Scotland

Rise in indecent messages sent to children, says NSPCC

A man using a laptop Image copyright PA
Image caption It is an offence for a person to send a sexual written or verbal communication to a child

The number of adults in Scotland targeting children under 13 with sexual messages increased by 60% in a year, according to figures from a charity.

Police Scotland recorded 165 indecent communications sent to children in 2014/15 - up from 103 in the previous 12 months.

Only 15 offences were recorded in 2010 when new laws came into force.

The statistics were revealed as part of the NSPCC's annual How Safe Are Our Children? report.

Since 2010, it has been an offence to send written or verbal communications of an indecent nature to children under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.

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.

"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."

He added: "Behind these figures will be other children who have not reported indecent communications from adults who contact them."

'I felt so ashamed'

The NSPCC revealed their help service ChildLine has received increasing numbers of calls from youngsters concerned at online abuse.

In one case, a 13-year-old girl told the helpline: "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."

Image copyright SPL
Image caption The NSPCC sais more children were concerned about online sexual abuse

The NSPCC said it believed that younger children were increasingly under threat from predatory adults, who often posed as youngsters to try to make contact.

The charity has urged police forces to ensure officers understand how sex offenders use the internet to carry out crimes against children and how to investigate them.

'Crucial role'

The NSPCC revealed that ChildLine had held 10,067 counselling sessions last year where the main concern was online sexual abuse, or sexual abuse.

Mr Forde said: "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 Scottish government said the safety and well-being of all children and young people was a "key priority".

A spokesman added: "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."

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