THE natural response to the news that parents are selling their children on the streets for sex is one of sheer disbelief.

To then be told that the police and social work services know this is happening and has been happening in a sustained and persistent manner for more than a decade but are choosing to do nothing because of racial sensitivities, well, you couldn’t be blamed for raising a sceptical eyebrow.

In Govanhill, however, a proportion of residents did not react with scepticism or disbelief when media reports detailed that just such is happening in their community.

In fact, they offered anecdote by way of fact. Everyone you speak to - for there are no specific numbers, just sweeping generalisations - knows a man who has been offered a young child or teenager for sex while walking along a Govanhill Street or emerging from a Govanhill pub.

Child prostitution, it is claimed, is rife in Govanhill. If I may, there is no such thing as child prostitution - there is child sexual exploitation and child abuse.

I have had three phone calls this week - one more credible than the others - all telling me that if I want to know more I can “speak to any taxi driver”.

There is one story that does the rounds as fact, about a child so small they were seen being made to stand on a car battery during an assault. In other versions it is an upturned crate.

I have heard this story many times now and not once has anyone questioned the fact that this scene was witnessed yet not reported to the police. That's quite extraordinary. Some say going to the police is pointless or potentially dangerous and that it is not the public's responsibility. Every member of a community is responsible for protecting children. Of course speaking to the police can be daunting, of course it can feel hopeless, but to witness a child at risk of sexual exploitation and do nothing is unconscionable.

Chief Superintendent Brian McInulty said, in response to these claims of children being sold on the streets: "We have no information or intelligence to substantiate the concerns."

The response, in turn, to Police Scotland is that officers have been told about the problem and do nothing. The issue, incidentally, has been investigated over the years by police and turned up nothing.

But of course, the issue is that the children in question are Roma. That the Roma have a proclivity for selling their children is a story that follows them. It is a story hundreds of years old; it is a story that finds new traction. When the Roma began moving to Sheffield in 2013, newspapers reported that a Roma family tried to sell a child to a chip shop owner.

Would these rumours swirl unabated for a decade if the children in question were white and indigenous Scots? I doubt it. After a decade the original community and the Roma community in Govanhill are still suspicious of one another.

The word "racist" is used quickly and easily against anyone with concerns. The word is bang on as a descriptor for plenty of people. The issue is that those with legitimate concerns - around anti-social behaviour and cleansing - become afraid to raise them for fear of being shut down by that word. Or else they become bitter due to it.

The fact is, child sexual exploitation (CSE) happens in all communities. That's the kind of boilerplate statement politicians use when something’s too hot to handle, but it is true. Does it happen in Govanhill among the Roma population? Undoubtedly. As everywhere else.

The most striking thing about the coverage of this story has been the lack of Roma voices speaking on a topic affecting Roma families. When I contacted Friends of Romano Lav, who work with the Roma in Govanhill, they said the organisation has come across no such child protection issues. “Spurious and unevidenced,” it called the claims. People don't want to listen, however.

"They would say that," was the response. It's a no-win situation for Roma community leaders. If you don't speak, you will never influence or integrate. If you speak, you will not be believed.

The scandal of ignored and suppressed child sexual exploitation in Rotherham looms large in people's minds. The Govanhill situation creates an impossible position for authorities. To deny the stories outright would be to call constituents and community members racists and liars. And what if allegations were true? The implications would be huge.

Police are now interviewing residents in the area with concerns. There have been calls for an inquiry. I doubt even an inquiry will satisfy those who believe the sale of children is happening on their streets.

The fact is, people have been happy to pass these stories around the community for at least 10 years now without any concerted effort to get police or social work involved. Occasionally it is raised at public multi-agency meetings and dismissed as having been previously investigated.

While there is surely a general awareness that CSE goes on, it is shocking to read about it happening on familiar streets. Glasgow's Four Corners - a junction of Argyle Street and Union Street - attracts teenagers to the fast food restaurants there and is notorious for child exploitation issues, it has been for years. Recently The Herald's sister title, the Evening Times, ran a story about an alleged grooming ring in the area, which drew widespread attention. The public was shocked. Police and social services not so. CSE has long been an issue in the city, and police and social work have multi-agency approaches to tackle this.

These multi-agency approaches are used in Govanhill. There is a dedicated Roma social work team; teachers in the local primary school are highly alert to the specific needs of their Roma pupils. Are Roma children being given the same protections and resources afforded other children? What more can we do to support them? These are the questions not being seriously asked while rumours and supposition are given so much distracting credence.

The way of resolving Govanhill's issues is by continuing to work for better integration for all the area's dozens of communities. There are multiple local groups doing brilliant work. Instead of perpetuating scare stories, residents could be asking themselves what they can do to help.