Many children have been the victims of grooming gangs, but there’s no evidence for a figure of one million

24 July 2020
What was claimed

A million children have been gang raped and groomed in the UK.

Our verdict

This figure is not reliable. It appears to come from assuming that the number of suspected cases of child sexual exploitation in 2018/19 can be multiplied by 30 years—which still does not reach one million. We don’t know what the true number is.

A widely shared post on Facebook compares the public reaction to the killing of George Floyd with the reaction to the organised sexual abuse of children in the UK.

It says: “The cops kill a man in America, massive civil unrest. 1 million innocent children gang raped & groomed in the UK. Nothing happens.”

It is difficult to compare the reaction to the killing of George Floyd in the US with the reaction to cases of child sexual exploitation in the UK. Comparing the seriousness of the two issues and the adequacy of the public and official responses would involve complex and subjective judgements.

However, we can consider the claim that one million children have been gang raped and groomed in the UK. It isn’t clear what period of time the figure is meant to cover, or exactly what type of abuse it is describing, but if it refers to the victims of grooming gangs in particular, we cannot find evidence to support it. 

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How many children are abused?

According to the most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), 7.5% of adults aged 18 to 74 years experienced sexual abuse before they were 16. This would make a total of 3.1 million children within living memory, and more if we include Scotland and Northern Ireland, and people who are now older than 74.

This post, however, mentions children “gang raped and groomed”, and comes from a Facebook account called “South Yorkshire Grooming Gangs Awareness”. It appears to be connected with Rotherham, a town where more than 1,400 children were abused by a gang over a number of years. There have been many similar cases elsewhere. We think therefore that it refers specifically to the number of victims of child sexual exploitation by grooming gangs, but the post is unclear.

When asked in the comments below the post for a source of the “1 million figure”, the author replied, “19,000 girls a year for 30 years, you do the maths”, and added a link to an article in the Independent from 2019.

The article reported that 18,700 children had been identified as suspected victims of child sexual exploitation in 2018/19, according to Department for Education figures that the Independent had seen. 

This did not describe victims of grooming gangs in particular. These are also not confirmed cases, nor does the number account for any other cases that were not identified. We also can’t assume that the same number of children had been sexually exploited each year for the past 30 years, as the Facebook post does. (If it were the case that there were 19,000 victims a year over 30 years, this would make a total of 570,000.)

Another one million claim

In an interview about the Rotherham case in 2015 the MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion, also said: “There are hundreds of thousands and I think there could be up to a million victims of exploitation nationwide, including right now.” 

When we asked Ms Champion where this figure came from, she told us that she had calculated it herself as a rough estimate. “I extrapolated that Rotherham is a town [of] 200,000 and had 1,400 known victims of CSE [child sexual exploitation] between 1997-2013 and 15% of women report their rape - so scaled up,” she said. 

This is not a reliable way to calculate an estimate either. We do not know whether Rotherham’s experience is typical of the whole country. Also, we think the 15% figure Ms Champion used comes from a government report from 2013. If so, it represents the proportion of women who reported the most recent incident of serious sexual assault they had experienced, which is not necessarily the same as the proportion of child exploitation victims indentified in Rotherham. 

It might be possible to create an estimate of one million victims by speculating about cases that happened decades ago, but in the recent past it does not seem likely that one million children have been the victims of child grooming gangs, or sexual exploitation more widely. Even so, it is a serious problem on a large scale.

Further information and confidential advice about child abuse can be found via the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the Lucy Faithfull Foundation’s Stop It Now! service.

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