Fears that child sexual exploitation is widespread

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A child protection campaigner has warned that the sexual exploitation of youngsters is a much wider issue than has been acknowledged.

Hilary Willmer, chairman of trustees at the charity Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation, claims a ‘huge amount’ of youngsters are being abused nationwide.

She spoke out following the report into the sexual exploitation of children in Rotherham which found that more than 1,400 youngsters were abused over 16 years.

Asked if similar numbers of children could have fallen prey to abusers in other towns, she said: “I wouldn’t want to bandy figures around but it’s certainly a huge amount that is going on.”

Ms Willmer worked with families in Rotherham in the late 1990s and was a colleague of the author of a report into the unfolding scandal produced in 2002 but never published.

The document, by a Home Office researcher, was ‘effectively suppressed’, according to Professor Alexis Jay who wrote the most recent damning report into events in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

Ms Willmer said the earlier report drew ‘attention to all the failings of the local council, social care, police and everyone, who were failing to deal with information that was passed to them’.

She said: “We were able to identify houses where the young girls were taken as well as all sorts of other places, that there would be a big network operating in places like the shopping mall at Meadowhall.

“Had this report been treated with the seriousness it merited at the time by both the police and the council, the children involved then and later would have been better protected and abusers brought to justice.”