Sexual violence among children is widespread within gangs, report says

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 26 November 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7098
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. 1London

Sexual assault, including rape, is being carried out by children as young as 12 within gangs, says a detailed report from the children’s commissioner for England.

The report, If Only Someone had Listened, is the result of a two year inquiry into child sexual exploitation and gangs.1 It says that young girls are often treated as commodities within gangs, passed around as sexual playthings or used to ensnare rival gang members. Despite increased awareness of child sexual exploitation, too many agencies and services were failing to safeguard children and teenagers effectively, the report concludes.

The deputy children’s commissioner, Sue Berelowitz, said in a foreword to the report, “We have found shocking and profoundly distressing evidence of sexual assault, including rape, being carried out by young people against other children and young people.

“While we have published chilling evidence of this violence in gang-associated contexts, we know too that it is more widespread than that. This is a deep malaise within society, from which we must not shirk.”

The report says that child sexual exploitation is essentially a child protection and safeguarding issue. It says that the child’s best interests must be the top priority and sets out a framework for protecting young people from sexual exploitation.

Only 6% of local safeguarding children boards are complying fully with government guidance on tackling sexual exploitation, the report says. It adds that these boards should coordinate the work of a number of agencies, including children and young people’s services, the police, education services, and NHS clinical commissioning groups.

It says that local authorities and clinical commissioning groups should work together to prepare joint strategic needs assessments of the prevalence of child sexual exploitation in their area and should produce joint health and welfare strategies through the local health and wellbeing board. The report says that pockets of good practice exist around the country and gives some examples of exemplary joined-up working.

The report is published alongside two other reports commissioned by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. “It’s Wrong . . . but You Get Used to It” is a qualitative study showing the pressure on young people who have been raised in neighbourhoods with gangs.2 Researchers from the University of Bedfordshire interviewed 188 young people and carried out focus groups with 76 professionals across six research sites. It found that sexual victimisation was prevalent within the gang environment, with young women at particular risk.

Two thirds of those questioned cited examples of young women being pressured or coerced into sexual activity, and half identified examples of girls having sex in return for status or protection. A third of those questioned gave examples of multiple perpetrator rape. The report said that young people in gangs assume that sexual violence is normal and inevitable and found that young women were often blamed for their own abuse.

A third report, “Sex without Consent, I Suppose that is Rape” examined young people’s understanding of sexual consent. Researchers from London Metropolitan University interviewed 607 young people and concluded that muddled thinking about what constitutes consent and rape was widespread. In the main, young people had limited understanding of how to get consent to have sex, it found. In addition, young people have a narrow concept of what constitutes rape, seeing it as only involving explicit force between strangers.3


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7098


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