Harmful sexual behaviour by children and young people: Expert Group report

This report sets out proposals from the Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Involving Children and Young People to improve prevention and early intervention in response to harmful sexual behaviour involving children and young people.

Chapter 8: The Views of Young People

At the request of the Expert Group, the Scottish Youth Parliament asked questions in an online survey #WhatsYourTake, and also discussed the questions in workshops at its 67th sitting (in October 2018).

A second survey, Attitudes Towards Online Sexual Activities, was created by the Expert Group in collaboration with Young Scot, and was hosted on the Young Scot website in early 2019. In addition focus groups were held within HMYOI Polmont and 3 secure care centres.[177]

The Questionnaires


The #WhatsYourTake online survey ran between 21st September and 29th October 2018 and gathered 546 responses from young people aged 12-25 across Scotland, with representation from all 32 local authorities.

The #WhatsYourTake survey asked the following two questions in relation to internet safety and understanding risks around sexual behaviour (online and offline):

How safe do you feel online?

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is the least safe and 10 is the most safe, the average choice was 7.07. All 546 young people answered this question.

Do you feel that young people understand the risks around online and offline sexual behaviour?

This question resulted in a mixed response, although ultimately more young people answered 'no' - they don't understand the risks. However, there was only around 2% of a difference in those who answered 'No' compared with 'Yes'. Almost 18% of the respondents answered 'I don't know' to this question.

Young people were given the opportunity to include free text as part of their response to the second question. Some explanations included that despite many being taught about and knowing the risks and dangers of online sexual behaviour in school (with some examples given, such as 'a week focusing on internet safety', information 'by the NHS and school staff', posters, word-of-mouth, the news, or 'Sexual Health Drop-in's and 'free contraception' at schools); …'young people still take risks on a frequent basis', 'cast them aside', or are 'more careless but more trustful'.

Attitudes Towards Online Sexual Activities

The Attitudes Towards Online Sexual Activities online survey, hosted on the Young Scot website Rewards Page, ran between 11th January and 5th February 2019. There were 1,173 completed responses to the survey[178], which is among the largest response rate for any survey on the Young Scot Website.

The survey asked questions in relation to online personal safety, sharing of photos, and education about sexual issues.

Personal Safety Online

1. Over three quarters of respondents (78%) stated that they felt either Safe or Very Safe online. Five percent selected either Very Unsafe or Unsafe and 17% were Not sure.

2. The majority of respondents (81%) stated that they feel either Confident or Very Confident online, 16% selected Slightly confident and 3% Not confident.

Sharing Photos Online

1. Most respondents (78%) were aware that it is an offence to take a nude photo of themselves and share it if they are under 18.

Is it an offence to take a nude photo of yourself and share it if you are under 18?

2. A large majority of respondents (93%) were aware that it is an offence for someone else to share a nude photo of them if they are under 18.

3. Three quarters were aware that it is not possible to ensure that a photo that has been shared is not seen by people that they did not want to see it.

4. Almost two thirds (65%) of respondents stated that the main reason that they think people ask for nude photos is Because they are attracted to them. Respondents who selected Other provided reasons such as for sexual pleasure, because of pressure or power and for status.

5. When asked how easy it would be to say no to someone popular who was requesting nude photos, around three quarters (76%) stated that it would be Easy or Very easy to say no.

Education About Sexual Issues

1. Over half of the respondents (56%) stated that their school had given them guidance about sharing sexual images and sexual behaviour online.

Has your school given you any guidance about sharing sexual images and sexual behaviour online?

2. When asked what type of guidance, respondents stated that they had been informed of risks and consequences, informed of the law and told do not engage in online sexual activities. Respondents also gave examples of how this guidance had been given (e.g. via PSE lessons or police talks) and examples of specific organisations that had visited them (e.g. CEOP[179] and RASAC).[180]

3. When asked where they preferred to get information about sex from, almost half of respondents (47%) selected Internet. Respondents who selected Other provided examples such as professional services (e.g. GP or other health professionals) and education or youth groups.

4. When asked if they thought there were concerns/issues/problems that boys faced more than girls in regards to sexual behaviour online, 49% agreed that there was, 37% disagreed and 6% thought that issues were equal for both genders.

5. When asked if they thought there were concerns/issues/problems that girls faced more than boys in regards to sexual behaviour online, 83% agreed that there was, 17% disagreed and 4% thought that issues were equal for both genders.

6. Respondents identified similar issues for both of these questions, with the most frequent responses being in relation to Peer pressure or unfair expectations, Body image or self-esteem, Expected to share photos of themselves and can be exploited by scammers online.

