Stop It Now! Scotland and NSPCC Scotland are calling on the Scottish Government to develop a national strategy to tackle child sexual abuse that focuses on prevention to make the country a safer place to grow up.
The two charities hosted an event in partnership with the Scottish Parliament this week (Wednesday, March 15) with leading experts in the field. They discussed the devastating harms and long-lasting impact that sexual abuse can have on victims, that punishment alone will not eradicate this problem and what we can do to prevent children being abused in the first place. They also talked about the next steps we need to take to guarantee Scotland is the safest country for children to grow up.
They are urging the Scottish Government to develop a comprehensive and coordinated national approach to prevent child sexual abuse, which involves health, police, education, community safety, children’s services, social services, housing and the wider community. The child protection charities say it is vital that everyone understands what child sexual abuse is and knows how they can be part of preventing it.
A review of UK data revealed that 15 per cent of females and 5 per cent of males will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 16. This means at least 80,000 children in Scotland will have been affected by this issue before they leave high school. Although this is thought to be an under-representation of the scale of the problem and the actual number of children who have experienced sexual abuse in Scotland is not known.
The charities say that to understand the numbers of children in Scotland affected and the scale of the suffering it is crucial that a prevalence survey is conducted.
Professor Elizabeth Letourneau, Director of the Moore Centre for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, School of Public Health, John Hopkins University, said: “Child sexual abuse affects about one in nine children – 12 per cent of all children – globally. Victims are at risk of immediate harms, such as fear, injury, and pregnancy, and a broad array of serious health problems can emerge and last across the lifespan.
“Only one in five cases of child sexual abuse are ever reported to the authorities. This means that we miss at least 80 per cent of cases, so punishment will never be enough if we are to effectively address this public health problem.
“I believe our failure to focus on prevention stems from a general misgiving that child sexual abuse really is not preventable. That people who are at risk of perpetrating abuse are monsters and their behaviour cannot be predicted or prevented, and they will only respond to punishment. But we know this is not true. We already have good evidence that we can effectively prevent child sexual abuse perpetration.”
Pat Branigan, Assistant Director of NSPCC’s Together for Childhood, said: “One of the most important messages from today is that child sexual abuse is preventable and not inevitable.
“The ultimate goal is to develop a framework, based on evidence of what we know already works, which can be used to support agencies and organisations to work together and prevent child sexual abuse in communities.
“We need to create strong local partnerships between social care, schools, health, voluntary groups, the police and communities that focus on preventing people from offending, and empower and educate children and adults to recognise the signs of abuse and how they can report their concerns.
“Ultimately it will not be governments, experts or professionals who eradicate child sexual abuse, it will be individuals, families and communities.”
Stuart Allardyce, Director, Lucy Faithfull Foundation / Stop It Now! Scotland, said: “Last year we helped 7,000 people across the UK through our Helpline. Not all were adults worried about their own sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviour, but around half of them were. We also had adults who were worried about another adult, or because they had found evidence their partner has been seeking out child sexual abuse material online.
“We believe that if you build prevention initiatives, people will come – professionals, protective adults, but also those who worried about the risk that they may present to children. We can no longer say that people won’t use self-help prevention resources, because the evidence is that they can and do and that prevention works.”
Childlight, based at the University of Edinburgh, also launched the first comprehensive global data repository this week, which will look at all forms of child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA), with the aim of being able to show the scale and nature of this abuse.
Children and young people can contact Childline for free, confidential support and advice 24 hours a day online at www.childline.org.uk or on the phone on 0800 1111
Anyone with concerns about a child’s wellbeing can contact the NSPCC Helpline on firstname.lastname@example.org. The NSPCC practitioners provide free and confidential help and advice and can take appropriate steps to help keep children safe. If a child is in immediate danger, please call 999.
The NSPCC also has advice and resources for parents, carers on how to have simple, age appropriate conversations with children to help prevent sexual abuse through their Talk PANTS campaign. This helps children understand that their body belongs to them and to recognise when something is not okay and how to tell someone.