Street gangs in Tower Hamlets are exposing young girls to sexual and psychological violence.
In a Q&A session held by the Tower Hamlets Police and Community Safety Board on Tuesday night, residents raised concerns about young girls, many of who ‘appear underage’, being vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
Emily Fieran-Reed, head of Community Safety for Tower Hamlets, said: “The girls are victims of gang culture and most of them don’t know that they are being groomed.”
Fieran-Read added: “Gangs use the girls in various ways and sexual exploitation is common. It is difficult for victims to deal with abuse themselves. Most abuse is about control, the abuser is trying to control the victim.”
Their concerns follow research from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England which revealed that the sexual abuse of girls in gangs nationwide is extensive.
The research, conducted by Bedfordshire University, revealed that two thirds of the young people questioned knew of young women who had been pressured or forced into sexual activity. Half of those questioned could provide examples of youngsters offering sex in return for status or protection.
41 per cent of those questioned in the report said they knew of rape cases while 34 per cent could recall examples of gang rape.
A total of 39 per cent of the young people said they knew of cases where girls exchanged sex for drugs, alcohol or to pay off a debt. 31 per cent gave examples of girls being used as bait to attract and “set up” male members from rival gangs.
The study also found that thirty per cent of young people knew of men having sex with a young woman to “disrespect” rival gang members.
Deputy children’s commissioner Sue Berelowitz, who commissioned the report, said: “We have found shocking and profoundly distressing evidence of sexual assault, including rape, being carried out by young people against other children and other young people.”
Berelowitz added: “While we have published chilling evidence of this violence in gang-associated contexts, we know too that it is more widespread.”
Just one in twelve of those interviewed said that young people would be likely to report crimes of sexual abuse, leading the report’s conclusion that ‘sexual violence was seen as normal and inevitable, with young women being blamed for their own abuse’.
Police have confirmed that they are taking the issue seriously and are confronting it is part of a wider effort to tackle gang culture.
Dave Stringer, Police Borough Commander for Tower Hamlets said: “Tackling gangs starts in school with ‘school officers’. They identify young people at risk of sexual exploitation by gangs and aim to intervene but victims are reluctant right at the source.”