A public health response should be pioneered to tackle harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people, Scotland’s justice secretary has suggested.
It follows the publication of a report by an expert group commissioned by the Scottish Government into how best to address the issue.
Among the proposals made by the group was for there to be more preventative activity tailored for boys and young men – on the basis the majority of adolescents displaying harmful sexual behaviours are male.
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.
Speaking on a visit to Preston Lodge High School in East Lothian to see a lesson delivered by Rape Crisis Scotland’s national sexual violence prevention programme, Mr Yousaf also announced plans to set up a multi-agency group to oversee work on prevention and support.
It would be intended to help parents, carers and practitioners such as teachers and social workers.
“I am grateful to the expert group for their extensive work on this important issue which is affecting children and young people worldwide and I welcome their recognition of the progressive, preventative action already under way in Scotland,” Mr Yousaf said.
“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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”