Preventing harmful sexual behaviour

Expert Group focused on children and young people.

Scotland should pioneer a public health response to harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people, Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has said.

Responding to a report by an expert group commissioned by the Scottish Government, Mr Yousaf said lessons would be taken from Scotland’s approach to reducing violent crime.

He also announced plans for a multi-agency group to oversee work around prevention and support for parents, carers and practitioners such as such as teachers and social workers.

The Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Involving Children and Young People report calls for more preventative activity tailored for boys and young men, given that the majority of adolescents displaying harmful sexual behaviour are male.

Other recommendations focus on:
• providing effective support for parents and carers to keep their children safe
• ensuring frontline practitioners are confident about how best to prevent harm
• reviewing the steps that can be taken to best achieve prevention rather than intervention after the harm has occurred

Speaking on a visit to Preston Lodge High School in East Lothian to see a lesson delivered by Rape Crisis Scotland’s national sexual violence prevention programme, Mr Yousaf said:

“I am grateful to the expert group for their extensive work on this important issue which is affecting children and young people worldwide and I welcome their recognition of the progressive, preventative action already underway in Scotland.

“Facing up to sexual harm caused by children and young people is difficult, emotive and often troubling but as a society we cannot shy away if we are to tackle its causes.

“Scotland’s success in reducing violent crime among young people offers a blueprint for challenging underlying attitudes and changing behaviours. These issues are complex and require significant collaborative working between statutory authorities and professional disciplines – the justice sector cannot fix this alone.

“There is a duty for all adults – parents, neighbours, policy makers – to respond to this challenge and do everything we can to keep our younger generation safe.”

Catherine Dyer, Chair of the expert group, said:

“Recent decades have seen enormous and continuous cultural and technological changes that affect all children and young people. Often these are linked and exceptionally fast-paced.

“While the vast majority of children and young people relate to each other in a healthy and respectful way, it is important that we support them as they grow up and explore their sexuality.

“Harmful sexual behaviour among children and young people is a global challenge that Scotland needs to address at home through a number of actions, including further tackling causal factors and focusing preventative work on boys and young men.”

Solicitor General Alison Di Rollo QC established the expert group in 2018 with the then Justice Secretary Michael Matheson. She joined Mr Yousaf at today’s school visit.

She said:

“In my 30 years’ experience as a prosecutor I have too often seen the devastating effect sexual offending in young people can have. There needs to be changes in societal attitudes, awareness and behaviours to reduce this type of harm and prevent children coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

“I have long been convinced of the central importance of education in bringing about these changes. I welcome this report and am heartened to see the positive work being carried out in schools such as Preston Lodge High School by Rape Crisis Scotland which is helping to increase young peoples’ understanding of consent and sexual violence.”


The Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Involving Children and Young People: Prevention of and Responses to Harmful Sexual Behaviour by Children and Young People

Young people's summary of the expert group report

The Expert Group was established following Scottish Government research highlighting a growth in online-enabled sexual crimes affecting younger female victims, with younger male perpetrators.

The Scottish Government will convene a multi-agency group to oversee the next phase of work on preventing sexual offending by children and young people. The group will draw on expertise across sectors to embed implementation within existing work to tackle gender-based violence and all forms of child abuse.


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