TV ad targets child sexual exploitation

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Media captionThe TV advert shows how online conversations can take a sinister turn

Figures on child sexual exploitation in Scotland could be just "the tip of the iceberg", a minister has warned.

Last year the charity Barnardo's Scotland supported 266 youngsters who were victims of child sexual exploitation or at risk of the crime.

Education Secretary Angela Constance said the true figure was almost certainly much higher.

She issued the warning as she launched the first television campaign in the UK aimed at tackling the problem.

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is defined as a young person under the age of 18 being manipulated, forced, pressurised or coerced into taking part in a sexual act in exchange for something.

'Abhorrent crime'

Ms Constance warned any child could be at risk.

She said: "Child sexual exploitation is happening to boys and girls in Scotland. By its very nature this form of child abuse is often hidden and many young people who are affected don't realise they are a victim and will not ask for help.

"The first step in tackling this abhorrent crime is understanding it can happen to anyone. It can take many forms - online, through social media or on phones, as well as in person on a one-to-one or group basis.

"Barnardo's Scotland directly supported 266 young people who have been victims or were at risk last year, but these figures may be the tip of the iceberg."

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Research commissioned by the Scottish government, found that while 93% of parents have heard of child sexual exploitation, almost a third (29%) admit knowing little about it.

The YouGov survey of more than 500 parents and children also suggested 36% believe it will not affect their family.

The new TV advert and website aim to raise awareness by showing how conversations online can potentially put youngsters in danger and highlight warning signs.

Image copyright GARETH EASTON
Image caption The TV advert is accompanied by a new website that offers advice for both parents and young people

It is being backed by Police Scotland, ChildLine and various other children's charities, including Barnardo's Scotland, NSPCC Scotland and Children 1st.

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said: "Child sexual exploitation is an evolving issue, as is our understanding of it and how it can affect young people.

"CSE takes place across all communities and it affects girls and boys. Young people are exposed to exploitation in a myriad of ways from online grooming to contact offending. They may not recognise or understand what's happening until it's too late.

"Raising public awareness, and particularly parental awareness, of what to look for if their child is being exploited is an important part of tackling this crime.

"If anyone suspects a child may be a victim of any form of child abuse, including sexual exploitation, then contact the police or one of our partner agencies.

"In the same vein, I would like to emphasise that if anyone suspects individuals of committing acts of child abuse then contact us and we will investigate thoroughly and robustly in order to keep children safe."

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