We may soon find ourselves talking about the criminal grooming of children with the same concern that we had over their sexual grooming.

We are very familiar with the latter.

Sexual grooming is about the way children, some as young as eleven, are lured into abusive sexual relationships by older people, generally males. This is what happened on the streets of Rochdale and Rotherham.

We know how it works. The young person thinks they have found someone who pays them attention, flatters them, shows them a good time. Treats them as if they were grown-up.

They find kindness and love. The relationship becomes sexual.

Then the abuse begins as they are passed around and even trafficked to other places. If they protest, they are threatened. The trap is sprung.

Today, those who in the past ignored the plight of these young people, seeing them as ‘willing’ or the authors of their own misfortune, do so no more. Over the next few years we are going to find more of these offenders brought to justice.

But we must not become so focussed on sexual grooming that we fail to see something else beginning which will be just as devastating – the grooming of children by gangs for criminal purposes.

Gang members identify vulnerable children and befriend them. They pay them attention and flatter them. They give point and purpose to their daily living which otherwise might be bleak.

These young people are not doing well in school. They may not be in school. The prospect of a job looks ever more remote.

But gang membership comes at a price. The price is that you sell drugs and join in turf wars. You carry or hide weapons for older members. (And we should not underestimate how scarily exciting some of this can feel.)

It goes without saying that by this time escape from the gang is risky and difficult.

Solving this is not simply or even mainly a policing matter. Other statutory agencies, the voluntary and community sector, all of us, have to think hard about how we offer these young people what they currently get from gang life – and nowhere else.

If we don’t, in a few years time, someone will be coming along to write a report about the criminal exploitation of children (CEC) in the same way that they once wrote about their sexual exploitation.

We can’t look the other way again.