LONDON: Twenty men in Britain have been convicted of grooming and sexually abusing several young girls, prosecutors said on Friday following the latest child sex abuse case involving large gangs.
The men were found guilty of more than 120 sex crimes against 15 girls in Huddersfield, northern England, between 2004 and 2011. Sixteen of the men have been jailed for between five and 18 years, while the other four will be sentenced next month.
“These men deliberately targeted their vulnerable victims, grooming and exploiting them for their sexual gratification,” said Michael Quinn of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
“The men sometimes used threats and violence and plied their victims with alcohol or drugs,” Quinn, a senior CPS prosecutor, said in a statement. “These men cared only for themselves and viewed these girls as objects to be used and abused at will.”
Britain has been rocked by a series of child sex abuse and trafficking cases in recent years, with hundreds of girls exploited by large gangs – often consisting mainly of men of Asian heritage.
The government in August announced a $2.6 million scheme to help authorities stop children at risk falling into the grip of traffickers and criminal gangs who rape them and force them to carry drugs from cities to rural areas.
At least 550 children suspected to have been sex trafficked were referred to the government last year, two-thirds of them British.
Yet many victims of sex abuse gangs are not classified as having been trafficked so the total number is hard to establish, experts say.
Lawmaker Sarah Champion said last month that cases in the public domain were “the tip of the iceberg”, and many child victims were not believed when they spoke out.
Champion is a member of parliament for Rotherham, a northern English town hit by revelations in 2014 that hundreds of children were sexually abused by gangs over a 16-year-period.
“I cannot stress enough that these girls are victims of sex trafficking,” said Bharti Patel, head of the charity ECPAT UK.
“We need to start seeing such abuse as a form of modern-day slavery,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.