Community leaders in Bradford responsible for safeguarding children have urged the community to help vulnerable young people, following the publication of a study saying thousands of children were being sexually exploited by gangs and groups across England every year.

Councillor Ralph Berry, Bradford Council’s executive member for children’s services, said the Council would continue to co-operate with the inquiry by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner which published an interim report yesterday.

It found that 2,409 children and young people were confirmed victims between the 14 months to October 2011. A further 16,500 children were at “high risk” of sexual exploitation between April 2010 and March 2011 Coun Berry added: “We are working with Bradford Safeguarding Children Board, the police, the NHS and voluntary organisations to protect vulnerable children and young people from sexual exploitation and to identify and pursue the perpetrators.

“In the short term we prioritise removing the danger by working with other agencies to identify and prosecute offenders. In the longer term we are helping young people to acquire the skills and confidence not to be drawn into such abusive and criminal circles.

“This is a crime where the victims are often reluctant to tell their parents or carers what is happening to them. We do need help from the community as a whole, from parents and carers, to take responsibility for vulnerable young people and help from neighbours to give us third party information if they suspect that child sexual exploitation is taking place or children are at risk.”

Professor Nick Frost, chairman of the Bradford Safeguarding Children Board, said they were fully committed to addressing child sexual exploitation, “a complex, challenging and often hidden form of abuse”.

He said: “There is a dedicated multi-agency task group of the board making sure that staff are trained to pick up early warning signs, and that staff working with children understand how to keep them safe from grooming and sexual abuse. We have excellent partnership working arrangements in Bradford.”

Of the 1,514 abusers who were identified, almost a third were Asian men, while the majority were white – described by the report’s leader deputy children's commissioner Sue Berelowitz as reflecting local demographics.

She added that the “model” of Asian men targeting white girls was just one of “a number of models”, and warned that if investigators concentrated on those patterns, victims could fall through the net.

However, Keighley’s Conservative MP Kris Hopkins called the report “an opportunity lost” and that it danced a “politically correct tune” around the reality of nearly a third of abusers being of Asian origin.

Mr Hopkins said: “As we already knew and the report confirms, the largest group of child abusers in this country is white.

“However, the fact that 27 per cent of abusers apparently are of Asian origin when only six per cent of people who live here are from that section of the community is worthy of much deeper examination.”