LONDON (REUTERS) - British Prime Minister David Cameron said tackling child sexual abuse was a national priority on a par with organised crime on Tuesday, announcing measures to prevent systematic abuse.
Britain has been rocked by a series of child sex abuse revelations, including a case in Rotherham, northern England, where some 1,400 children, some as young as 11, were abused by gangs of men.
"I've just spent half an hour with some of the survivors of abuse in Rotherham and these are stories that are going to stay with me forever. They are absolutely horrific," Cameron said at a meeting of victim groups, police and child protection experts held in his official London residence. "Young girls ... being abused over and over again on an industrial scale, being raped, being passed from one bunch of perpetrators to another bunch of perpetrators."
Classifying child sexual abuse as a national threat will create a duty for police forces to collaborate across regions to safeguard children, Cameron's office said. Cameron also announced other measures to improve coordination between public bodies and a helpline to encourage whistleblowers.
In addition, Cameron proposed criminal sanctions for senior public workers who fail to protect children from abuse.
Referring to the Rotherham case he said: "This has happened with too many organisations and too many people walking on by and we have got to really resolve that this stops here, it doesn't happen again and we recognise abuse for what it is." The government has begun an inquiry into decades of child abuse and suggestions powerful public figures covered it up.
An independent report released on Tuesday criticised authorities in the central English county of Oxfordshire for failing to stop 59 offences of sexual exploitation carried out by seven men between 2005 and 2010.
It said over 370 girls had been at risk of sexual exploitation in the area, and included details of how they were plied with drink and drugs and were assaulted, threatened, drugged, raped and sold for sex.
Under a separate investigation, British police on Monday charged 10 men with sexual offences, including several involving children, in Rochdale, another northern English town.