Nine men have been arrested on suspicion of grooming and sexually exploiting teenage girls in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
The men, aged between 20 and 40, were bailed pending further police enquiries on suspicion of rape, inciting child prostitution, allowing a premises to be used for prostitution and sexual activity with a child.
The arrests are part of a police investigation into the sexual exploitation of teenage girls by men in the area since 2008.
According to local news reports, one possible victim was looked after by Rochdale Council’s children’s services. However, neither the council nor Greater Manchester Police could confirm this.
Reports have also suggested that as many as 14 girls had been identified as possible victims and that the men arrested were of Asian origin. However, the police have not confirmed this, claiming their ethnicity is not considered relevant to the investigation.
Rochdale divisional commander Chief Supt John O’Hare said: “This is an extremely complex investigation and the welfare of the victims is paramount.
“I hope this action shows the communities of Rochdale that we take the issue of sexual exploitation of children extremely seriously. We have shown that people who do exploit children will be investigated.
“Both GMP and Rochdale Council have working strategies in place to combat child exploitation and will work together to prosecute people who target vulnerable children and young people.
O’Hare urged parents and carers to be aware of child sexual exploitation and to “talk to their children, take an interest in what they are doing and warn them not to go off with strangers, no matter how tempting it might seem”.
A spokesperson for Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board, said: “All agencies are co-operating fully in an attempt to combat the problem.”
The investigation follows a high-profile case in Derby in November 2010 where a gang of predominantly Asian men were jailed for sexually exploiting under-age girls. It sparked national debate, including controversial comments from former home secretary Jack Straw that some Asian men regard white girls as an easy target for sexual abuse.
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails