Scandal of Scotland’s unused child sex laws
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Over the next three weeks The Sunday Post is analysing whether the laws designed to protect youngsters from sex offenders are working. Part one of this terrifying series reveals how police and prosecutors are failing to utilise all the tools they have at their disposal to crack down on the predators in our midst.
Anti-paedophile laws designed to stop perverts grooming children over the internet are barely being used by the police, The Sunday Post can reveal.
Flagship legislation introduced in 2005 gave police and prosecutors the power to curb the activities of those suspected of being a danger to children even if they had not broken the law.
But, on average, just five orders to restrict the movements or internet access of suspected sex offenders are being issued by police every year.
This is despite more than 3,000 known paedophiles living across Scotland.
The Sunday Post’s investigation also shows less than half of the 237 grooming charges issued over the last decade have made it to a court verdict.
Charities last night claimed many frontline officers are not even aware of the laws and warned organised paedophile gangs, such as those which operated in Rochdale and Oxford, would be harder to stop unless the laws were used properly.
Former First Minister Jack McConnell, who introduced the legislation in 2005, said the authorities “had some explaining to do” as to why they were not using all of the tools at their disposal.
Alison Todd, of charity Children 1st, said: “Children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse tell us that inconsistent sentencing makes them feel distressed and confused.
“The recent exposure of the Oxford organised paedophile ring shows us that children can be abused in plain sight and over a long period of time without
anybody questioning or reporting this. We must do everything in our power to stop child sexual exploitation and abuse.”
The charity also said the ability to identify paedophile gangs was diminished if the police were charging offenders under other offences and not under the 2005 laws, pointing out this made it more difficult to spot patterns and trends in abuse.
Child sexual exploitation experts have told The Sunday Post that the crimes are often difficult to detect because children do not see themselves as victims, often prepared to “sacrifice their bodies in order to get what they want or need”, such as drugs, money or alcohol.
This can have an impact when cases are brought to trial as youngsters are not seen as credible witnesses.
Families facilitating the abuse is also a problem. One charity based in Dundee gave the example of one of its cases where a nine-year-old girl was being groomed and coached by her own mother.
Research into the issue has also shown there is a much higher risk of exploitation of youngsters in children’s homes.
A 2013 survey of frontline care workers found many felt the existing laws were “not well known in police circles”.
And Daljeet Dagon, children’s service manager for Barnardo’s in Glasgow, last year told MSPs: “There is the lack of recognition and awareness that child sexual exploitation exists and about how we identify it. Police officers on the ground have told me that they were not aware of the powers that they have under the 2005 act.”
Under the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005, police can go to the courts to apply for Risk of Sexual Harm Orders (RSHOs) to place restrictions on people whose behaviour suggests they pose a risk of sexual harm to a particular child or children in general.
This might be someone awaiting trial for sexual offences but who is not convicted, or those not charged but where police have strong suspicions they are up to no good.
Crucially the preventative spirit of the law means people do not have to have broken the law or have any previous
convictions to be issued with an order.
Figures released under freedom of information show there are an average of just five RSHO applications across Scotland each year. There have been a total of 47 since 2005, rising slightly from just three in 2007 to 11 last year. In the former Strathclyde police force area, just one RSHO was issued in 2012.
Only two applications by the police for RSHOs have been turned down by the courts since 2005. To put those figures in context, there are around 3,000 sex offenders at liberty and living in Scotland.
Nationalist backbencher, Chic Brodie MSP, said: “There was clearly a lack of applications by the former police set-up and action was clearly failing.
“Child sexual exploitation is a heinous crime which we ignore at our peril. I would hope that under a unified Police Scotland we will see a greater focus in this area.”
In separate figures, the Crown Office revealed that, since 2005, only 102 of the 237 grooming charges reported to the Procurator Fiscal have reached a verdict in court.
Among the reasons given for this is insufficient or inadmissible evidence and prosecution being dropped in order to take another, often related, sexual offence forward.
Of the 102 charges which reached a verdict in court, 70 had a guilty verdict, 31 were not guilty and one was not proven.
A separate section of the legislation, paying for sexual services of a child, has been used 13 times since 2005. Of the 13 charges, six went to a court verdict, with four guilty and two not guilty.
Another section, causing or inciting provision by a child of sexual services or child pornography, has had 14 charges, four of which recorded guilty verdicts according to Crown Office figures.
When Lord McConnell launched the grooming legislation in 2005 he said Scotland needed new laws because our “children are at risk from those who use the internet to groom them for abuse and exploitation”.
Last week he said: “Given the serious concerns about grooming and sexual exploitation that exist today it seems surprising that there have been so few charges and prosecutions. Authorities and the ministers responsible for them have some explaining to do.”
Alison Di Rollo, head of the Crown Office’s National Sexual Crimes Unit, said: “These figures do not tell the whole story.
“It is often the case when we investigate grooming offences that we uncover other extremely serious sexual crimes in
addition to the grooming. The grooming allegations then appear as part of other wider charges resulting in a more severe sentence for the perpetrator.
