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Charity sees counselling sessions increase as abuse and exploitation is on the rise

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Data reveals a 19% rise in sessions

Childline has seen counselling sessions with children in Scotland on child sexual abuse and exploitation increase by almost a fifth in the past year.

New analysis by the NSPCC of Childline data reveals that 251 counselling sessions were delivered on this topic in 2020/21, and this increased to 299 sessions in 2021/22, an increase of 19%.

The charity is revealing this data as its Childline service launches ‘The Full Story’  campaign in a bid to encourage more children and teenagers at risk of, or suffering sexual exploitation to use Childline for immediate, confidential help.

Over the last year, it has heard from thousands of young people across the UK about sexual exploitation with some being manipulated into performing sexual activities after being given money, drugs or love and affection.

While others have been sexually exploited after being trafficked from their home after being threatened with violence or the promise of a better life elsewhere.

Across the UK the number of Childline counselling sessions on sexual exploitation and abuse has increased from 5,962 to 6,230 this year (April 2021 - March 2022).

One 15-year-old in Scotland told Childline: “My mum doesn’t care about me. She drinks a lot and there isn’t food in the house. I’ve started getting close to someone who looks after me when my mum doesn’t. I stay at her house sometimes. I used to sleep downstairs but now I sleep with her. We’ve done stuff together and had sex.”

Another Scots 14-year-old said: “I’ve met a man in his 40s who is really nice. I met him online and then we met in person. He sold me weed and has gone to the shops for me to get alcohol and cigarettes. We hooked up one night and have started seeing each other a lot.”

The campaign has created a series of short films showing five different scenarios of sexual exploitation, taken from real Childline calls.

In one of the films, 15-year-old Leah* is standing outside a party with her boyfriend. Over the next few seconds, she is plied with alcohol by her older boyfriend, who later says she owes him and tells her to have sex with his friends. 

As well as helping children and young people gain an understanding of what sexual exploitation is and what a healthy relationship looks like, Childline is focussed on getting more young people to connect with them so they can offer immediate help and confidential support.

This week, the service has unveiled posters at bus stops, motorway service stations, cinemas, colleges, Pupil Referral Units, youth centres, youth hostels, children’s homes, GP’s, and sexual health clinics.

Although more children are reaching out for support on this issue, Childline’s counsellors know from what they hear from children and young people there are many barriers and reasons which prevent some children from speaking out and getting help.

For some children, they may be being exploited by a family member or someone in a position of authority, other cases it may be a girlfriend or boyfriend. The grooming methods used can be subtle, so often they don’t recognise anything is wrong or that they’re in danger.

Whilst others might blame themselves for what they are experiencing, some are being blackmailed or threatened by their abuser causing them to remain silent due to fear.

The campaign name, The Full Story, alludes to mixed and often conflicting feelings a child who is being sexually exploited may experience.

Adeniyi Alade, Service Head of Childline Scotland, said: “Sexual exploitation is a complex crime and often when children describe what is happening in their relationship, they don’t realise they are being groomed and abused. 

“Our counsellors have heard from children who have said they didn’t realise what they experienced in a relationship or friendship was wrong until they were much older, and some said at the time they thought their abuser was someone they could trust.

“Others said they thought they were to blame for what had happened and were scared about what would happen if they did speak out.

“This is why this campaign is so important as it’s essential that all children and young people have an awareness of this issue and know that no matter what the circumstances are, that sexual exploitation is never a child’s fault and there are people like Childline who can help.”