Most of those who commit child sex exploitation (CSE) offences in groups are white men, according to a Home Office report.
It directly contradicts right wing claims that so-called “grooming gangs” are predominantly made up of Asian men.
And it flies in the face of allegations from Labour MPs, councils and police that placed the blame on specific communities in the north west of England.
Several high-profile cases, including the CSE scandals in Rotherham and Rochdale, involved Pakistani abusers.
But the report said that “beyond specific high-profile cases” there are “significant limitations to what can be said about links between ethnicity and this form of offending”.
“Research has found that group-based CSE offenders are most commonly white,” it said.
Right wingers have argued that, although most abusers are white, Asians are disproportionately more likely to be involved in abuse. But the Home Office report said there is no evidence for this.
This is despite the media spending years picking up stories about abuse, and using them to push a racist narrative.
Instead it “is not possible to conclude” that black and Asian offenders are over-represented in group-based CSE offending.
“It is likely that no one community or culture is uniquely predisposed to offending,” it said.
Still, the inability to find a link between ethnicity and abuse isn’t for want of trying.
The report describes how researchers “undertook exploratory analysis” of data from the Police National Computer, to try and find a relationship between CSE and ethnicity.
But many cases record no ethnicity. And CSE offences can’t be separated out in the data as they can be recorded in different ways.
Data collected by police also relies on police assigning ethnic categories to people. The report cited research showing that this has led to white people being classed as “Asian”.
It stressed that the full picture of abuse is unknown because so much goes unreported. This can lead to a skewed picture. For instance, boys may find it harder to report abuse than girls, creating an impression that boys don’t really suffer abuse.
A focus on certain high profile cases also has an effect. So “several” suspected CSE cases had been reported “because bystanders saw signs that recalled other cases in the media” such as BBC drama Three Girls.
This focused on Asian abusers in Rochdale. The report said media attention can make some forms of CSE more widely recognised. But “it also suggests a possibility that similarities between the cases we know about might reflect a reporting bias”.
And “cases that present differently could be going unrecognised and unreported”. This can make it harder for some victims to get help.
As the report put it, “People looking for evidence of a highly-organised ‘grooming gang’ and not finding it might conclude—incorrectly—that group-based CSE is not taking place.”
The report warned against blaming abuse on a single factor, citing a serious case review into the Rochdale case. “A simplistic view that the mere fact of being ‘Asian’ is in itself explanatory of behaviour is dangerous,” the review said.
“Such presumptions represent a meaningless over-generalisation that is positively unhelpful if we wish to protect other potential victims.”
The report makes clear that it is not possible to argue that certain ethnic groups are predisposed to abuse children. Yet there are signs that home secretary Priti Patel will continue to try and pin the problem of CSE on Asian men.
“Victims and survivors have told me how they were let down by the state in the name of political correctness,” she said in response to the report.
Patel accepted that it is “difficult” to “draw conclusions about the characteristics of offenders. But she added, “That is why the government’s forthcoming Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Strategy will commit to improving our understanding of child sexual abuse – including around ethnicity.”
Meanwhile the things that victims and survivors really need are still lacking.
The report acknowledged that people “need a combination of different services at different stages of their recovery”. The Tories have slashed funding to councils that provide such services.
The report said there is evidence that abusers “gravitate towards individuals in situations where safeguards are lower”. But cuts and privatisation have meant fewer safeguards for young people, not more.
It said public spaces play a “significant role” in group-based CSE crimes. “Creating safer public spaces is critical in prevention efforts,” it said.
But cuts mean fewer park wardens and other workers who made spaces safer.
The report’s own case reviews show how a lack of funding has hit support for victims of CSE.
In Derbyshire “the local authority lacked the facilities and resources to support” two young people. Instead they received criminal convictions.
The Tories won’t deliver proper support for survivors of abuse, let alone justice.
Attitudes that treat working class young people as worthless and women as objects don’t come from one ethnic group. They come from the top of the system that the Tories defend