EXPERTS from across the country will come together in Bradford today for a major national conference on tackling child sexual exploitation and so-called ‘grooming gangs’.

The event is being headlined by Dr Ella Cockbain, who is the country’s leading academic and authority on sexual violence, sexual exploitation, trafficking and modern slavery.

The inaugural conference organised by Muslim-led West Yorkshire-based campaign group Together Against Grooming (TAG) which a few years ago organised the Khutba (sermon) Campaign in which about 500 mosques devoted their Friday sermon to the issue of child sexual exploitation.

The group has managed to bring together an impressive line-up of speakers and campaigners. Along with Dr Cockbain this will include the Rochdale whistle-blower Sara Rowbotham, the subject of BBC TV drama 3 Girls, former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal, who also featured in 3 Girls and was critical in the prosecution in Rochdale, and Holly Archer, the victim of the Telford gang as told in her book I Never Gave My Consent – A schoolgirl’s Life Inside the Telford Sex Ring.

The day-long conference comes in the wake of a number of high-profile cases leading to arrests and convictions over the last few months, including in Bradford and elsewhere, of scores of men almost exclusively of Asian heritage.

This has led many, most notably the home secretary Sajid Javid, to focus on and draw attention to the race and heritage of the perpetrators. In a Guardian interview he said: “Any normal person looking at the recent convictions of gangs that abuse children would have noticed that a vast majority are from a Pakistani heritage and we cannot ignore that.”

TAG says many on the far right have been quick to use this complex issue to fuel hate and divide communities. The man who carried out the recent atrocities in New Zealand claimed that his actions were “For Rotherham”, a reference to the high-profile case involving 1.400 victims from that town.

Khalida Ashrafi, chair of Together Against Grooming, said: “Our experience is that most in the Asian community do not like to engage with this subject for fear of seeming to accept ownership of the issue and give ammunition to those that want to use it to tar the whole community with the same brush.

“The responsibility does not lie with the whole community but just with those who carry out such wicked acts against our children. We want to encourage participation and engagement of all of our communities and hope that the conference event, entitled ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’, will unite us all behind a common cause of protecting the vulnerable.

“Whilst we will provide facts and dispel the many myths surrounding this issue we will hold an honest dialogue and not shy away from asking challenging, difficult questions and attempt to find joint solutions. For example the extent to which culture and heritage is a factor in some types of grooming models will be explored."

“I am so happy and proud that our small unfunded group made up entirely of volunteers has been able to attract the best speakers in the country to help us achieve our objectives for the conference. But it is important to say that the conference is a first step in what we hope will be a journey that we will all embark on together to protect our children from those that seek to cause them harm through intimidation, violence and sexual exploitation.”