Online sex crime soars in Scotland, figures show

The number of sexual cyber crimes recorded by police has soared over the past three years, according to new research.

Tough new penalties have been introduced for sharing so-called revenge porn.
Tough new penalties have been introduced for sharing so-called revenge porn.

The Scottish Government has announced an expert group to tackle sexual crime as new analysis by statisticians revealed the scale of the problem.

Sexual crimes in the category that includes internet offences rose by 50% from 2,901 in 2013/14 to 4,360 by 2016/17.

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The research estimates around half of the growth in all sexual crimes recorded by the police over the period is due to growth in cyber-enabled offences.

Analysis shows the growth has been driven by large increases in the crimes of “communicating indecently” (up from 605 to 1,166) and “causing to view sexual activity or images” (from 229 to 1,030), with these categories now accounting for 20% of all sexual crimes.

Overall more than three-quarters (79%) of victims were female and more than half (59%) were under 16, while the vast majority of perpetrators were male.

In 2016-17 the victims and perpetrators were strangers in 42% of cases.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, who commissioned the research, said experts from the fields of justice, education and health would be asked to develop fresh action to prevent sexual crime and protect young people.

He said: “The sexual crimes research makes clear that more work is required to understand why particularly young males are behaving in this way and to prevent sexual offending.

“While we have taken considerable steps in this area, such as our recent ‘intimate images’ campaign, the national action plan on internet safety and our ‘Equally Safe’ strategy, I am bringing together an expert group to identify further steps needed to better-tackle and ultimately prevent such offending.”

The research was published alongside figures which showed recorded crime in Scotland dropped 3% from 246,243 in 2015-16 to 238,651 in 2016-17 - the lowest level since 1974.

Non-sexual violent crime increased by 6% to 7,164 while sexual crimes also rose 5% to 10,822 and crimes of dishonesty, fire-raising and vandalism all decreased.

Mr Matheson said: “Through our strong and sustained focus on prevention, violent crime is now almost half the level it was a decade ago.

“However, I’m determined to build on this, ensuring further progress in future years. That’s why I have asked for more detailed analysis into how violence, and the factors behind it, are changing and what is needed to secure further reductions in violence in future, with fewer victims and still safer communities.”