A London court on Tuesday heard details of a gang of nine men in Oxford who allegedly drugged and raped girls as young as 11 over a period of nearly eight years. Prosecutors told a jury that some of the girls were sold as child prostitutes and others were trafficked around the country.
The court also heard how the men allegedly targeted vulnerable girls, notes The Guardian, and even used some of the girls to lure others into the criminal ring.
According to the prosecution, the girls were guarded to prevent them from running away and were sexually abused, sometimes for days on end, The Telegraph reports. The nine men are being indicted on a total of 51 counts relating to the abuse of six girls, who were between 11 and 15 years old when the crimes took place, according to The Telegraph.
The BBC reports that a jury heard how the girls were given a variety of drugs, including cocaine and heroin, and how their dependency on those drugs made them reliant on their captors.
The men also gave presents to the girls and showed them "the care and attention that they craved," Prosecutor Noel Lucas told the court, according to The Daily Mail.
Although the case involves six complainants, police originally investigated claims of abuse from 24 girls, the Oxford Mail reported in March, when 12 men were arrested for a number of offenses that included trafficking and rape. A few weeks later, the number of girls targeted by the sex ring was said to be even higher: The BBC wrote that the crimes could involve 38 girls.
Detective Superintendent Rob Mason said in March that police first heard the claims when a number of girls who had been missing "made certain disclosures" after they returned, according to the Press Association.
"The investigation has been very challenging. The girls are very vulnerable and a number of them do not consider themselves to be victims," Mason said.
Sex with a child and child prostitution are illegal in the United Kingdom under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003. The age of consent in England is 16. Having sex with a child younger than 13 can carry a sentence of life in prison.
The accused men deny the charges, The Guardian reports.