Children in care homes are being subjected to sexual abuse of a "violent and sadistic nature", England's Deputy Children's Commissioner Sue Berelowitz has warned.
She made the comments as the government announced new reforms that aim to better protect youngsters who reside in the country's 455 children's homes.
The action comes following a report published by Ms Berelowitz, which was ordered after the jailing of a sex abuse ring in May which preyed on vulnerable girls in Rochdale. Only one of the girls was in care at the time of the abuse but all were known to social services at some point in their childhood.
Children in care are particularly vulnerable to child sex exploitation
The ongoing inquiry has highlighted evidence that children in care are particularly vulnerable to child sex exploitation, with some residential homes being specifically targeted by abusers.
Ms Berelowitz said her research found perpetrators come from all ethnic groups, as do their victims, who are as young as 11 and are largely but not exclusively girls.
Speaking alongside Children's Minister Tim Loughton as he announced the new measures, she said of the abuse: "It is of a violent and sadistic nature.
"I've been in the children's services field for a very long time, and I have never come across the scale of violence and sadism that I'm encountering now. The stories that children and young people tell us are truly horrific.
"I think it's quite right and proper that the Government is paying special attention to this group of children as the state is their parent and therefore we have a special duty of care to children who are under care orders of one kind or another."
A spokesman for Ofsted said: "Ofsted welcomes the Government's commitment to improve the quality of care in children's homes that care for some of the most vulnerable young people in our society. The role of inspection in assuring the quality of that care is of great importance to Ofsted.
"In April 2011, we introduced a wholly new framework for the inspection of children's homes. As an independent inspectorate, we keep all our inspection activity under continuous review. As a result, in April 2012 we further revised the criteria against which inspectors make their judgments, significantly raising the bar."
Cllr David Simmonds, Chairman of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Child sexual exploitation is a concern for everyone involved in the protection of vulnerable children and the ugly truth is it can impact on children from any background or part of the country, not just those in the care system.
“These reports make for uncomfortable reading and also highlight the huge complexities of the present system and the need for an urgent overhaul. Joint working with the police, the health service and other agencies is a crucial part of this and would better enable us to work hand in hand with local communities to stamp out this disturbing criminal behaviour."