LONDON: A report found that over 300 victims may have been groomed and assaulted by Oxfordshire gangs over the last 16 years.
The report found that as many as 373 girls may have been subjected to “indescribably awful” sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire, southern England.
Following the report, British Prime Minister David Cameron promised tough action Tuesday against teachers and social workers who fail to protect children in their care, as a new report identified hundreds more potential sex abuse victims.
A series of recent scandals have revealed that children across Britain had been abused on an “industrial scale”, Cameron said, blaming the “‘walk-on by’ culture” of officials, including police officers.
Under his proposed new measures, the existing crime of “wilful neglect”, which carries a maximum jail term of five years, will be extended in England and Wales to cover children’s social care and education.
The findings follow a string of similar investigations that have revealed widespread sexual abuse of children, many of whom were being monitored by local authorities.
“Today, I am sending an unequivocal message that professionals who fail to protect children will be held properly accountable and council bosses who preside over such catastrophic failure will not see rewards for that failure,” Cameron said.
“Children were ignored, sometimes even blamed, and issues were swept under the carpet — often because of a warped and misguided sense of political correctness,” he added.
“That culture of denial which let them down so badly must be eradicated.”
The report into abuse in Oxfordshire accused authorities of “serious failings” in the way they treated young girls’ claims they were being abused by gangs of men.
Victims were plied with drugs and alcohol before being forced into prostitution, raped and drugged, the report said, but the local council failed to recognise the scale of the problem.
“What happened to the child victims of the sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire was indescribably awful,” said Alan Bedford, the author of the independent review.
Maggie Blyth, independent chair of the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board (OSCB) that had some responsibility for the girls, apologised.
“It is shocking that these children were subjected to such appalling sexual exploitation for so long. On behalf of the OSCB I would like to apologise,” she said.
The report has echoes of another investigation that last year identified at least 1,400 potential victims of child sexual exploitation in the northern English town of Rotherham.
The inquiry detailed gang rape, kidnapping and trafficking of girls as young as 11 between 1997 and 2013, but said local officials failed to act against the mainly South Asian men responsible for fear of being seen as racist.
Similar cases of widespread sexual abuse of children — sometimes by organised gangs — have been revealed in recent years in the cities of Derby and Rochdale.
Britain has also been gripped by revelations of child sex abuse by some of its best-loved celebrities and claims against top politicians and establishment officials.
The government announced last year it was setting up independent inquiry to look into how public institutions and bodies failed children going back decades.
But the probe has yet to get going after the first two chairwomen stepped down over accusations they were too close to the establishment. A New Zealand judge, Lowell Goddard, was named last month to take the helm.
Under Tuesday’s plans, the government will set up a new national whistleblowing helpline for public sector workers and a mechanism put in place to claw back pay-offs for those who failed to protect victims.
Child sexual abuse will also be prioritised as a national threat, Cameron said, meaning police forces will have a duty to share resources and intelligence.