Young Scots males to be targeted in drive to tackle sexual offending

Young men and boys are to be the focus of a national drive to tackle sexual offending, as the Justice Secretary warns Scotland cannot "shy away" from the harm caused by children.

Humza Yousaf says Scotland cannot "shy away" from the offending by children

It comes after an expert group commissioned by the Scottish Government called for more preventative work targeting this group.

It also suggests providing effective support for parents and carers on how to keep their children safe, as well as a review of the steps that can be taken to achieve prevention rather than to intervene after the harm has been caused.

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"Facing up to sexual harm caused by children and young people is difficult, emotive and often troubling but as a society we cannot shy away if we are to tackle its causes," Mr Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said today.

"Scotland's success in reducing violent crime among young people offers a blueprint for challenging underlying attitudes and changing behaviours.

"These issues are complex and require significant collaborative working between statutory authorities and professional disciplines - the justice sector cannot fix this alone.

"There is a duty for all adults - parents, neighbours, policy makers - to respond to this challenge and do everything we can to keep our younger generation safe."

Mr Yousaf today visited Preston Lodge High School in East Lothian to see a lesson delivered by Rape Crisis Scotland's national sexual violence prevention programme.

A multi-agency group to oversee work on prevention and support is also to be established, followng today's report by the Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Involving Children and Young People.

It would be intended to help parents, carers and practitioners such as teachers and social workers.

Catherine Dyer, the chairwoman of the expert group, said harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people is a "global challenge".

"Recent decades have seen enormous and continuous cultural and technological changes that affect all children and young people," she said.

"Often these are linked and exceptionally fast-paced.

"While the vast majority of children and young people relate to each other in a healthy and respectful way, it is important that we support them as they grow up and explore their sexuality.

"Harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people is a global challenge that Scotland needs to address at home through a number of actions, including further tackling causal factors and focusing preventative work on boys and young men."

Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo QC, who established the expert group in 2018 with then-justice secretary Michael Matheson, said a change in societal attitudes is needed to reduce the harm caused.

"In my 30 years' experience as a prosecutor I have too often seen the devastating effect sexual offending in young people can have," she said.

"There needs to be changes in societal attitudes, awareness and behaviours to reduce this type of harm and prevent children coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

"I have long been convinced of the central importance of education in bringing about these changes.

"I welcome this report and am heartened to see the positive work being carried out in schools such as Preston Lodge High School by Rape Crisis Scotland which is helping to increase young peoples' understanding of consent and sexual violence."

Joanna Barrett, NSPCC Scotland policy and public affairs manager, said: "More than a third of children and young people who call Childline about sexual abuse say the abuser is under the age of 18.

"So we know this is a serious issue and the work of the expert group is a positive first step in addressing it.

"We urgently need to know more about the numbers of children and young people exhibiting harmful sexual behaviour in Scotland as only then can we ensure therapeutic services for those who harm and are harmed are properly resourced."