Recorded crime in Scotland: 2016-2017

Statistics on crimes and offences recorded and cleared up by the police in Scotland, split by crime or offence group and by local authority.

This document is part of a collection

Group 2 – Sexual Crimes

Group 2 – Sexual Crimes

Number of Sexual crimes recorded in 2016-17:

Sexual crimes account for 5% of all crimes recorded in Scotland in 2016-17. The number of Sexual crimes recorded by the police in Scotland increased by 5% from 10,273 in 2015-16 to 10,822 in 2016-17.

Chart 8 below shows the number of Sexual crimes from 1971 onwards. Sexual crimes have been on a long-term upward trend since 1974, and have increased each consecutive year since 2008-09. Sexual crimes are at the highest level seen since 1971, the first year for which broadly comparable crime groups are available.

Chart 8: Sexual crimes recorded by the police, 1971 1 to 1994 then 1995‑96 to 2016-17 ( Table 10)

Chart 8: Sexual crimes recorded by the police, 1971 to 1994 then 1995‑96 to 2016-17

1. Crimes recorded for the present crime groups are not available prior to 1971.

The national rate of recorded Sexual crimes increased from 19 crimes per 10,000 population in 2015-16 to 20 crimes per 10,000 population in 2016-17. This varied by local authority area, with the highest rate in Dundee City (35 per 10,000 population), and the lowest in the Shetland Islands (9 per 10,000 population) ( Table 13).

Whilst the specific age of the victim cannot generally be determined from the data supplied by Police Scotland, many of the sexual crime codes used by the Police to record crime make it clear when the victim was aged under 18 (for example, Sexual assault of older male child (13-15 years)) [6] . By adding up all these crime codes, we know that at least 44% of the 10,822 sexual crimes recorded in 2016-17 by the police related to a victim under the age of 18. This proportion is unchanged on the previous year.

Chart 9: Sexual crimes in Scotland, 2007-08 to 2016-17

Chart 9: Sexual crimes in Scotland, 2007-08 to 2016-17

Chart 9 shows the four categories within Sexual crimes over the last ten years, and gives an indication of the trend and scale of each category. The number of recorded crimes in the Sexual assault and Other sexual crimes categories have changed markedly over time, almost converging after 2010, which coincides with the implementation of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009. In 2015-16, the number of Other sexual crimes exceeded that of Sexual assault and despite narrowing, this continued in 2016-17. Information on the impact of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 is available under Data Considerations below. The proportion of Rape and attempted rape has remained fairly constant over time, whereas that of Crimes associated with prostitution has fallen.

Table A1 contains more detailed breakdowns for Sexual crimes.

Sexual assault:

Sexual assault accounted for 40% of Sexual crimes in 2016-17. This category has been on an upward trend since 2011-12, having increased by 47% since that time. This includes an 8% increase from 3,963 in 2015-16 to 4,281 in 2016-17.

Nearly three quarters (23) of local authorities recorded an increase in sexual assault since 2007-08 and 21 recorded an increase between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

One of the main drivers behind the increase in Sexual assault between 2015-16 and 2016-17 was a 24% increase in crimes of Lewd and libidinous practices, accounting for four fifths (81%) of the overall increase. Incidents of Lewd and Libidinous practice all relate to crimes which occurred prior to the implementation of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 on 1 December 2010 (see ' Data Considerations' below for further information on Historic reporting).

Rape & attempted rape:

It should be noted that due to the implementation of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, comparisons with data prior to 2010-11 should be treated with caution. Additional information relating to the implementation of this legislation is available in the ' Data Considerations' section below.

Rape & attempted rape accounted for 17% of Sexual crimes. There has been a upward trend in these crimes since 2010-11 with Rape & attempted rape increasing by 66% overall between 2010-11 and 2016-17. This includes a 4% increase from 1,809 in 2015-16 to 1,878 in 2016-17. All but four local authority areas recorded an increase in this category between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Crimes associated with prostitution:

Crimes associated with prostitution account for 3% of Sexual crimes. Over the ten year period from 2007-08 to 2016-17, these crimes have seen a large fall of 56%, however there was a 23% increase from 247 in 2015-16 to 303 in 2016-17.

