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Rise in cyber sex crime in Scotland

A new Scottish Government report has found that there has been an increase in cyber sex crime in Scotland, with the majority of those targeted being children under the age of 16.

20% of all sex crimes that were committed in Scotland last year were committed on the internet. With the blame being placed on the increasing number of apps available for criminals to work through, including Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.

The report, titled: ‘Cybercrime in Scotland: A review of the Evidence’, Facebook was the most commonly used social media outlet that was used by criminals to commit cyber sex crime. The report also included studies which suggested that ‘much sexual harm to children was committed via apps on smartphones and tablets’.

Michael Matheson, the justice secretary, urges everyone to remain vigilant online

The report also highlighted the concerns that it had about the use of social media networks that are used by children, saying ‘some of the most popular social media networks used by children are recurring vehicles for sexual crime’. The report said that one of the main reason for this is that parental controls are not being used, or that blocks are being overcome.

The report highlighted that the online sexual crimes were more likely to involve what is known as ‘non-contact offending’, it warned that abuse over the internet may be a gateway to more serious sexual offences such as rape and sexual assault.

The research also found that there was an increase in the use of the internet in the committing of ‘other sex crimes’. These are a category of sex offence which police Scotland uses to classify behaviour which does not fall under the brackets of rape/attempted rape, sexual assault or crimes associated with prostitution.

Nearly three quarters of the victims of these crimes were under the ages of 16, with 83% of victims being under the age of 20. The average age of victims of ‘other sex crimes’ was 14.

26% of the perpetrators of these crimes were under the age of 16 themselves, the research found, with 57% of perpetrators under the age of 20.

In 2016/17, police Scotland recorded that 20% of all sexual crimes were committed using the internet.

The crimes which were committed with the largest rate of internet use were indecent photos of children, which was 98% cyber-enabled in 2016/17. On top of this, 71% of viewing sexual activity or images inappropriately occurred online, while 58% of indecent communication took place online.

The research found that the number of incidents of those crimes which occurred online had nearly doubled between 2013/14 and 2016/17, bringing the total to 2,224.

The Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary, Liam Kerr, described the findings in the report as ‘alarming’.

He said: ‘The fact so many of these victims are children is something that needs urgent and radical attention. I hope the Scottish Government outlines its intention to ensure those guilty of such offences are punished heavily.’

Daniel Johnson, the justice spokesperson for Scottish Labour, said: ‘It is incredibly worrying to see this huge rise in the number of sexual cybercrimes involving children and young people. They need to be safe when using the internet, and it is vital that they are given the tools and the information they need to keep themselves safe. There are so many opportunities for young people through the internet, but also so many risks. Parents and teachers must be given the skills to guide children and young people through the potential pitfall.’

The study found that, in general, cybercrime was under reported to the police as well as other appropriate authorities.

In 2016/17, police Scotland were only asked to deal with 30 cases of computer misuse. Computer misuse covers hacking, as well as virus attacks. These stats come from the recorded crime data in Scotland for 2016/17.

Liam McArthur MSP, the Scottish Liberal Democrat spokesperson, spoke about the rise in cyber crime, and in particular sexual cybercrime, saying that it was a frightening prospect, particularly when it is not being dealt with appropriately. He said: ‘When we know cybercrime, sexual cybercrime and fraud is on the rise, it is worrying to hear the Scottish Government admit it has a long way to go to understanding how to deal with it. Where personal data is only a click of a button away, the authorities must ensure they are one step ahead.’

He added that the Scottish Liberal Democrats had recently applied for a freedom of information request. He said that from the request, they found that the Scottish Government has yet to identify the number of cybercrime experts that it will need in the immediate future, saying that if we want to prevent cybercrime in Scotland, then the resourced need to be put into place now, before it is too late.

Michael Matheson, the justice secretary spoke about the findings of the report, saying that the internet, as well as the number of new technologies that are emerging are having a clear and definite impact on the way that crime is being committed across Scotland. He said that while there are obvious examples of the types of cyber crime that we all expect, such as fraud, computer misuse and online sexual crimes, it was important that everyone remains switched on and vigilant in addressing these crimes.

He said: ‘Police Scotland are committed to recruiting more civilian cyber specialists to ensure they have the right mix of skills in place to counter the threat posed by cybercrime.’

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Thorley Stephenson SSC is an Edinburgh based law firm with expertise dealing with all types of criminal defence throughout Scotland. Our team of dedicated staff are here to help you with any enquiry you might have. To speak to a member of our team today, call us on 0131 341 3825 for a consultation. Alternatively, you can contact us online by completing our online enquiry form here

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