MacDonald Speaks Out Over Child Sexual Exploitation in Scotland

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Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald has spoken in Parliament about the need for a clearer strategy for tackling child sexual exploitation in Scotland.

His comments came during a chamber debate this week following a 10 month inquiry into child sexual exploitation by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee, which Mr MacDonald serves on.

The report issued by the PPC Committee following the lengthy inquiry into tackling child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Scotland, found that research is needed to reveal the scale of the problem in Scotland. It also recommends that education programmes showing young people how to recognise and challenge sexual exploitation and bullying need to be made available across all communities in Scotland.

Commenting following his speech to the Parliament chamber, Falkirk East MSP Angus MacDonald said:

“During the course of this 10 month inquiry our Public Petitions Committee has heard some harrowing, shocking, and at times challenging, evidence about child sexual exploitation in Scotland.  We received powerful first-hand accounts which were anonymised and are included in full in our report.

“There is a lot of positive work being done at the moment to tackle CSE, however it can be piece-meal.  It lacks the clear leadership and co-ordination needed to tackle effectively the sexual exploitation of our children.

“There is also the very real danger that CSE will continue to be a hidden problem in Scotland which is why further research must be carried out to establish  the scale of the problem and how best to shape services to address it.”

“During the course of our inquiry, the Committee heard that there are a number of complexities around this issue such as a lack of understanding of what CSE is, young people not recognising themselves as victims, assumptions being made about the behaviours of young people and increased, more sophisticated use of technology and the normalising of sexual and intimate relationships.

“Parliament and Government will fail the people of Scotland if the hidden problem of CSE is not properly tackled with a clear strategy. If our committee’s report and resultant action by the Government and associated agencies help just one child to avoid the effects of CSE, that will be a job well done, but we should not stop until the nightmare has been eradicated.”

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Refuges for young people experiencing or at risk of CSE need to be established. Consideration should be given to placing a relevant duty on all local authorities in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill.
  • Social work and other child protection services should give higher priority to addressing childhood sexual abuse in general, and other vulnerabilities in younger children, such as neglect, which may put them at particular risk of CSE.
  • The Scottish Government should give high priority to ensuring that high-quality data collection tools, to provide vital information on the prevalence and nature of CSE in Scotland, are identified, standardised and rolled out across Scotland.
  • The Scottish Government, Police Scotland and all key agencies should adopt a high commitment to disrupting perpetrator activity and identifying those at risk.
  • Post-legislative scrutiny of the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005 should be undertaken to ensure that the intention of this legislation is being delivered and that all possible perpetrators of CSE crimes are being prosecuted.
  • Risk of sexual harm orders (RSHOs) should be used in a much more comprehensive way for the protection of young people in Scotland.
  • Mandatory training should be given for frontline and specialist police officers on the legislative options available to them disrupt perpetrators of CSE.

Background

Launched in March 2013, the Committee embarked on its  inquiry following consideration of a petition from Barnardo’s Scotland.

The Committee heard evidence from those working across Scotland to tackle the sexual exploitation of children and support its victims.

The report is available here; http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_PublicPetitionsCommittee/Reports/puR-14-01w-rev-v2.pdf

Angus MacDonald’s speech to Parliament:

Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP): I hope that Parliament will bear with me as I speak with a heavy cold, but also with a heavy heart as we debate this horrendous subject. Child sexual exploitation is a blight on our society, and on societies throughout Europe and around the world. In an ideal world, this debate would not be required, because we would not have to worry about child sexual exploitation and society would not have to contend with issues such as systematic and complex sexual abuse, sexual abuse within the home, child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, grooming or forced marriage. However, we are where we are, and sadly our society still has to contend with the issue. Child sexual exploitation covers an extremely broad range of issues, and a large number of agencies and organisations are engaged in efforts to tackle and prevent it. It is generally recognised that it is—sadly—a growing problem.

