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03 October 2014
Police urge legislative changes to tackle child sexual exploitation

Police urge legislative changes to tackle child sexual exploitation

Police chiefs have called on ministers to strengthen legislation in order to help them better tackle child sexual exploitation in Scotland.

The conditions under which the Chief Constable can apply to the courts for a Risk of Sexual Harm Order in the absence of a conviction should be broadened, Police Scotland have urged.

The call, which comes ahead of a meeting of Holyrood’s Justice Committee on Tuesday, follows figures showing just 31 orders have been granted in Scotland since relevant legislation came into force almost a decade ago. 
Experts are also being called in from the United States to help better inform specialist officers inside the single force on advanced techniques that can be used to pursue offenders online.

Under the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005, an Order can be sought where it appears that an individual has on at least two occasions committed certain acts, including sexual activity involving a child or in the presence of a child, as well as communicating with a child when part of that is sexual.

“Research has not revealed any definitive limiting factor on the number of RSHOs applied for or obtained,” Assistant Chief Constable for Major Crime and Public Protection, Malcolm Graham, said in a submission to the committee. 
“However, there do appear to have been instances where the requirement for application within three months of relevant conduct being reported has been a barrier to progressing an application. In addition, the orders are only available for those children under 16 years of age and where potential victims are now older than 16 at the time of reporting, orders were not considered.”

Police Scotland have now called for “one single act of a sexual nature that would indicate the individual presents a suitable risk on the community” to be sufficient instead of two courses of conduct.

The scope of the legislation should also be extended in terms of the individuals perpetrators target to young people up to the age of 18 rather than 16 as well as adults deemed at risk of physical or psychological harm.

“These changes would not affect a person’s right to appeal as is with there is with current legislation,” added Graham. 
“The above measures would permit the legislation to be truly preventative as opposed to requiring a form of corroboration before it can be effective. 
“Furthermore widening the conditions of those who are requiring protection will actually serve to protect those individuals whom we have established are targeted by such individuals.”

Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill, who has also written to the committee, said: “In terms of Risk of Sexual Harm Orders the Scottish Government agrees it is important that the police and other criminal justice agencies tasked with managing individuals who pose a risk of sexual harm have the broadest range of powers available to do that. 
“Accordingly Scottish Government officials and key stakeholders are currently looking at the utility and effectiveness of these orders. We want to ensure that adequate provision is in place to protect our communities, simplify the landscape (thereby giving greater clarity to the police), and help the police and others exercise their professional discretion.” 
Police Scotland has revealed that 283 individuals have been charged with offences linked to their online activity since April 1 2013.

Experts from the US are to visit Scotland “to educate and inform our specialist cybercrime and online resources in the use of advanced techniques to further pursue offenders,” Graham added. 
A review is also to be undertaken into the operation of Police Scotland’s sex offender community disclosure scheme, which allows a parent, guardian carer to ask whether someone with access to a child has a record for child sexual offences.

This is, Graham said, “in recognition that community awareness and empowerment have been highlighted by third sector and statutory partners as a significant area that requires improvement across Scotland”.

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