60% Rise In Scots Kids Being Sent Sexual Messages

21 June 2016, 06:35 | Updated: 21 June 2016, 06:36

The number of adults in Scotland targeting children with indecent communications online or via text has risen by 60%, according to a charity.

Since the new law criminalising sending sexual messages to children came into force in 2010, the number of recorded offences has risen from 15 to more than 150.

Police Scotland figures show 103 instances of this type of offence were recorded in 2013/14, rising to 165 the following year.

The NSPCC said in the past year 43% of children calling its ChildLine helpline to report abuse were concerned about sexual abuse or online sexual abuse, a total of 10,067 cases. There were also 1,392 counselling sessions where sexting was mentioned.

Matt Forde, head of service for NSPCC Scotland, said: "These figures confirm our fears that the internet is playing an increasing role in the sexual abuse of younger children in Scotland and across the UK as a whole.

"We welcome efforts by Police Scotland to tackle online sexual abuse.

"These figures show an increasing number of crimes are coming to the attention of the police and are being investigated. However, more needs to be done.

"We know grooming is on the rise because children are in ever greater numbers telling our ChildLine service how they are being targeted online.

"But behind these figures will be other children who have not reported these indecent communications from adults who contact them.

"The key to protecting children is the provision of high-quality, age-appropriate healthy relationships education across the curriculum.

"We need to ensure that we give children and young people the knowledge and skills to make healthy choices and stay safe.''

The charity believes younger children are increasingly under threat from predatory adults, who often pose as children to try to make contact.

Once they have established contact, it can lead to emotional pressure, threats and blackmail to perform sexual acts on webcams and phones.

One 13-year-old girl told ChildLine: "I was being groomed online by men and it went on for years.

"Then people started finding out and getting involved. They didn't know the full extent but I spoke to the police.

"When they questioned me I felt so ashamed, so I didn't tell them the full story. I feel like such a coward. I tried to kill myself recently because it's constantly on my mind.''

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The safety and well-being of all children and young people is a key priority for the Government and an issue we take extremely seriously, which is why we are committed to refreshing our internet safety action plan. We will work continuously with Police Scotland, children's charities, Parliament and other relevant stakeholders to protect children from abuse and keep them safe.

"Relationships, sexual health and parenthood (RSHP) education, delivered through Curriculum for Excellence, already plays a crucial role in protecting children and young people from child sexual exploitation and helping young people to identify abuse.

"The Police Scotland National Child Abuse Investigation Unit is also working to target, and bring to justice, those who seek to harm children.''