Following on from yesterday's reports of 'grooming' (isn't that what primates do ?) in Oldham, there are also reports from Burnley and Rossendale.
The Evening Telegraph can exclusively reveal girls as young as 12 have been targeted by gangs of men who pay the youngsters in cash, drugs, cigarettes and drink for sexual favours.
Police revealed in the past year, around 50 East Lancashire victims aged under 16 had been identified by special police and social services teams set up to combat the menace but they believe as many as 100 could be involved.
Many of the youngsters go missing from home each week to spend time with men who have groomed them for sex.
Officers said the predators, who initially approach the girls on the street, are predominantly Asian and community leaders have joined the fight to tackle the issue.
In an attempt to stamp out the abuse and help girls who are lured away from home, police in Blackburn, Darwen, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley launched a crackdown called Operation Engage last June but have now made it a permanent policing priority after discovering the extent of the problem.
At the same time police in Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale (Pennine division) ran Operation Fruition to identify the scale of the problem of girls being groomed into sexual exploitation by isolated groups of men.
Muslim leaders have also been holding special seminars at mosques across East Lancashire to raise awareness of the problem.
PC Helen Dean from the Engage team revealed that in the past 12 months, along with Alison Hartley, from Blackburn with Darwen Council's children's services, she has worked with 31 children who have been groomed into this abuse.
PC Emma Shaw, who is dedicated to dealing with all missing from home cases in the Pennine division, has worked with between 15 and 20 girls who had been groomed into sexual exploitation by gangs of men.
But they are only the girls that they had been able to connect with and they believe many more are being victimised.
Since June 2005 police have issued 65 warning letters to men in the Blackburn, Darwen, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley area who have been identified through intelligence for harbouring children away from the care of their home or social services.
So far so bog-standard. You have to pull a wry face at the police response though.
Police stressed, however, that the issue of grooming also involved men, predominantly white, who target girls through the internet.
Blackburn MP Jack Straw today expressed his deep concern and said he would be raising the matter immediately with the Home Office.
He said: "I was frankly unaware of the scale of this problem until the Lancashire Evening Telegraph highlighted it but it is one that we all must now address including the Asian community."
Supt Neil Smith of Lancashire Police said: "This is not a racist issue. It is about the exploitation of vulnerable young girls for sex.
"The majority of cases involve Asian males but there are also a significant proportion of cases involving white men using the internet."
I think that 'predominantly' has been added by reporter Caroline Innes. The police phrase is 'significant proportion'. But the analogy doesn't add up anyway. It's not Asian girls who are being tempted into cars with offers of drink, is it ? Does anyone think white men on the internet are targeting Asian girls ?
And when was the last time a police report on misbehaviour by white people included a rider to the effect that there was plenty of crime committed by minorities ?
Wheeling and Dealing
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