I was not a member of the Public Petitions Committee when Barnardo’s lodged the petition in July 2011, but I joined the committee in time to take part in the visit to Barnardo’s facility in Glasgow in September 2012, following which the committee agreed to hold an inquiry into the issue. I was pleased to see at first hand the work that goes on at Barnardo’s in Glasgow, and I am pleased to hear reports that it has growing positive relations with the local police and is now something of a model of best practice.

We know that there is good practice in Scotland, but it is patchy and unco-ordinated. It is recognised that child protection committees are best placed to collect and map data in their areas, and where good practice is found the information should be shared and, where possible, rolled out in other areas.

At this point, I add my thanks to Barnardo’s for highlighting its concerns to us through the Public Petitions Committee. I also thank the committee clerks, the Scottish Parliament information centre and the committee’s adviser, Dr Sarah Nelson, for all their hard work during the inquiry. Their assistance was invaluable, as was that of the agencies and organisations that gave evidence.

We heard some harrowing and shocking evidence during the lengthy inquiry, and I for one hope that the outcome will be a stronger focus by all agencies on tackling and preventing child sexual exploitation with the aim of totally eradicating this blight on our society. There is no quick fix, of course, and our inquiry was certainly not tasked with coming up with all the answers. Indeed, as it progressed it became clearer that the issue was a complex and continually evolving one, especially with the emergence of concerns about online activities, about which we have already heard this afternoon.

However, we came up with a large number of salient recommendations, one of which is worth highlighting:

“The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and all key agencies adopt a high commitment to disrupting perpetrator activity and identifying those at risk.”

Associated with that, the committee’s report states:

“The Committee recommends mandatory training for frontline and specialist police officers on legislative options to disrupt perpetrators. The Committee also recommends better police analysis and collation of information about and the tracking of abusive networks.”

Dealing with the monsters who are at the heart of the problem and disrupting their operation will go some way towards reducing the figures for CSE crimes. We heard from Daljeet Dagon from Barnardo’s that, in order to reduce child sexual exploitation effectively and to protect current and potential victims, it is necessary to take resolute action against the perpetrators of these crimes. When she addressed the committee, she spoke about what she called the triangle approach that Barnardo’s has developed,

“whereby the focus is on the victim but there is also recognition that there is a child sex offender and a facilitator.”

She went on to say:

“We have to flip the triangle over and focus on disrupting and prosecuting perpetrators, and we should identify locations and police them better, so that we protect young people and prevent them from becoming involved in child sexual exploitation.”—[Official Report, Public Petitions Committee, 11 June 2013; c 1434.]

However, the report also notes that one of the difficulties in disrupting perpetrators is the attitudes of young people and those who witness CSE. Initiatives that are designed to challenge those attitudes face difficulties, not merely because perpetrators are skilled in operating under the radar, but because in such crimes young people often do not see themselves as victims, as we heard from a number of witnesses. Waiting for young people to complain could be an ineffective strategy for catching offenders, since victims often protect perpetrators—who initially treat victims as special and might offer them alcohol, drugs, money and affection—because of misplaced loyalty, fear or intimidation.

Underuse of legislation does not help. The Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005 created a specific offence of child grooming and provided for an application to the court for a risk of sexual harm order when an individual is suspected of involvement in a course of conduct to groom a child. However, the committee heard that there is disquiet among practitioners about the fact that the 2005 act is not well known among, or well used by, the police.

Children 1st expressed disquiet about low usage rates of existing legislation. It called in evidence for the police to have additional mandatory training that would highlight the legislative options that are available to disrupt and prosecute CSE offenders. That view was echoed by Police Scotland. I am pleased that the minister endorsed that earlier.

Barnardo’s called for the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill to include tackling CSE and for joint work with the police to disrupt perpetrator activity as part of the proposals for children’s services plans. I urge the minister to consider taking on board that request as the bill progresses through Parliament.

Parliament will fail the people of Scotland if the hidden problem of CSE is not properly tackled with a clear strategy. If our committee’s report and resultant action by the Government and associated agencies help just one child to avoid the effects of CSE, that will be a job well done, but we should not stop until the nightmare has been eradicated.

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