Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, resigned from her position as shadow women and equalities minister on Wednesday over what she called her “extremely poor choice of words” in an article she wrote for The Sun.

The piece was written after 17 men and one woman were found guilty of committing nearly 100 offences, including rape, against vulnerable women and girls in Newcastle.

Ms Champion’s article stated that “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”.

Is that a fair characterisation? FactCheck looks at the statistics relating to sexual abuse and grooming gangs.

The background

In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile cases in which groups of predominantly Asian men have been found exploiting girls and/or young women for sex.

In 2012, nine men were jailed for running an exploitation ring in Rochdale, abusing girls as young as 13. Eight of those men were of Pakistani origin; the remaining one was from Afghanistan.

Earlier this year, six men were convicted of abusing two girls in Rotherham between 1999 and 2001. All of the men convicted were British-Pakistani.

Types of sexual abuse by groups

In 2013, CEOP published a study looking at “contact sexual offending against children by non-related adults”. They found that there are two types of group-based abuse.

  • “Type 1” group abuse involves targeting a victim, or victims, based on their vulnerability.

CEOP says: “The focus here appears to be on the sexual abuse of teenagers and young adults on the basis of their vulnerability, rather than as a result of a specific preferential sexual interest in children […]  CEOP assesses that type 1 offenders are unlikely to identify themselves as having a sexual interest in children, but molest children because they are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.”

  • “Type 2” group abusers are defined as having “a longstanding sexual interest in children”.

Type 2 groups operate in a way that’s often characterised as a paedophile “ring”. In other words, these offenders are not simply targeting children because they are vulnerable, but because they are children.

What do we know about the ethnicity of group abusers?

The latest data we have on this is from the 2013 CEOP study. It reports 57 cases of Type 1 group abuse in 2012, and police provided ethnicity data on 52 of these.

Half of those Type 1 cases involved all-Asian groups. 21 per cent were all-white groups, and 17 per cent were groups containing multiple ethnicities.

75 per cent of recorded Type 1 group abusers, who target victims based on their vulnerability, were Asian. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 7.5 per cent of the UK’s population are Asian.

17 per cent of Type 1 offenders were white, compared to 86 per cent of the UK population.

There were six recorded cases of Type 2 group abuse.

100 per cent of recorded Type 2 group offenders, who abuse children because of long-standing paedophilic interest, are white.

Type 1 groups tend to be larger: the majority involve groups of four abusers, compared to Type 2 abusers, who tend to act in pairs. That means in terms of raw figures, there are more Asian men carrying out group abuse than white men (229 compared to 70).

It’s worth saying that CEOP itself doesn’t believe this data is a comprehensive picture of group abuse and exploitation in the UK. They warn against drawing too many conclusions from this data.

What about exploitation by lone abusers?

Abuse by lone offenders is much more common than abuse by groups. According to CEOP, “25 [police] forces identified a total of 2,120 lone perpetrators involved in either suspected or confirmed cases of non-familial contact child sexual abuse in 2012. In comparison, all 31 forces reported a cumulative total of 65 group and gang associated offences.”

CEOP’s report doesn’t include data on the ethnicity of lone child abusers, and the government doesn’t publish comparable information.

But we do know that while Asian men are disproportionately represented among group abusers, this is not the most common type of child sexual abuse recorded in the UK.

FactCheck verdict

Self-evidently, sexual abuse of children and young people by groups of men – including Asian men – happens in the UK.

According to the best available data, Asian men make up 75 per cent of “Type 1” group abusers, who target children and young women because they are vulnerable.

But white men make up 100 per cent of recorded “Type 2” group abusers, who target children because of a longstanding paedophilic interest.

From the information available, we know that actual number of group abusers who are Asian is around three times higher than the number of group abusers who are white.

However, it’s worth remembering that child sexual abuse by lone offenders is more common than abuse by groups. What we don’t know is how many of those lone offenders are white or Asian. We should be wary of drawing too many conclusions.