26 October 2020

New report highlights the sexual exploitation of children in Scotland

The Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Barnardo’s Scotland have published (26 October) the first national study of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Scotland.

Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse in which a person, or people of any age, takes advantage of a power imbalance to force or entice a child (anyone up to age 18) into engaging in sexual activity in return for something received by the child, and includes those perpetrating or facilitating the abuse.

The study - ‘Sexual exploitation of children involved in the children's hearings system’ - aims to understand four areas:

  • How children become at risk of sexual exploitation
  • The backgrounds, vulnerabilities and trajectories of boys most at risk of sexual exploitation in Scotland
  • Whether child sexual exploitation is considered in decision-making by Children’s Hearings for children who are victims of sexual exploitation
  • Whether child sexual exploitation vulnerability indicators were recognised as such by agencies, and interventions were made to protect and support the child when these first emerged.

This study is the first to consider the vulnerabilities to sexual exploitation experienced by both girls and boys in Scotland. It identified that child sexual exploitation had been happening in every part of the country, with cases identified in 27 of Scotland's 32 local authorities.

A key finding is that the abuse of boys is often overlooked. Girls were more likely to be identified as victims by services than boys, 91% of the victims recorded were girls. Boys were more likely to have been exposed to violence and display sexually harmful behaviour than girls; girls were more likely to be reported to have a much older boy/girlfriend, be victims of sexual abuse, and have self-harmed or attempted suicide.

The report calls for further efforts to increase communities' and agencies' awareness of the abuse. Barnardo’s Scotland has published 15 recommendations for action in a separate policy paper, which include sustaining Scotland’s commitment to The Promise, and child sexual exploitation training for Children’s Panel volunteers and SCRA reporters.