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by Sofia Villegas
31 January 2024
Encouraging others to self-harm is now a criminal offence in Scotland

Encouraging someone to self-harm online is also criminalised | Alamy

Encouraging others to self-harm is now a criminal offence in Scotland

Encouraging or assisting someone to self-harm, whether online or in person, is now a criminal offence in Scotland under legislation that has come into effect today.

Those accused of carrying out such activity could be subject to criminal prosecution regardless of whether the other person ended up harming themselves. If found guilty they could face a sentence of up to five years in prison.

First passed by the UK Government under the Online Safety Act, the law was extended to the Scottish Parliament via a legislative consent motion last June. The Online Safety Act received Royal Assent in October 2023.

Mental Wellbeing Minister Maree Todd said: “We welcome this new offence which criminalises people who encourage or assist another person to serious self-harm. It will help to make the internet a safer place for everyone.”

According to the latest statistics published by National Records of Scotland, there were 792 probable deaths by suicide in Scotland in 2022. 

A survey carried out by the University of Swansea and the charity Samaritans found that more than 80 per cent of its particpants are encouraged to view self-harm content on their personalised social media feeds with 76 per cent of those who harmed themselves doing so more severely because of viewing self-harm content online.

“We believe this new law aligns with our ambitious approach to self-harm, which is laid out in our dedicated Self-harm Strategy and Action Plan,” Todd added.

“It demonstrates our ambition to improve support for people who self-harm – a critical part of which is ensuring people are protected from harmful communications.”

The Self-harm Strategy and Action Plan was published jointly with local authority umbrella groups Cosla in November 2023.

Its aim is that those affected by self-harm will receive support “without fear of stigma or discrimination”.

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