London police believe they have uncovered a new child sex grooming gang in East London, possibly linked to drug dealing and trafficking in the area.
The gang allegedly targeted girls “as young as 13” and operated around a McDonalds and Stratford shopping centre in Newham, with teenagers “coerced” into sexual activity, according to a police statement.
The ethnic and religious makeup of the gang and their victims is not known at this time.
So far, six arrests have been made on the 17th and 25th of November, and police are appealing to the public, as they believe there could be many more victims yet to come forward.
The arrests include a 34-year-old man held on suspicion of rape and possession with intent to supply drugs. He has been released pending the investigation.
Two 21-year-olds, one 16-year-old, and two other teenagers aged 15 were also arrested, for crimes including robbery, possession of drugs, and child abduction.
Police are working with The Children’s Society to help victims as well as business in the Stratford shopping centre as they investigate the alleged crimes.
Specially trained officers will be working in the area, issuing Child Abduction Warning Notices, distributing leaflets, and “disrupting those who are seen to target vulnerable groups of young girls.”
According to police: “A large number of young girls have already been stopped and spoken to and, where necessary, referred to Social Services and other ongoing educational support.”
A report by counter-extremism think tank Quilliam published last week found that more than eight out of ten men convicted of grooming gang offences have an “Asian” background. Their victims are “almost exclusively white girls.”
Report author Muna Adil said: “We began thinking we would debunk the media narrative that Asians are overrepresented in this specific crime.
“But, when the final numbers came in we were alarmed and dismayed. For both of us being of Pakistani heritage, this issue is deeply personal and deeply disturbing.”
“A common feature is the child or youngster doesn’t recognise the coercive nature of the relationship,” Detective Inspector Laura Hillier, from the Met’s Sexual Exploitation Team, said.
“They don’t see themselves as a victim of sexual exploitation – so they’re unlikely to report the abuse and the issue remains seriously under reported.”
She stressed that the police need the help of the public to alert them to warning signs so they can intervene before harm takes place.
“Child sex abuse is a hidden crime,” the Detective Inspector added. “This operation helps raise awareness among those who witness all manner of scenarios every day.
“We all have a responsibility to keep children and young people safe from harm and to prevent, detect and safeguard those at risk.”