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COPFS

Protecting children from sexual offending

Too many of Scotland’s children and young people are subjected to, or engage in, sexual behaviours that require a criminal justice response. 

The number of cases reported to the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) involving a sexual offence committed against a child by a child rose by 34% between 2011/12 and 2015/16.  

The Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo QC is hosting an Education Summit in Glasgow today (Thursday 7 September), bringing together more than 150 teachers, social workers, police officers, prosecutors, young people’s representatives and professionals from third sector agencies, working together to protect children and young people, prevent future sexual offending and inspire a cultural step change in Scottish society.

The Solicitor General firmly believes many children and young people can be spared adverse childhood experiences with better education on their rights and responsibilities and the criminal justice consequences of peer to peer sexual offending.

The conference will explore a range of subjects including the legal landscape of sexual offending in Scotland, how we respond to children and young people who display harmful sexual behaviours and preventing online child abuse, with the aim of providing professionals with the tools they need to help prevent future sexual offending and protect Scotland’s children and young people.

Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo said: 

“Too many children and young people are coming to the attention of the police and the prosecution service in relation to sexual offending. There is a growing body of evidence that indicates that the most significant factor in determining whether a child will commit criminal offences in the future is contact with the criminal justice system at a young age. I don’t want to prosecute Scotland’s young people nor do I want them to have to give evidence in court against their peers and I believe that the one of the key ways that we can protect our children and young people is by educating them about the law.

“Last month the Scottish Government published details of Education Scotland’s review of the way personal and social education is taught in our schools. I believe that the review is a fantastic opportunity to thoroughly inform children and young people about their rights and responsibilities in terms of the criminal law and I have today offered the assistance and expertise of Scotland’s sole prosecution service, which can provide a unique perspective and experience.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said:

“It is important that children and young people gain knowledge about the laws on sexual behaviour which is appropriate to their age and stage of education. The approach delivered through the Curriculum for Excellent supports this.

“I am very pleased that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service has led on today’s summit and we will continue to work with them over the coming months to ensure the examples of best practice we have heard today are brought together into a meaningful and useful way and are considered as part of the review into Personal and Social Education. I am committed to ensuring the Scottish Government plays a central role in helping to reduce the numbers of our children and young people that are brought before the courts on sexual offence charges.”

Policy and Public Affairs manager for NSPCC Scotland, Joanna Barrett, said: 

"While the numbers of children involved in sexual offending is worrying, there is nothing inevitable about child sexual abuse or harmful sexual behaviour.

"We know that many children involved in offending have a background of unresolved trauma and abuse and addressing this must be part of the solution.

"We must also ensure that all children receive high-quality and consistent sexual health and relationship education so they are able to recognise abuse and know where to seek help."