GROOMING gang victims as young as 11 are still being failed by police, as thousands of vulnerable girls are repeatedly reported missing.
One girl at risk of abuse was reported missing 197 times to cops – suggesting such cases are viewed as "lost causes", according to an investigation.
Figures disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that since 2018 there have been at least 56,479 instances of missing children at risk of abuse in Britain.
The victims were most commonly aged between 14 and 16 – although some were as young as 11.
Only two thirds of police forces across the country disclosed their data on the issue, The Times reports.
West Yorkshire police have recorded more than 5,500 cases of children going missing since 2018 while believed to be at risk of sexual abuse.
One of these children, whose identity cannot be revealed, was reported missing 197 times.
Two other kids were reported missing to the force more than 100 times each.
If a child goes missing once, the police throw all resources at it. When a child goes missing two, three and then a hundred times they lose interest.
Humberside police disclosed that four children had gone missing more than 100 times each, with one of them disappearing 156 times in the past three years.
When asked for internal intelligence reports on the policing of child sexual exploitation, a Hertfordshire police report from 2019 revealed a “low number of positive outcomes” in these cases.
The findings stated: “Much of the current focus surrounds safeguarding victims with little evidence of the exploiters being investigated.”
The “missing episodes” are recorded when parents or social workers cannot find a child known to be at risk of sexual exploitation and call the police.
The majority of victims are under-age girls and many are thought to run away repeatedly to visit older abusers who groom them with money, alcohol and drugs.
Police forces said they did all they could to find missing children and return them safely as quickly as possible, while having regular meetings with social workers to protect those who regularly disappear.
They said that child sexual exploitation was a key priority and they had dedicated teams working to safeguard victims and prosecute offenders.
They insisted cases of children going missing more than 100 times “are the exception”.
But Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor who brought justice to victims of the Rochdale grooming gang, said: “If a child goes missing once, the police throw all resources at it.
"When a child goes missing two, three and then a hundred times they lose interest.
“We thought we had confronted this ten years ago. What seems to have happened is police have gone back to their old ways.”
Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, where mass offending by grooming gangs was exposed, added: “Going missing is the main early warning sign.
"Given police know this, the fact that some children are still going missing this often is shameful.”
Simon Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, said forces had “vastly improved” their support for missing children in recent years.
He said: “We know there is more to do. Protecting children is not something the police can do alone and we are working with social services, local government, charities and others to make sure everyone fulfils their responsibilities.”
The Home Office and Department for Education said they were working with agencies to improve data on child sexual exploitation and to support vulnerable children while proposed legal changes would help target offenders.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, said: “I expect each case to be fully investigated and we are supporting the police to better understand these hideous crimes and make full use of their powers to stop these abhorrent acts.
"Nothing is more important than keeping our children safe.”
She added that the government had published a strategy for how the authorities should improve the response to children at risk of abuse.
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