National strategy needed to tackle child sexual exploitation


Scotland lacks a clear strategy to tackle child sexual exploitation. This is just one of the key recommendations from a report issued today (Tuesday) by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.

The report, the result of an inquiry into tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Scotland, also found that research is needed to reveal the scale of the problem in Scotland. It also recommends that education programmes showing young people how to recognise and challenge sexual exploitation and bullying need to be made available across all communities in Scotland.

Committee Convener, David Stewart MSP said:

“During the course of this inquiry our Committee has heard some difficult, and at times challenging, evidence about child sexual exploitation in Scotland.  We received powerful first-hand accounts which were anonymised and included in full in our report. 

“The Committee recognises that although there is a lot of positive work being done, it can be piece-meal.  It lacks the clear leadership and co-ordination needed to tackle effectively the sexual exploitation of our children.

“There is also the very real danger that CSE will continue to be a hidden problem in Scotland which is why further research must be carried out to establish  the scale of the problem and how best to shape services to address it.”

During the course of our inquiry, the Committee heard that there are a number of complexities around this issue such as a lack of understanding of what CSE is, young people not recognising themselves as victims, assumptions being made about the behaviours of young people and increased, more sophisticated use of technology and the normalising of sexual and intimate relationships.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Refuges for young people experiencing or at risk of CSE need to be established. Consideration should be given to placing a relevant duty on all local authorities in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill.
  • Social work and other child protection services should give higher priority to addressing childhood sexual abuse in general, and other vulnerabilities in younger children, such as neglect, which may put them at particular risk of CSE. 
  • The Scottish Government should give high priority to ensuring that high-quality data collection tools, to provide vital information on the prevalence and nature of CSE in Scotland, are identified, standardised and rolled out across Scotland. 
  • The Scottish Government, Police Scotland and all key agencies should adopt a high commitment to disrupting perpetrator activity and identifying those 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.
  • Risk of sexual harm orders (RSHOs) should be used in a much more comprehensive way for the protection of young people in Scotland.  
  • Mandatory training should be given for frontline and specialist police officers on the legislative options available to them disrupt perpetrators of CSE. 


Launched in March 2013, the Committee embarked on its  inquiry following consideration of a petition from Barnardo’s Scotland.

The Committee heard evidence from those working across Scotland to tackle the sexual exploitation of children and support its victims.

More details about the Committee’s inquiry can be found on the Scottish Parliament’s website:

Inquiry into tackling child sexual exploitation in Scotland


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