POLICE are taking a more “proactive” approach to seeking out those engaged in child sexual exploitation, a senior officer has told MSPs, as he admitted the scale of the problem is growing.
Appearing before the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee yesterday, Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said it was important for police “to go out and look for” abusers, particularly online.
While acknowledging that the problem of online abuse is growing, ACC Graham said there was nothing in Scotland on the scale of the Rotherham abuse scandal, where he said there had been an “active effort” to suppress information.
He said an ongoing investigation into child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the west of Scotland, Operation Dash, had so far identified 55 crimes, with 22 people reported to prosecutors.
He also highlighted that of 1,590 reported rapes handled by the police last year, around a quarter were against children.
His comments came after the children’s charity Barnardo’s Scotland raised concerns that legislation introduced in 2005 had been “little used” to bring perpetrators of child sexual abuse to justice.
“Child abuse is a very complex area,” ACC Graham told MSPs. “There are a growing number of ways children are abused and sexually abused across the world.”
He said legislation introduced in 2005 “could not have conceived” of technological advances which have inadvertently aided abusers online.
“In a very short space of time we’ve realised that we have to go out and look for this type of offending,” he said. “We need to go looking where we think we might find it.”
ACC Graham, who confirmed he had met Professor Alexis Jay, the author of the Rotherham sex abuse report, said: “Some of our ongoing activity is evidence of the increasingly proactive position that we’re taking. Is Rotherham happening in Scotland? The answer depends on what you mean by Rotherham.
“It’s very clear that there was such a large amount of information of the scale of the problem [in Rotherham] that so many people knew about and there was an active effort to suppress. Is that going on in Scotland? Absolutely not.” He added: “Is there CSE in Scotland? The answer is yes. We know that from our investigations.”
MSPs on the committee heard there are currently 4,650 individuals on the Sex Offenders Register – covering offences ranging from breach of the peace to rape – of which 1,046 are in custody and 3,604 are in the community.
Since 1 April 2013, 283 people have been charged with offences linked to their online activity, Police Scotland said.
In its submission to the committee, Barnardo’s Scotland said it was concerned the 2005 Protection of Children and Protection of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act had been “little used” to bring perpetrators to justice.
“We are concerned that child victims of sexual exploitation are not being afforded the protection of the criminal justice system as they should be,” the charity said.
The charity said the act had created a new child grooming offence, as well as new offences relating to sexual services of children and child pornography.
However, from a range of new offences created, there had been a total of 42 prosecutions, the charity said.