Four teenage girls have reported being raped by a grooming gang operating from a branch of McDonald's in Stratford, triggering a police crackdown on abuse at the east London restaurant.
The allegations by the girls, aged between 13 and 15, have so far helped to identify around 30 more potential victims and police believe the number will grow as they appeal for people to come forward, The Independent reported.
Three boys and three men have been arrested in Stratford following the girls' reports. Around 420 men are currently being arrested every month for child sexual exploitation across England and Wales – a figure that continues to grow as more victims report abuse to police.
The police codenamed their investigation in Newham, the London borough in which Stratford is located, Operation Grandbye following the four girls' allegations, which were all made separately. “They had all been met by males at the McDonald’s on the Broadway in Stratford and been taken to different places where they were sexually assaulted,” Detective Inspector Laura Hillier, from the Metropolitan Police’s sexual exploitation team, told The Independent.
The McDonald's, part of the Stratford Centre situated opposite Westfield Stratford City, is a so-called “pick-up” point for grooming gangs who have been spotted there with young girls, the police said. “Some girls felt they were in a relationship but others were there to either make money or do a job in relation to drugs,” she added. “Other girls are just there to meet up, then find themselves becoming victims of crime.”
Grooming gangs often give their victims alcohol and drugs to coerce them into sex and/or discourage them from going to the police, The Independent reported. It's not just older men who are abusing girls in this way, either, as was the case in the high-profile Rotherham and Rochdale grooming cases – peer-on-peer abuse by teenagers from the same school or area is reportedly far more common. Boys are often used by older men as a "hook", police said, adding that this method of exploitation is prolific across the UK.
The Metropolitan Police have issued guidelines to help people spot the signs of exploitation, which include:
- Young people who appear secretive by trying to hide where they are going and who they will be with.
- Young people who, although with peers, look uncomfortable or under duress.
- Adults befriending young people, including buying them food and drinks.
- Young people being picked up and taken to hotels, particularly at odd times of the day and night.
- Adults who frequently come into premises with different young people.
Anyone who spots any of these signs is being urged to call police on 101.
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