The CEO of the UK's largest children's charity has urged authorities to take "urgent action" to halt the "widespread sexual abuse of children" identified in the Office of Children's Commissioner new study.

The Commissioner's Child Sexual Expolitation Inquiry interim report 'I thought I was the only one; the only one in the world' identified 2,409 victims of sexual abuse in the 14 months to October 2011 but also suggests the true number is likely to be far higher.

It also identifies 16,500 children who were at "high risk of sexual exploitation" in 2010-11 having taken evidence from voluntary agencies, local authorities, police, health services and young people.

Commenting on the findings Andrew Flanagan, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: "This report quite clearly shows that the terrible problem of children being groomed for sexual abuse is widespread and needs urgent action to bring it to a halt.

"Sex offenders come from all backgrounds but if there is a problem with one community in a particular area we must be bold enough to address it and not just turn a blind eye. The grooming and organised rape of vulnerable young girls is obviously a serious and disturbing crime which cannot be tolerated under any circumstances."

This is the first study to calculate the extent of sexual exploitation of children and young people and identifies 13 risk factors that may indicate young people are subject to sexual exploitation and grooming:
-Going missing
-Physical injuries or self-harm
-Drug or alcohol misuse
-Petty crime
-Sexually transmitted diseases
-Absence from school
-Changing appearance
-Gifts from unkown sources
-Poor mental health
-Suicidal
-Estranged from family
-Sexually bullied online
-Recruiting others for abuse

The report found evidence of inconsistent collection of data on child sexual abuse by health services and local authorities, no standardised process across police forces for recording sexual offences by multiple offenders nor of coding sexual offences against children.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has said the findings should act as a "wake-up call to government" and called for a clear action plan "to protect and support these children".

Flanagan outlined the steps the NSPCC is taking to provide such support systems. "In recent months the NSPCC's specialist teams dedicated to helping children targeted for grooming and sexual exploitation have worked with around 70 girls from a range of ethnic backgrounds with the majority aged between 14 and 16 - although some were as young as 11," he added.

"Any young person suffering this abuse must be encouraged to speak out by telling a trusted adult, the police or by calling ChildLine."

Adults with concerns about a child can contact the NSPCC's helpline for advice and support on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk. Children and young people with concerns about abuse can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.uk.

Click here to download the report in full 

Posted 21/11/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com