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.

Annex F: Information on numbers of callers to Helplines and visits to website resources in Scotland

Childline is a free 24 hour counselling service operated by the NSPCC for children and young people up to their 19th birthday. It also provides advice for anyone concerned about a child or young person.

  • In 2017/18, across the UK ChildLine delivered 3878 counselling sessions about peer sexual abuse.
  • This is an increase from 2750 counselling sessions recorded in 2013/14.
  • Counselling sessions about peer sexual abuse were overwhelmingly from girls (87% in 2017/18)

For the purposes of Childline data, 'peer to peer' sexual abuse is classed as concerns about sexual abuse by peers such as a friend; current boyfriend or girlfriend; ex-partner; another young person under the age of 18, and who isn't related to them. Abuse by siblings or other family members is not included.

Childline counselling sessions about peer sexual abuse
Total 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
Counselling sessions 2750 2536 3376 3004 3878
Childline counselling sessions about peer sexual abuse
Age group
Age Group 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
11 & under 149 118 159 114 110
12 to 15 1318 1199 1537 1470 1898
16 to 18 689 696 1066 957 1325
Unknown 594 523 614 463 563
Total 2750 2536 3376 3004 3878
Childline counselling sessions about peer sexual abuse
Gender breakdown
Gender 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
Girls 1983 1803 2431 2402 3379
Boys 245 213 206 268 371
Unknown 522 520 739 334 128
Total 2750 2536 3376 3004 3878

At the request of the Expert Group, Childline extracted the following key themes which were most frequently apparent to its counsellors from the young people they supported in counselling sessions where what the young people were describing was peer sexual abuse:

Peer sexual abuse is carried out by other young people either known or previously unknown to the young person

Young people are confused about whether they have experienced peer sexual abuse

  • Lack of understanding in younger children about what sexual abuse is; and what is normal behaviour between peers
  • Young people in relationships don't know whether it's abuse because they are in a relationship
  • Young people are confused about consent

Young people are scared or reluctant to speak out about sexual abuse

  • Young people find it difficult to talk about what happened to them
  • Young people are worried that parents will have to find out if they talk to a teacher, health care professional or the police about abuse, and they don't want their parents to know
  • Young people are worried the issue was not 'serious' enough to talk about, or that they would be accused of lying
  • Young people are worried that they would be bullied as a result of other pupils finding out
  • Young people are worried that people will think it was their fault

Sexual abuse takes place in a range of settings

Peer sexual abuse can take place online as well as offline

  • Young people had been forced or coerced into taking and sharing explicit pictures
  • This often happened alongside being pressured into sexual activities offline
  • Young people were threatened that if they did not continue to send images, or engage in offline sexual activity, then the other young person would share the images online or at school

Peer sexual abuse has a long-lasting impact on young people

  • Young people talk to Childline counsellors about mental health problems
  • Young people are worried about seeing the person who carried out the abuse at school every day or bumping into them when they were alone
  • Young people find it difficult to build relationships, either with partners, friends or family and can experience trust issues.

Parenting Across Scotland is an independent charity providing advice and support to parents. The charity receives over 5000 visits to its website annually. The majority of visitors to the website go to the 'info for families' page, this may be parents visiting or practitioners looking for information for families they support. They have a specific page for online safety that covers issues and concerns and points to good, trusted sources of information for parents.[182]

Parentline is a free national telephone helpline and on-line chat facility operated by Children 1st.. It is open 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday and until 12 noon on Saturday and Sunday. It provides advice for anyone caring for or concerned about a child.

Since 2014, Parentline has received 577 reports of sexual abuse from parents or carers contacting the helpline.

In 2019 at the request of the Expert Group, Parentline randomly selected a sample of 33 of the reports (just under 6%). From the sample of 33 reports, five related to HSB by children and young people ranging between the ages of 10 and 17.

In addition, Parentline examined the total of 71 reports that were received between October 2018 and February 2019 and found that five reports (7%) were in connection with HSB by children and young people. Three of these reports related to girls of 12 and 13 being sexually active with males of 15 and 16 (with one of these also involving exchange of intimate images). One of the other reports concerned a girl of 11 forcing a child of 7 to engage in a sexual act with another child; while another involved a girl of 13 sharing indecent images with a younger boy.


Email: Child_Protection@gov.scot

Back to top