7. Themes that were applicable to only boys included Risk of being blamed or prosecuted, Share more between peers about online activities and Pornography as a source of sex education.

Main Theme Secondary Theme Number of responses
Yes - Consequences Risk of being blamed or prosecuted 41
Punishment is greater than girls 10
Ridiculed more over online behaviour 10
Punishment is lesser than girls 7

“Boys are looked at as being monsters and the ones always in the wrong like it’s always going to be the boy asking for the pictures when it isn’t always the case. They are blamed automatically.”

8. Themes that were applicable to only girls included Judged for actions more than boys, unsolicited attention online and Objectification or sexualisation.

Focus Groups at HMYOI Polmont and Secure Care Centres

A total of 41 young people contributed to focus groups within HMYOI Polmont and 3 secure care centres.[181]

Some of the results of these focus groups are presented below (additional information is included in Appendix L).

Do you feel safe online?

Participants indicated that they felt safe "to an extent" online, although were aware of the risks, such as adults making contact with them and similar unwanted attention. Some young people reported that they did not always feel safe online as "maddos" and "paedophiles" would attempt to befriend them, communicate with them and ask for photographs.

Where did/do you get most of your information about sex from?

Whereas most questions received a similar response regardless of the location, this particular question elicited somewhat divergent replies.

Boys from HMYOI Polmont stated that they received information regarding sex from online pornography; however this was often inaccurate and not reflective of real life. In addition to this, they would learn from older peers or from sex education in school.

Amongst young people from secure and residential care settings, pornography was not highlighted as a source of information although one or two young people did allude to it in passing. The young people spoke of secondary school being a source of information, vaguely recalling certain classes. A small number of young people mentioned primary school, although most young people could not remember any input during their time there. Amongst this group, family were mentioned in around half of cases; this often occurring in middle teenage years. Some young people spoke of undertaking sexual health courses within that secure care setting, although struggled to remember precise details. A small - but sizeable - number of young people spoke of never receiving any formal sex education.

What information did you get from school about sharing sexual images and sexual behaviour online?

Young people reported receiving sex education whilst in secondary school and -where applicable - in secure care. This primarily related to bodily functions and procreation. Very few young people explicitly mentioned education or learning regarding sexual images or sexual behaviour online, nor was consent, relationships or sexuality mentioned particularly often.

What is the law regarding nude pictures of people under the age of 18?

With the exception of one young man, all participants from HMYOI Polmont were surprised that it was illegal to share an image of someone under the age of 18. They were of the impression that 16 was the age at which such an image would become 'legal', comparing it to the law regarding consensual sex. They were also surprised that storing or making that image - even if it was of themselves - was illegal.

The majority of young people from secure or residential settings were not able to recall any teaching regarding the law during their time in school.

Feedback from Young People to the Scottish Child Law Centre (SCLC)

SCLC is an independent charitable organisation funded by Scottish Government. Its aim is to promote knowledge and use of Scots law and children's rights for the benefit of children and young people in Scotland.

On average it receives 3,000 to 3,500 calls a year, with the vast majority being from parents and carers but some from children and young people.

SCLC experience of delivering sessions to school children, aged 11-12 and educated in the private sector in Edinburgh, on the legal consequences of taking and sending intimate images of people under 18, has been that the majority of children are surprised that it is against law.

Expert Group Findings and Conclusions

Children and young people engage positively when their views are sought, and they give frank and forthright responses.

The value of obtaining responses from children and young people cannot be underestimated when forming policy and practice and planning informative multi-media preventative campaigns.

Expert Group Proposals

The Scottish Government should commission regular surveys of significant samples of children and young people on their concerns and experiences around HSB involving children and young people including their use of internet; and use the feedback to inform policymakers and practitioners to allow improved design of services. The survey questions should be co-designed with children and young people.

Preventative messaging by Scottish Government and statutory authorities should be co-designed with children and young people.

Overarching Expert Group Proposal

HSB by children and young people can cause long-lasting and devastating consequences for all those involved. Cultural and technological change that affects children and young people is fast-paced and it is essential that statutory authorities are aware of, and keep pace with, the changing nature of risk around HSB involving children and young people. The solutions for those affected are complex and require significant collaborative working between statutory authorities and professional disciplines. Because of this: a multi-agency Group should be established to oversee the implementation of the Expert Group proposals and to ensure continuous improvement across all statutory authorities, so that preventions and responses delivered across Scotland meet the needs of all children and young people, their parents and carers and the professionals who work with them. It should report on progress to the National Child Protection Leadership Group and the Minister for Children and Young People.


Email: Child_Protection@gov.scot

Back to top