“We recognise the devastating impact of child sexual exploitation and are committed to ensure that any cases involving children being sexually exploited are thoroughly investigated by expert prosecutors and all cases in which we have the required evidence are brought to court.”
The Sunday Post asked for a comment relating to the latest RSHO numbers but Police Scotland said it was unable to supply one in time for today’s paper.
Case Study 1 Innocent fun became frightening
“I was 13 when I met him and it all seemed so exciting,” explains Sophie.
“I was invited to my cousin’s 21st birthday party at her house and met this gorgeous guy. He said that he was 18 and we swapped telephone numbers – it seemed so
Within weeks Sophie was getting regular calls from the man who started taking her to the cinema. Sophie admits she was “hooked” within weeks and ignored her mother’s concerns. She continued: “At first he really treated me well and it felt so normal, so right.
“But then he started to change. He got more aggressive and bad things started happening. He’d hit me. He started taking me to parties, he’d give me drink and we’d stay out all night.
“The parties got worse and so did the way he treated me. Then one night at a party, he made me do things that I didn’t want to do. I was frightened.”
Sophie’s mother alerted the police who started investigating her “boyfriend” and also alerted the local Barnardo’s child sexual exploitation project.
“I began to see what was happening – I realised the danger, that I needed to get out.”
Eventually Sophie plucked up the courage to tell her abuser to leave her alone. With the support of Barnardo’s and the police she was able to escape the abuse.
Case Study 2 Preyed on at drunken party
“Just pretend you’re 16 for the night” was Steven Pollock’s reaction when the 13-year-old he took advantage of at a party told him her age.
Pollock, then 20, struck after the girl had downed beer, cider, Buckfast and vodka at another 13-year-old’s birthday party. But the case sparked fury when prosecutors scrapped Pollock’s rape charge amid claims the girl consented. Pollock, of Ayrshire, admitted a lesser charge of sex with an underage child and was given 150 hours’ community service.
During the 2012 case, the High Court in Glasgow heard Pollock and the girl were in a bedroom at the party in 2011. After they had sex, the girl told the mother of the girl whose party it was that Pollock had had sex with her. The court heard that when the police went to his house the next day Pollock admitted having sex with the girl but claimed he didn’t know her age.
At the time the Crown said it had secured the strongest conviction possible, with prosecutors accepting the sex was consensual after Pollock’s legal team found the girl’s medical and mobile phone records which had not been available during the original police investigation.
Speaking at Pollock’s sentencing, the child’s outraged mother, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said the decision was like a “punch in the face” for her daughter.
Expert opinion 1 by Daljeet Dagon, Children’s Service Manager of Safer Choices, Barnardo’s Scotland.
“Barnardo’s Scotland identifies four stages in “grooming” – targeting, friendship forming, loving and abusive relationship.
A young person is often targeted due to their vulnerabilities. Initially the relationship feels positive and rewarding for the young person, but then becomes abusive.
Exploitative adults identify these vulnerability factors and take advantage of them by paying attention to the young person, building a strong friendship or winning them over with gifts and making them feel special and wanted. Young people are often unaware that they are being exploited and abused and see themselves as being in a loving relationship.
Children are also sexually exploited over the internet, including social networking sites as well as through the use of web cam without any actual physical contact taking place. Abusers may then go on to meet the young person in person.
The four stages of grooming are just as relevant in online grooming where abusers are able to conceal their true age, gender and identity.
We need to make sure that professionals are always able to identify indicators of sexual exploitation, especially when young people themselves do not realise they are being exploited. This means that where a young person is being groomed, we can intervene early to prevent sexual exploitation taking place.”
Expert opinion 2 by Martin Crewe, Director of Barnardo’s Scotland
The Sunday Post investigation appears to have found that the laws designed to protect vulnerable children and young people are not being used to best effect.
This is very concerning. Barnardo’s Scotland is particularly worried that Risk of Sexual Harm Orders (RSHOs), which should be used to protect children and young people from individuals who pose a risk of sexual harm, appear to be rarely used in practice around Scotland.
The police are not always making full use of the legislation within the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences Act, especially around the use of RSHOs.
We are worried about the low number of people who are getting charged with grooming offences against children and especially the risks posed to children and young people from internet-based grooming.
Children are spending more time online and will sometimes communicate with people they don’t know using social networking.
Barnardo’s Scotland’s child sexual exploitation services see young people – both boys and girls – being groomed through social networking, instant messaging, dating apps and online gaming. We already have legislation on grooming in Scotland which can be used to catch those who seek to abuse children prior to sexual abuse taking place.
Also, grooming needs to be more widely recognised and treated as an offence in its own right.
Barnardo’s Scotland understands that the low use of this legislation may be because perpetrators of these crimes are being charged with other more serious sex offences which carry heavier sentences.
However, our concern is that by not using the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences Act, which is designed to protect children and young people from sexual abuse, it makes it harder to estimate the level of the problem in Scotland and to identify patterns of exploitation across the country. We have seen the dreadful cases in Rochdale and in Oxford so we have to remain vigilant.
Barnardo’s Scotland believes that legislative powers available, such as RSHOs and other laws designed to prosecute perpetrators of child sexual exploitation, must be used to their full effect.