The majority of crimes in this category (87%) are recorded in Aberdeen City and Glasgow City. Both of these local authorities have seen a decrease of more than a half in the last ten years, however between 2015-16 and 2016-17 both recorded an increase (from 76 to 105 in Aberdeen and from 137 to 158 in Glasgow).

Other sexual crimes:

The Other sexual crimes category includes crimes such as Communicating indecently, Taking, possessing and distributing indecent photos of children, Sexual exposure, Public indecency and Causing to view sexual images or activity.

As with Rape & attempted rape, it should be noted that due to the implementation of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, comparisons with data prior to 2010-11 should be treated with caution. Additional information relating to the implementation of this legislation is available in the ' Data Considerations' section below.

Other sexual crimes are the largest category in Group 2, accounting for 40% of Sexual crimes. This category has been on an upward trend since 2010-11, having increased by 146% within that time, including a 2% increase from 4,254 in 2015-16 to 4,360 in 2016-17. All local authority areas apart from the Shetland Islands recorded an increase in this category over the period from 2010-11 to 2016-17.

Along with the release of these statistics we have published the findings of a research project into Other sexual crimes, based on a sample of around 2,000 crimes recorded by the police in 2013-14 and 2016-17. The research contains details about the victims, perpetrators and circumstances of these crimes.

Where identifiable, the clear majority of victims of 'Other sexual crimes' were female and the vast majority of perpetrators were male. The research also suggests that cyber enabled 'Other sexual crimes' (i.e. where the internet has been used as a means to commit the crime) contributed around half to the total growth in all recorded sexual crimes between 2013-14 and 2016-17. Those types of crime that have contributed most to the overall increase in 'Other sexual crimes' ('Communicating indecently' and 'Cause to view sexual activity or images') are more likely to have younger victims and younger perpetrators where they are cyber enabled, than where they are not. Further information is available via the following link:

Data Considerations

Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009

The implementation of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 on 1 December 2010 resulted in a redistribution of Group 2 crimes among the subcategories. Comparisons over time of the breakdown of Sexual crimes should therefore be treated with caution.The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 widened the definition of Rape and therefore comparisons of the category Rape & attempted rape with data prior to 2010-11 should be treated with caution.

There are a number of crimes such as Indecent communication and Voyeurism which may have been recorded as Breach of the peace prior to the implementation of the Act, and which therefore would not have shown up as sexual crimes before December 2010. This coincides with the increase in Other sexual crimes in 2011-12. Therefore, comparisons of the category Other sexual crimes with data prior to 2010-11 should be treated with caution.

In 2010-11, incidents of Taking, distribution etc. indecent photos of children were transferred from Group 6 Miscellaneous offences to Group 2 Sexual crimes. At the time, figures were back-revised to 2009-10. As these incidents accounted for 6% of all Group 2 Sexual crimes in 2016-17, it should be noted that, although figures for this crime have increased over time, a small discontinuity is present in the time series for any analysis that spans 2009-10.

Historic reporting

Table A1 reports 1,327 crimes of Lewd and Libidinous practices in 2016-17. These crimes should all relate to offences which occurred prior to the implementation of the Sexual Offences (Scotland ) Act 2009 on 1 December 2010, as the act replaced Lewd and Libidinous practices with specific sexual assault crimes. As a result, we know that these are historic offences. Similarly, there were 378 crimes of Sexual assault committed prior to 1 December 2010. There will be other Sexual crimes recorded in 2016-17 which occurred in previous years but after the introduction of the Act; however, it is not possible to identify these separately to give a full picture of historic reporting.

