What do we know about the ethnicity of people involved in sexual offences against children?

6 September 2017
What was claimed

Nearly 90% of those convicted of wider child abuse offences and on the sex offenders register are white men.

Our verdict

There isn’t much publicly available information on this. The data we do have shows a large majority of those convicted of sexual offences (no matter the age of the victim) are white.

What was claimed

Pakistani men are disproportionately involved in grooming gangs.

Our verdict

Some studies have found that a disproportionate number of offenders and suspected offenders in child grooming gangs are categorised as being of Asian ethnicity and most don’t break this down any further so we can’t know if they are Pakistani. But all of the studies stress that the data isn’t good enough to know whether this is a true reflection of offenders in these cases.

“Yes Pakistani men are disproportionately involved in grooming gangs and this particular model of abuse. And no that is not a racist statement. Neither is it racist to say that when it comes to wider child abuse nearly 90 per cent of those convicted and on the sex offenders register are white men.”

Naz Shah MP, 12 August 2017

Following the high profile conviction of eighteen people in Newcastle found guilty of a catalogue of offences including rape and conspiracy to incite prostitution there has been a lot of discussion in the media about so-called grooming gangs. In particular there has been a lot of debate over what role, if any, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds play in both grooming and child sex offences more widely.

The information we have about this is patchy and has a lot of problems. It also tends to focus on England and Wales rather than the whole of the UK. Studies on those involved in grooming children do suggest that a disproportionate number of offenders are categorised as being of Asian ethnicity. The proportion of offenders or suspected offenders varies from study to study, but was anywhere from 27% to 75% in the studies we looked at. These studies all vary slightly in the way they analyse the offenders and suspected offenders and the level of response they received from child protection agencies across the country.

The government told us that it doesn’t routinely publish information on the ethnicity of people convicted of wider sexual offences. What is available suggests that the majority of offenders are white.

In the overall population of England and Wales 86% of people were white in 2011 (at the last census), 8% of the population was of Asian ethnicity, and 3% was black. Of course this will vary from place to place around the country.

 Researchers point out that the disproportionate representation of people of Asian ethnicity in studies on grooming gangs may be caused by a number of things including: bias in the collecting of information, the high profile nature of similar cases, and small sample sizes. This might mean, for example, that when recording information about offenders or suspected offenders, the organisations involved are more likely to record ethnicity if the person is Asian. Or it might mean that, because they had seem similar cases in the media, child protection organisations look out for specific types and patterns of grooming and abuse more than others leading to similar types of groups being caught.

A large proportion of cases in these studies also have the ethnicity of the offender recorded as unknown, so this could potentially affect the reliability of the information on ethnicities that we do know. In many of the cases no more information was known other than that the offender was described as Asian. This could cover a wide variety of ethnicities and nationalities like Chinese, Pakistani, Indian as well as a range of British-Asian ethnicities, depending on the study.

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Problems with the data on grooming gangs

There were over 1,200 cases of sexual grooming recorded by police in England and Wales in 2016/17. The scale of this, and other sexual offences against children, is difficult to measure as in many cases it goes unreported.

Naz Shah’s office pointed us towards research done by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and Office of the Children’s Commissioner as the source of her claim that a disproportionate number of Pakistani men were involved in grooming gangs.

In 2011 CEOP published an analysis of possible offenders who had been reported to it for “street grooming and child sexual exploitation”. CEOP said that offenders in these cases often act in groups.

It analysed over 1,200 of these possible offenders and found the vast majority were male. Around 30% were white, 28% Asian and 3% black and 38% were unknown. When CEOP looked only at a group of around 940 offenders that it had better information for it found around 38% were white, 32% were unknown, 26% were Asian and 3% were black.

At first glance this would seem to suggest that the group identified as Asian are overrepresented (compared to the proportion of Asian people in the general population) but CEOP said that the data was too inconsistent to draw “national conclusions” from. It said more research was needed to see whether the results were affected by “unconscious bias” in child protection agencies, the demographics of local areas or if there were issues in the community that needed to be addressed.

