The number of child sex offences has risen to an all-time high, with more than 4,000 recorded in Scotland last year - an average of almost 12 every day.
According to figures obtained by NSPCC Scotland, recorded offences shot up by 286 in just a year and the figure has almost doubled since 2011-12, following the 2010 implementation of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009.
The figures reflect a UK-wide increase with recorded offences in England, Wales and Northern Ireland also rising to bring the national total to 55,507 last year – a jump of almost a fifth.
The latest statistics, gained through NSPCC requests to Police, found officers recorded, on average, one child sex offence every 10 minutes in the UK and one every two hours in Scotland and the figures reveal that sexual assaults of young girls as well as taking and distributing indecent images of children, were among the most commonly recorded offences, while instances of communicating indecently with a younger child also increased from 165 to 199 in 2015-16.
The NSPCC believes the dramatic increase could be due to improved recording methods by police forces, a large proportion being non-recent sexual abuse cases, survivors feeling more confident about reporting abuse following high-profile cases and children not having come forward before because due to fear, embarrassment or not realising that they have been abused.
The charity is calling for a comprehensive national approach to preventing child sexual abuse along with better and more consistent therapeutic support for abuse victims as further research has shown that there is limited support for children who have been sexually abused, that provision is patchy and that there is virtually nothing for very young children.
Matt Forde, NSPCC Scotland’s national head, said: “These figures speak for themselves regarding the extent of this problem and the urgent need to protect children against these appalling crimes. Sexual abuse can shatter a child’s life and leave them feeling ashamed, depressed, or even suicidal. Victims display great courage in coming forward and so we need to make sure they have access to timely and appropriate support.
“It is a public health priority and so we urge the Scottish Government to develop a national, consistent and evidence-based approach to preventing sexual abuse.”