Further more, Police Scotland have cited that increased reporting, including that of historic crimes, may in part be responsible for the increase in recorded sexual crime. The successful outcome of cases featuring historic offending may have highligted to survivors that cases will be listened to by the police, regardless of how long ago they occurred. Media coverage may also have led to the identification of further survivors who previously may not have reported crimes to the police.

Police Scotland have also highlighted that some investigations can be large-scale involving numerous victims/offenders which span a number of years and can lead to the identification of additional victims/offenders. Online child sexual abuse, which includes grooming/exploitation, has also seen an increase in reporting, not only from victims but concerned members of the public.

Data Validation

HMICS Crime Audit 2016

As previously mentioned, HMICS tested the accuracy of crime recording through auditing a sample of records recorded between 1 st January and 31 st March 2016. Further information on this audit, including definitions of terminology and tests used can be found in Annex 2.

Of the 914 crimes sampled that resulted from sexual incidents, 91.4% were counted and classified correctly. The audit found that 44 crimes had been under-counted, eight had been over-counted, and 27 were wrongly classified.

Whist the audit confirmed that the vast majority of these crimes are counted and classified correctly, it also noted that 'there remains scope for improvement in the recording of sexual crime'.

Counting errors tended to arise due to the complexity of sexual crime. The audit found that officers and staff making crime recording decisions can sometimes overlook an additional locus which merits an additional crime, or can count too many crimes where a person has been a victim of the same crime repeatedly but specific dates for each instance of the crime are not known. Some classification errors were also attributed to the complexity of sexual crime, with several statutory provisions sometimes being relevant to one set of circumstances and a decision must be made as to which fits best. Some classification errors also arose because there was a failure to take account of any sexual element of a case, for example the audit found several instances of threatening or abusive behaviour being recorded where the behaviour featured a sexual element and would have been more appropriately classified as a sexual crime. Such classification errors can result in a misrepresentation of the total volume of sexual crime in Scotland.

Of the 1,117 sexual incidents [7] audited, 90.0% were closed correctly. Incorrect closure in the majority of incidents was due to insufficient information from which to make a judgement as to whether or not a crime had actually occurred. Many of these incidents have been referred to a specialist investigation unit, and while a crime record may be created eventually after what is often a complex and lengthy investigation, it was found that incidents were not updated in the meantime. As a result, HMICS have recommended that 'Police Scotland should embed a 'record-to-investigate' approach to all crime recording in support of a victim-centred service'.

Data Comparisons

This segment includes information that should be considered to widen contextual understanding of the data provided on Group 2 - Sexual crimes. Detail is provided on limited comparisons with recorded crime in England & Wales and Northern Ireland. Further detail on the type of information available from the SCJS on sexual crime is also included.

Comparisons with England & Wales and Northern Ireland

While recorded crime in Scotland is not directly comparable with England & Wales or Northern Ireland due to differences in legislation and counting rules, there is an upward trend for sexual crimes across the UK. Between 2015-16 and 2016-17, sexual crimes in England & Wales increased by 14% compared with 5% in Scotland and 4% in Northern Ireland. In the five years from 2011-12 to 2016-17, sexual crimes in England & Wales increased by 130% compared with 47% in Scotland and 74% in Northern Ireland.

England & Wales detail in their report that the increase in recent years is thought to reflect a greater willingness of victims to come forward to report such crimes, and that it may also reflect changes in recording practice rather than actual victimisation. Northern Ireland suggest in their report that it may in part be due to improved recording of these offences as a result of clarification from the Home Office in relation to the issue of consent.

Scottish Crime and Justice Survey ( SCJS)

Detailed information on the victims of sexual crime is not collected in the main SCJS survey. Information on sensitive topics is collected through a number of additional self-completion sections. Some of these sections include information on sexual crime; for example, the self-completion elements of the 2014-15 SCJS included questions on Sexual victimisation & stalking and Partner abuse.


Email: Jamie Macfarlane,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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