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Report from the Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Involving Children and Young People: Our Response

We welcome the Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending Involving Children and Young People and in particular the opportunity it provides to focus on the importance of prevention work.

The prevalence of sexual violence specifically affecting young people is of serious concern, and though young people of all genders can be affected by rape and sexual assault, young women in particular are disproportionately impacted. This issue is pressing and requires an urgent, collective response.

Since 2016 our evidence based primary prevention programme has worked with over 60,800 young people in 209 schools as well as youth groups, delivering vital education on consent and healthy sexual relationships. Together with young people we’ve unpicked the stereotypes and expectations that come with being a boy or a girl, the influences or pornography, and the pressures that come from the media and our communities. All of this is fundamentally important because Scotland must work to tackle the inequalities between genders and the causes of sexual violence before it happens, as well as working with individuals displaying harmful sexual behaviour.

As an organisation we could not support the change in the Children’s Hearing System that would mean all under 18s who are over 16 and not subject to a compulsory supervision order to be considered for referral to the Reporter, rather than automatically processed in the adult criminal justice system.

Currently as soon as a decision is taken for a young person charged with rape to be referred to the Children’s Hearing system, all bail conditions are dropped. There is a lack of information for victims, safeguarding and accountability and so our reasons for not supporting this move are grounded in the experience of those survivors who currently are subject to this approach and the inadequate response of the Children’s Hearing System.

For young survivors to learn that their perpetrator is back in their area through Snapchat or hearsay – and for there to be no appropriate safety measures taken in this regard – is a failure of those institutions who have a duty of care to both the survivor and the perpetrator. The issues of information for victims, safeguarding and accountability require to be urgently addressed before we could support any measures to extend the age limit.

Read more on the report, its findings and recommendations here.

Fairness, dignity and justice - changing Scotland's response to sexual crimes

A judicially led review, chaired by the Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian, will develop new proposals for how sexual offences are dealt with within the Scottish Criminal Justice System.

At Rape Crisis Scotland we consistently hear that many survivors feel let down by the justice process, and yet the volume and complexity of sexual offences has grown so much in recent years that the majority of High Court trials now relate to recent or historical sexual offences. This review is clearly a significant opportunity to think creatively and practically about building a system that has fairness and dignity at its heart.

According to the Judiciary, the review group – which will be made up of judiciary and representatives of the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, Police, COPFS, justice agencies and third sector organisations – will look at the opportunities to manage cases in a way which is efficient, delivers justice as locally as possible at the earliest opportunity, and improves the experience of complainers in giving their evidence.

“We are hopeful about the potential this review brings because it is impossible to underestimate just how necessary and urgent action on improving rape survivors experience of the justice system is. What is especially welcome is the approach of Lady Dorrian in looking at the prosecution of sexual offences cases with a blank slate - this gives all of us the opportunity to think creatively and imagine a system that protects both the human rights of those accused of serious sexual crime, and those who are complainers.

"It's never going to be easy to pursue justice following rape or sexual violence, but there are concrete actions that can be taken to reduce the trauma currently experienced by complainers. We look forward to working closely with Lady Dorrian and the whole group on this important issue."

– Sandy Brindley, Rape Crisis Scotland

“This is an opportunity for all the organisations involved to look at the overview of sexual offences prosecuted in our courts and deliver an improved approach to ensure that these cases are dealt with as efficiently and effectively as possible for all concerned. It will also consider how to improve the experience of victims when giving their evidence.”

– Lady Dorrian

Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 now in force

After several years in preparation, the most radical overhaul ever of the law on sexual offences in Scotland has now taken place. On 1st December 2010, the new Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act came into force, bringing with it a number of significant changes to the law on sexual offences in Scotland.

The definition of rape is now wider than was previously the case, reflecting a recognition within the law that men as well as women can be victims of rape. Consent is now defined in statute in Scotland for the very first time. Hopefully this will overcome problems caused by the subjective interpretations to which its previous location in common law inevitably left it open. Under the new law, consent is defined as “free agreement” and this is supported by a non-exhaustive list of circumstances which, if proved, will indicate that consent was not present. People with a limited or no capacity to consent (for example the very young, or those with a mental disorder) are also better protected within the terms of the new Act.