POLICE have “revolutionised” their approach to missing person inquiries as part of their crackdown on child sexual abuse, the chief constable has claimed.
Sir Stephen House told a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority that his force was keen to identify missing person “hotspots” around the country, with vulnerable young people often among the most likely to disappear.
Outlining plans for Police Scotland’s new National Child Abuse Investigation Unit, Sir Stephen said Scotland had not seen a big increase in child abuse, but an increase in reporting due to “growing public awareness”.
Earlier this month Police Scotland unveiled the development of its new unit, which will seek to improve the coordination and intelligence gathering around child sexual exploitation.
Sir Stephen told members of the SPA, a police watchdog, that around 100 officers would eventually work as part of the unit.
He said the force had put a new emphasis on investigating missing persons, as there was often a link between these cases and abuse.
“We have revolutionised how we deal with missing persons - it’s right at the top of our agenda,” he said. “There’s a join up there in terms of making sure the protection is there and if there are warning signs we are dealing with them.”
Asked by SPA members whether the police response was due to a growth in child sexual abuse, he said: “It’s not in response to the sort of situation we’ve seen in England and Wales.
“We’ve looked back at the eight legacy forces where we can. It’s fair to say Scotland has had its share of institutional sexual abuse going back to the 70s, 80, and 90s, but we’re not seeing a spike in that at the moment. We’re not seeing a spike in child abuse and child sexual exploitation.”
More than 20 people have already been reported to prosecutors as part of Operation Dash, which is looking into child sexual exploitation in the west of Scotland.
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