Police Scotland is facing a rising tide of sex crimes against children but a leading Dundee charity said stark new figures may only “scratch the surface”.
Figures released through freedom of information legislation show dramatic rises in the number of offences against girls and boys over the past four years.
While the exposure of serial criminals like Jimmy Savile has led to more people coming forward to report historical crimes, Detective Chief Superintendent Lesley Boal, Police Scotland’s lead for public protection, said the force is also facing “new threats” to children.
She said: “Keeping children safe is our priority and we are committed to working with partners nationally, locally and with support services to primarily prevent children being abused and neglected; to improve child protection services and to ensure appropriate support is available.
“We are seeing increased reporting of sexual offences. Alongside the ongoing efforts to tackle abuse, new threats are emerging which require different responses; threats like child sexual exploitation and online child sexual abuse.
“We are also seeing an increasing number of reports of non-recent sexual offences.
“We are aware that many children, for a whole host of reasons, may not initially disclose they have been abused and the true extent of child sexual abuse taking place in Scotland now is unknown.
“Since the formation of Police Scotland there has been an unprecedented focus on tackling online child sexual abuse and we continue to be proactive in our approach.
“Tackling sexual crime and the sexual abuse of children is a priority for Police Scotland, as is identifying perpetrators and bringing them to justice.
“We will do everything in our power to prevent these activities and, with our partners, protect children.”
The figures show the number of rapes of girls aged from 13 to 15 rose from 127 in 2010-11 to 185 in 2014-15.
The number of reported sexual assaults of girls of the same age rose from 181 to 321.
There has also been a huge rise in the number of reported crimes of taking, distributing or possessing indecent photographs of children.
In 2010-11 there were 376 offences, but this rose to 606 in 2014-15.
Laurie Matthew of Dundee charity 18 and Under said the true extent of child sex abuse may be even higher.
She said: “Even with these higher figures it really is scratching the surface.
“While some adult survivors may become strong enough or confident enough to go forward about their abuse, few children and young people who are abused go forward and report it.
“Child protection is failing young people who are currently being abused.
“If you look at research figures about the prevalence of sexual abuse, you will find that it is roughly one in four girls and one in six boys who are sexually abused before age 18.
“The incidence figures the number of cases that come to light of young people being sexually abused is nowhere near these figures.”
Ms Matthew added: “I find it interesting that children, young people and families are afraid to go near child protection services for help.
“A great deal more needs to be done. For a start, using an evidence-based abuse prevention programme such as the Violence Is Preventable Programme which has research-based proven value, in all nurseries, primaries and secondary schools would be a good start, as would providing more confidential services for young people.”
Ms Matthew said high-profile cases such as Jimmy Savile’s may now be encouraging more people to come forward and giving them confidence that their complaints will be taken seriously.