In recent years, we’ve seen a string of so-called “grooming gang” cases make the headlines, where children and vulnerable adults are sexually exploited by groups of offenders. In January, it was reported that fifty-five men had been arrested after seven women claimed they had been abused as children in West Yorkshire.

Today, FactCheck analysis can reveal that nearly every police force in England has investigated, or is investigating, at least one grooming gang case.

Just three of England’s 39 “territorial” police forces were able to confirm on the record that they had never done so.

Asked whether they had ever investigated a case of sexual exploitation of children or vulnerable adults by multiple offenders, one force told us that they didn’t have a specific category for this in their record system.

Two further forces did not provide answers to FactCheck’s queries on the matter and weren’t linked to any cases we could find in a search of press archives.

In total, our analysis concludes that 33 of England’s 39 police forces have either investigated, or are investigating, a grooming gang.

Of these, two forces told FactCheck that they were investigating more than one grooming gang at the moment, although it is not yet known whether any of these will result in prosecution.

Another force told us that they had “investigated and taken action against a number of potential perpetrators (in separate operations) suspected of working together in the pursuit of grooming and exploiting children” and that they had “disrupted their activity and safeguarded particularly vulnerable children.” It is not clear whether these “potential perpetrators” have since faced further police or legal action.

Today’s findings suggest that alleged or actual sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by groups is widespread in England – and that there may be more cases yet to come to public attention.

How many forces have investigated “Asian grooming gangs”?

There’s one question we’re always asked whenever we cover grooming gangs: what is the ethnicity of the abusers, and in particular, how many are Asian?

Our analysis, based on searches of press archives, has found that 18 police forces in England have investigated a grooming gang case or cases where all or most of the perpetrators were Asian.

Based on the same analysis, reports suggest there are three forces that have only ever brought a case to trial where the perpetrators were white. And a further two forces that seem to have only ever investigated cases where the perpetrators were black.

In ten force areas, we could not establish the ethnicity of the abusers or alleged abusers. In half of those, that was because the force has yet to bring a case to trial, but had confirmed to FactCheck that there was an investigation or investigations underway. If any of these cases ever get to court, we may be able to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

Does this tell us anything about the ethnicity of grooming gangs?

Our analysis provides a partial answer to the question: how many police forces have dealt with grooming gangs, including with “Asian grooming gangs”?

But we have not compiled an exhaustive list of cases and offenders, so this research does not provide an answer to the question that animates a lot of media reporting: are Asian men more likely to be involved in grooming gangs?

The data on the ethnicity of offenders is very limited. Official sources like police and CPS records don’t always hold or provide data on the abuser’s ethnicity. When they do, they generally register in very broad categories, like “white”, “black” or “Asian”.

Pretty much the only reliable source — a 2013 study by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection division of the National Crime Agency using data requested from police forces — indicated that Asian men had carried out 75 per cent of recorded “Type 1” group abuse, where victims were targeted because they’re vulnerable.

The same study found that 100 per cent of recorded “Type 2” group abusers — who abused children because of an overtly paedophilic interest — were white. However, Type 2 abusers were more likely to operate in pairs rather than larger groups, so the number of recorded white group-abusers was lower than the recorded number of Asian group-abusers (70 compared to 229).

This led us to the tentative conclusion that Asian men (who make up about 7.5 per cent of the population) are disproportionately represented among recorded group abusers. Although highly imperfect, that was the best data available to us at the time. CEOP told us that they haven’t updated their figures since then, so for now it’s the only data we have.