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Heads in sand over child sex exploitation in Highlands, says new report by Barnardo's Scotland and Scottish Government

By Philip Murray

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HIGHLANDERS are burying their heads in the sand over children suffering sex exploitation in the region, a new report has found.

Barriers are still preventing children and young people suffering sex exploitation from accessing support services, the new national report published in Inverness has revealed.

The Scottish Government joined Barnardo’s Scotland on Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day to support the launch of the charity’s new report, ‘Public Understanding of Child Sexual Exploitation’ the first survey of its kind carried out across Scotland.

And one of the biggest barriers to identifying exploitation was people’s acceptance that the issue existed but “not in their local area” – with Highlands and Islands residents “considerably more likely” to say it wasn’t a major problem than any other part of the country.

Barnardo’s added that this barrier was linked to an overall lack of public understanding which has prevented the issue being recognised and children receiving the right support.

Maree Todd MSP, who will be at the report's launch in Inverness.
Maree Todd MSP, who will be at the report's launch in Inverness.

Highland MSP Maree Todd, who is also minister for children and young people, said:“Child sexual exploitation is everyone’s responsibility. For it to be preventable, it requires everyone to play a part in acknowledging that it isn’t only an urban issue, and that sadly it can happen anywhere.

“We hope that by talking about this issue, more people will be able to recognise instances of exploitation occurring, and have the confidence to report it to the authorities.”

Despite the interest and national reporting of child sex exploitation, this report has highlighted that the current level and nature of the Scottish public’s understanding of the issue is still relatively low.

Daljeet Dagon, at Barnardo’s Scotland, said: “We know from our services that child sexual exploitation is an issue across Scotland. We know from our research that public understanding of child sex exploitation is complex and the perception of what constitutes as child sexual exploitation differs between men and women. We also know that when it is recognised, it is often not acknowledged in relation to boys and young men.

“It is very concerning that the public just don’t recognise some behaviours as being abusive and exploitative.”

The charity’s report highlighted that there are particular messages about child sexual exploitation that the public don’t understand or recognise including that children can also carry out exploitation, and that older children (16/17 year olds) can be victims.In a recent survey by YouGov carried out on behalf of the charity it highlighted that outdated attitudes still persist with people overall having a more relaxed attitude to boys being groomed and abused by older women.

A further concerning finding is that men appear to be particularly disengaged with the topic of child sexual exploitation with a significantly higher number responding ‘don’t know’ compared to women on almost all of the questions in the survey.

The charity is aware of the importance of providing people with information about what to do to achieve change as well as about recognising there is a problem.

Barnardo’s Scotland and Scottish Government are looking to this report to help them focus further research around public understanding and provide insight to policy makers to provide clearer messages and preventative approaches to groups in society that might benefit from targeted messages.

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