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Tackling child sexual exploitation in Scotland

A recent report from the Scottish Parliament has highlighted the lack of an effective strategy to tackle child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Scotland.

The report is the result of an inquiry by the Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, launched in March last year after a petition from Barnardo’s Scotland. (See our earlier blog for more details.)

Child sexual exploitation

Charitable organisation, the National Working Group on child sexual exploitation defines CSE as involving “exploitative situations, contexts and relationships where young people (or a third person or persons) receive ‘something’ (e.g. food, accommodation, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, affection, gifts, money) as a result of performing, and/or others performing on them, sexual activities.”

It goes on to note that in some cases CSE can occur through use of technology without the child’s immediate recognition, for example by being persuaded to post sexual images on the internet/mobile phones with no immediate payment or gain. However, in all cases, the exploiters have power over the children, either through their age, gender, intellect, physical strength and/or economic or other resources.

Difficult to identify

Cases of CSE can often be difficult to recognise and tackle. In many cases, the children involved are older than children caught up in other forms of sexual abuse, and on the surface the abuse can actually appear to be a relationship. However, as Barnardo’s Scotland highlights, what the children involved may perceive as a loving relationship is in reality predatory grooming of a vulnerable child.

Young people not recognising themselves as victims is just one of a number of complexities surrounding CSE, recognised by the Committee in its report. Others include a lack of understanding of what CSE is, assumptions being made about the behaviours of young people, increased, more sophisticated use of technology and the normalising of sexual and intimate relationships.

Committee’s report

The report recommends action to better protect Scotland’s children from sexual exploitation. One of the most important of these is a proposal to develop a National Strategy for tackling CSE, which would provide a framework for a coordinated national approach to both preventing CSE and supporting its victims.

Other recommendations include:

  • The introduction of a new requirement to provide services in every region of Scotland to help young people recognise and escape exploitative situations.
  • A national education programme on sexual exploitation for schools.
  • A commitment by Scottish Government and Police to disrupt the activities of adult perpetrators, and identify children and young people at risk.
  • Post-legislative scrutiny of the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005 should be undertaken to ensure that the intention of this legislation is being delivered and that all possible perpetrators of CSE crimes are being prosecuted.
  • Mandatory training should be given for frontline and specialist police officers on the legislative options available to them disrupt perpetrators of CSE.

All these recommendations would form part of the recommended overarching National Strategy.

Concerns of frontline staff

“I would like to thank the Committee for all the hard work they have put into producing this report,” said Martin Crewe, Director of Barnardo’s Scotland.

“We launched our petition on this subject in 2011 because of concerns from our frontline staff about a lack of focus on tackling the sexual exploitation of children in Scotland. The Committee took on board these concerns, and have identified a series of important measures in the inquiry that followed our petition to tackle sexual exploitation of children,” he added.

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