Another study by CEOP from 2013 looked at data collected from 31 police forces. It found that of around 300 offenders whose ethnicity was provided and who were part of groups targeting children based on their vulnerability (rather than because they had a specific sexual interest in children), 75% had been categorised as Asian and 17% as white, 5% were listed as black and 3% as Arab. Of the groups who did target children based on a sexual interest in them (fewer than 20 people studied) all were white.

In this case CEOP said that the sample size was too small and more research needed to be done. The National Crime Agency (which CEOP is part of) told us that it hadn’t published any research into the specific issue of gangs and grooming more recently.

High profile grooming cases can mean that professionals involved in child protection can look out for specific types and patterns of abuse more than others, according to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner in 2012.

It also said that in some cases organisations were more likely to record the ethnicity of a suspect if they were a particular ethnicity or nationality—for example if they were Asian.

The data it had collected was based on the reports of victims. It found that 36% of perpetrators of child sexual exploitation in gangs or groups were white, 27% Asian, 16% black and 16% not disclosed.

We’ve looked at this issue in the past following other high profile trials for child grooming.

Little information is available on the ethnicity of those convicted of sexual offences against children more widely

Naz Shah’s office pointed us towards several newspaper articles written by Nazir Afzal, former Chief Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), as the source of her statement that nearly 90% of people convicted of child abuse offences were white men. Mr Afzal had said that between 80% and 95% of offenders were white males.

We contacted the CPS who provided us with the information they publish on defendants in child sex abuse cases. 98% of defendants were male in 2015/16, but no information about the ethnicity of the defendants was published. We then submitted a freedom of information request to the CPS asking for information on the ethnicity of defendants prosecuted in child sex abuse cases.

It provided us with data on the number of defendants prosecuted for sex offences in cases flagged as relating to child abuse in 2015/16. It also included the ethnicity of those defendants.

Of the 6,200 or so defendants in these prosecutions, 67% were white, 4% were Asian, 3% were black, 1% were mixed race and 1% were other. For 24% of defendant’s there was no information on their ethnicity. Of all these prosecutions, around three quarters resulted in a conviction.

The information on defendant’s ethnicity came from information given by the defendants to police, the CPS told us that “It follows that there may be errors or omissions at local levels”.

There are other figures published by the government on those found guilty of offences against children, but these aren’t as recent. Almost 85% of offenders found guilty of sexual activity with a minor in England and Wales in 2011 were white. 3% were black and 4% were Asian and the rest were either listed as ‘other’ or unknown.

But these figures don’t tell us everything about sexual offences committed against children. For example, if someone is found guilty of raping a child under the age of 16, this will appear in the figures under ‘rape’ rather than ‘sexual activity with a minor’.

Where offenders’ ethnicity was known, 81% of people convicted of sexual offences in 2014 were white, 7% were black and 9% were Asian in 2014. These proportions were similar over the previous four years. The government told us it doesn’t regularly publish information on the ethnicity of those found guilty of sexual offences so there is no more recent information.

Correction 7 September 2017

We added a line to the conclusion explaining that most of the data on offenders and suspected offenders can't be broken down enough to know if they are Pakistani or not.

Update 10 October 2017

We've clarified that the Office of the Children's Commissioner collected data on child sexual exploitation in gangs or groups, rather than from individuals.

Correction 22 October 2018

We corrected a typo in this article which stated 36% of 940 possible offenders who had been reported to CEOP for “street grooming and child sexual exploitation”, as identified in its 2011 report, were identified as Asian. The correct figure is 26%.

Update 22 October 2018

We’ve updated this article to include new information received from the CPS through a Freedom of Information request submitted by Full Fact. We have also replaced some links to the CEOP reports, which had become broken since the article was published.

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