Information relating to Harmful Sexual Behaviours Online Survey: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Information requested

All correspondence between Scottish Government officials and Young Scot regarding the Harmful Sexual Behaviours Online Survey promoted by Young Scot on social media on 26 January 2021.


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In relation to details of approval and safeguarding, we would like to provide you with some information as to why and how this survey was designed. In September 2017, the Scottish Government commissioned a report ‘Recorded crime in Scotland: 'Other sexual crimes', 2013-2014 and 2016- 2017’, found here: This report identified that around half of the growth in all recorded sexual crime was due to growth in sexual cyber-crime which tends to involve younger female victims and younger male perpetrators. Additionally, figures from 2016-2017 indicate that more than 80% of victims of online sexual crime were female, with an average age of 14 years old, while almost a quarter of cyber-enabled crime had a victim and perpetrator who were both under 16. 

The Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Involving Children and Young People was established by the Scottish Government in late 2017 to respond to these concerns. The Group was tasked with considering the evidence and current responses relating to harmful sexual behaviour and sexual offending involving children and young people, as well as potential further actions to prevent and respond to such behaviours.

Hearing the views of young people was very important to the Group and they sought out views through a Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) survey, asking about feeling safe and knowledge of risks online, a Young Scot survey of 11-25 year-olds, asking about online personal safety, sharing of photos and  education about sexual issues, and focus groups at YOI Polmont and three secure care centres in Scotland. Young people told the Group that the majority of young people feel safe online, but that nearly a fifth of those who completed the SYP survey “don’t know” if they understand the risks around sexual behaviours. More information on these surveys can be found in the Group’s final report (see below). 

The final report of the Group was published in 2020 here: preventing-sexual-offending-involving-children-young-people-prevention-responses-harmfulsexual- behaviour-children-young-people/. The report contains findings relating to the nature, causes and frequency of harmful sexual behaviour by children towards other children, highlighting existing best practice and setting out 19 proposals for further action. This action included two youth-specific proposals around how young people’s views should be sought and promoted:

  • The Scottish Government should commission regular, co-designed surveys of children and young people, asking about concerns and personal experiences around harmful sexual behaviours involving children and young people.
  • The Scottish Government and statutory authorities should co-design prevention of harmful sexual behaviour messages or campaigns with children and young people

The Scottish Government is committed to driving forward extensive action to deliver the Group’s proposals, which involves collaborative working between statutory and third sector organisations across Scotland. Work has also begun to progress both a Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) and an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA).

As part of this action, and in order to progress the first youth-specific proposal above, in 2020 we commissioned Young Scot to develop a survey seeking the views of children and young people about harmful sexual behaviours online. It is important that children and young people are empowered to share their views on the real and present issues that concern them so that policy, and practice, can be developed to support their needs. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 places duties on Scottish Ministers to keep under consideration and take steps to further children’s rights, whilst the current United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, if enacted, would ensure that children’s rights are legally protected. These rights include seeking out the views and opinions of children and young people in the development of any policy area which impacts them directly or indirectly. Although this was not a statutory requirement when the Group made their proposals, this is now part of how we create policy in Scotland, and therefore this survey and subsequent surveys will be part of an essential process to understand the perspectives of children and young people and ensure that this informs policy making.

You will see from the information we have provided that Young Scot led a co-design session with children and young people, once potential survey themes and questions were identified following a data mapping exercise. Young Scot have their own safeguarding policies in place when working with children and young people. The draft survey developed after this session was then refined, with advice and input on the survey content sought from stakeholders with interest and expertise in harmful sexual behaviour, including previous members of the Expert Group. Further iterations led to the final product which was published in January. The survey was amended very soon after publication, in response to a very small number of concerns around the survey content. The minor amendments included changing the age range from 11-18 years old to 12-18 years old, to focus on secondary school aged young people, and changing responses to one question, to better match questions in and responses to the previous 2019 survey.

We hope this information clarifies why and how the survey was developed and its importance in shaping policy and the delivery of action to support children and young people who may encounter harm while online.

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