Sexual exploitation on the rise in Scotland

Counsellors from the nspccs childline service speak to children who contact them during the night

Record numbers of young people sought counselling from Childline over the past year as a result of exploitation 

15th November 2019 by Gareth Jones 0 Comments

Record numbers of children are seeking counselling as a result of sexual exploitation.

Childline’s annual report has revealed the service carried out on average 12 counselling sessions every day in 2018/19 with children who have been sexually exploited. 

The NSPCC’s round-the-clock service delivered 4,500 counselling sessions – up 16% from the previous year - to children and young people, the youngest aged nine, who were coerced or forced into sexual activity. More than 200 of these contacts were from children living in Scotland, which was a 28% increase from the previous year.

In more than a third of counselling sessions young people disclosed they were targeted online - usually through social media or video games – often by their peers or people known to them.   

Most commonly children received help from Childline because they were forced to perform or watch sexual acts or had been persuaded into sending naked images or videos of themselves - some were threatened with the images being told they would be shared with friends and family.

In the total number of counselling sessions about sexual abuse (8,841) exploitation featured in more than half.

Young people told Childline their experience with sexual exploitation also included receiving affection or gifts in exchange for sexual activities.

To help address the problem the NSPCC is calling on the Scottish Government to provide proper training to teachers so they can deliver effective and relevant lessons about healthy relationships, consent and sex; and support young people to get help from a trusted adult.

One 15-year-old girl told a counsellor she was feeling suicidal after being sexually exploited by a gang of boys:  “I never thought I would ever be the sort of person who could be sexually exploited.  One day I met up with some boys and they made me feel worth something.

“It started off small, complimenting me, stroking my hair. One day one of them started kissing me so I pushed him away and said no, but he wouldn’t stop. I ended up having sex with him because I was scared about what would happen if I said no. This pattern continued between the gang. I didn’t see a problem with it until school found out and told me what was happening was a crime.”

The Childline Annual Review also shows the biggest jump – up a quarter - in the amount of 16-18 year olds receiving counselling for sexual exploitation.

An 18-year-old girl revealed to Childline: “When I was younger I kept going online to talk to people mainly because I felt so alone.  Some older guys started chatting to me and I sent nude pictures and videos of myself to them. I got compliments and didn’t know how to say no. Most of them knew I was just 13 and some of them threatened to post the pictures online if I didn’t send more. I feel sick just thinking about it and feel so insecure about this all coming back to haunt me.”

Matt Forde, national head of service for NSPCC Scotland, said: “Sadly, we are hearing from young people every day who are being manipulated or blackmailed into carrying out sexual acts. For many this impacts on their mental health and leaves them feeling isolated from the people closest to them. Some turn to self-harm, alcohol or substance misuse as ways of coping with their experiences.

“Everyone must be prepared to confront this problem, from government right through to schools, parents, professionals, and us at Childline. Earlier this year, the Scottish Government made 16 recommendations after reviewing personal and social education in its schools. It needs to now ensure that when these recommendations are implemented, teachers are confident to deliver the improved messages. Childline needs to recruit more volunteers to make sure they can be there for every child who needs our help, at all times of day and night.”