Ex-Crown Office boss to lead task force tackling sexual crime among young people

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A former Crown Office boss is to lead a task force set up to prevent sexual crime involving young people.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said Catherine Dyer would bring a “wealth of experience” as he announced the appointment to MSPs at Holyrood.

The expert group was created in response to recent research showing the number of sexual cyber crimes recorded by police has soared over the past three years, with more than three-quarters of victims female and more than half under 16.

The expert group will bring together voices including the Scottish Youth Parliament, Youth Link and Rape Crisis Scotland and will have its first meeting early next year.

Mr Matheson said: “Advances in technology are greatly beneficial for the way we all live our lives, but also present new risks for harm. We have responded through new laws criminalising the sharing of intimate images as well as strong public information campaigns.

“Prevention is key, with figures showing more must be done for young people now. In the last year, more than 80% of victims of online sexual crime were female, with an average age of 14, and 96% of perpetrators were male.

“We need to better understand why some young men are motivated to behave in this way, and how we can prevent it.”

Ms Dyer, who chaired a review of child protection systems in 2014, said: “Sharing understanding of the nature and causes of behaviours that affect children and young people in the digital age, and creating solutions to reduce the numbers of harmful incidents, is clearly a priority.

“We will work with a wide range of organisations to gain further insights into what young people are experiencing and explore what more needs to be done over coming years to make our young people safe from risk of harm or harming others.”

Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo QC said: “Too many children and young people are coming into contact with our justice system as a result of sexual offending.

“This expert group will play a key role in exploring what more can be done to prevent these adverse childhood events by education, building on the excellent work that is already being done.”

The announcement was welcomed by MSPs, with Tory Michelle Ballantyne saying it was the “right way to go”.

She said the involvement of young people would be “absolutely critical” to the work of the group and called on Mr Matheson to ensure that families are also involved “in a meaningful way”.

Labour’s Claire Baker said MSPs had increasingly raised concerns over sexual offending involving children and young people in the chamber and the initiative was welcome.

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