelessly inadequate”.
“Only 11% of child sexual abuse cases ends with a charge – down from 32% seven years ago, and the court delays have got far worse with victims waiting years for justice.
“Short term headlines aren’t enough. We need a comprehensive plan that listens to survivors and victims and properly tackles child exploitation and abuse, including online, to keep children safe.”
Sir Peter Wanless, the NSPCC chief executive, welcomed the Government’s “focus” on the issue but said that measures “must be backed up with funding for services to help child victims recover and support for a justice system that is struggling to cope”.
He added: “It’s also vital we remember that any child can be a victim of child sexual exploitation and adult perpetrators do not just come from one background.
“Sexual predators will target the most vulnerable and accessible children in society and there must be a focus on more than just race so we do not create new blind spots that prevent victims from being identified.
“Better data collection by law enforcement as part of the package of measures announced today would help ensure all those working to protect children have a clearer, evidence-based understanding of child sexual abuse and exploitation so it can be tackled more effectively.”
Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza also welcomed the plans, but urged the Government to “extend this same focus to children arriving in the UK who often face similar dangers”.