The Children's Commissioner uncovers what it claims are thousands of cases of child sexual exploitation in England.

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An interim report estimates some 16,500 teenagers have been identified as possible victims of rape within a 12 month period.

The report says it is sure that the figure underestimates the true scale of abuse at the hands of gangs and groups of men like the cases in Derby, Rochdale and Rotherham.

Child abuse (Getty)

Deputy commissioner Sue Berelowitz told Channel 4 News the child protection authorities in many parts of the country are failing to identify the signs among young people.

"I've seen photos of lovely bright young 12 year old schoolgirls who, six months later, look like ravaged haggard old women and at the same time the agencies are expected them to walk into a room and tell somebody.

"Children don't behave like that. They don't just walk into a room and tell someone they've been raped on a relentless basis."

Too much of the country is turning a blind eye. Professor Jenny Pearce, head of research

The report claims to be the most in depth study of child sex exploitation ever undertaken in England.

But only agencies in 21 of 39 police constabulary areas responded to appeals for information on victims and far less submitted data on perpetrators.

The report states 1,514 individuals were known abusers, with 72 per cent being male.

A breakdown of ethnicity showed that 36 per cent were white, 27 per cent Asian and 16 per cent black.

Head of research, Professor Jenny Pearce told Channel 4 News: "I think we are much happier with looking at children as demons than looking at troublesome teenagers as vulnerable victims.

"Too much of the country is turning a blind eye. Only a third of the areas are actively looking at child sexual exploitation."

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