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Sexual offences


This is a commonly asked question and the answer is one that varies dependant on the nature of the sexual relationship. In Scotland it is an offence for any person to engage in a sexual relationship with a person under 16 years of age, irrespective if it is consensual or not. In order to obtain evidence of such offences, the co-operation of the 13 year old child would be required both in terms of them talking about the sexual relationship and obtaining evidence by means of a medical examination.

If the situation involves a child who appears to be exploited by an older person, all efforts to investigate these situations will be made in the hope that co-operation can be achieved and evidence gathered.

Contact the Child protection unit (by dialling 101) for further help and advice. If you want to make a complaint of under age sex, then contact Police Scotland by dialling 101 in the first instance.

You will first speak to a uniformed officer who will ask you/ your child some general questions (you can ask to speak to an officer of a particular sex if that would be more comfortable for you).


Any child or young person will be interviewed in respect of sexual offences that they have been subjected to or witnessed. The interview may take place in a purpose built suite that may be at a Police Station or another place and may be recorded in writing or visually recorded. The interviewer will be a specially trained Police Officer, who may, dependant on the circumstances, be accompanied by a social worker.

When interviewed in such circumstances, the child ideally will be alone in the interview room with the interviewer, but in certain circumstances a relative may be allowed to sit and observe what happens.

If the relative is also a witness in the case they will not be permitted to be present whilst the child is being interviewed.


A disability should not prevent a person's ability to report a crime. Due to the variety of special needs/mental health issues that people experience, forces often provide specialist training for police officers.

When a case is reported involving an individual with special needs or mental health issues, every effort will be made to ensure that they are treated fairly and sensitively and the evidence that they offer is obtained in a manner that allows it to be used in future criminal proceedings. If, for example, communication aids are needed by an individual these will be provided to enable them to make their disclosure. Likewise, the force will endeavour to cater for any other specific needs.


Any person reporting historic sexual abuse to the police will be treated seriously The matter will be thoroughly investigated and historic offences could still result in the conviction of an offender.

The outcome of any such case could be difficult to predict and as such it is important that a victim under these circumstances keeps an open mind. The passage of time, means that evidence may have been lost, although corroboration of early reports, medical and social services records are examples of lines of enquiry that may be pursued. Once the suspect has been interviewed, the case papers will be assessed by the police and if there is sufficient evidence the case may be forwarded to the Procurator Fiscal who will look at:

  • the legality of the case;
  • the public interest of commencing a prosecution;
  • the likely prospect of a conviction;

before they decide whether to take the matter forward. For further support please see the websites in Related Information.


Police Scotland take all reports of rape and sexual assaults seriously regardless of the perceived gravity of the offence and will thoroughly investigate each incident reported to them.

If you are reluctant to report your incident to the police there are support agencies who can help and support you. Rape Crisis Scotland can provide advice and support. Their advocacy project offers access to early support and information to help you feel better informed about the legal process as well as linking into other support services available.

If you do decide to report the incident to the police you will first speak to a uniformed officer who will ask you some general questions (you can ask to speak to an officer of a particular sex if that would be more comfortable for you). You would thereafter be spoken to by specially trained officers. The questions that these officers ask will be more in depth. You can have someone present to support you whilst you are spoken to by the police.

If the incident has recently occurred you may be advised not bath or shower or wash the clothes worn during the incident; this will allow for physical evidence to be gathered more easily.

Do not worry if you feel embarrassed, the officers are specially trained to help you. If you consent, you will undergo a medical examination by trained medical personnel. An officer will be allocated to your case and will keep you regularly updated on its progress.


Possession of indecent images of children is an offence, as is the manufacture and distribution of them. You should not forward the images to anyone, even the Police, it is a very serious matter.

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is the UK Internet Hotline for anyone to report online child sexual abuse imagery anonymously.

IWF works internationally to make the internet safer. They help victims of child sexual abuse worldwide by identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse.

Please see Related Information for a link to their website.


Whilst there is no legal requirement to report a crime there is a moral duty on every one of us to report to the police anything that you have seen that may be a crime or something that you suspect may be a crime.


It depends on what type of incident you are reporting. This area of law is very complex so the following is a basic guide only (as there are exceptions).

Road Traffic Incidents -

  • Reportable road traffic collisions (see questions in related information for more details) have to be reported as soon as practicable or within 24 hours in any case. Some forces may not take a report of a road traffic collision after a specified amount of time.
  • Minor road traffic incidents have to be prosecuted so therefore reported within 6 months (e.g. failing to wear a seatbelt)
  • For serious road traffic incidents, there is no time limit when these can be reported/prosecuted (dangerous driving).
  • Please note that a collision only needs to be reported if it is a reportable road accident.
Crime -

Most crimes do not have a time limit for reporting them. The crimes that do have time limits are summary only which means that they can only be tried at a Sheriff Court so are relatively minor offences, they must be prosecuted within 6 months (e.g. common assault, harassment and take without owners consent).

Do bear in mind that the longer the period between the incident happening and reporting the matter to the police the harder it will be for the police to gather the evidence.


Details of any registered sex offenders are kept on a register for the Police only, it is not for public access. If you have any concerns over the activities of a local resident then you should speak to Police Scotland by dialling 101.


Unless the video or photo is of an indecent nature and of a child or of a criminal offence then the police will not get involved.

If the photo/video is for example, on one of the social networking websites, you could speak to the administrator of the internet site who may remove the material.

Otherwise, you would need to obtain a restraining order from the courts to order the removal of the material. You should seek advice from the Citizens Advice or a solicitor about this matter.


Thousands of girls and young women from the U.K. and the rest of the world are groomed, conned, coerced and forced into prostitution in every town and city in the U.K. They are the victims of well organised gangs of criminals that make millions from this awful trade. It is estimated that about 10 - 15% of people reading this answer will have a brothel within a few hundred yards of their home.

This is a 'hidden crime' perpetrated from behind closed doors. If you notice suspicious activity at any premises, you should report the matter to the local police or, anonymously, through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The organisation Parents against Sexual Exploitation (Pace) has a lot of useful information on the issue including help for worried parents who want to know the signs in case their own children get into the wrong company.


Sexting is the sending of sexually explicit messages and pictures via mobile phones. By way of example, sexting may involve the consensual sharing of an image between two adults or two similar aged children in a relationship, to instances of children being exploited, groomed, and bullied into sharing images, which in turn may be shared with peers or adults without their consent.

The law

It is an offence to possess/send/make/take/distribute/show indecent photos of children (person under the age of 18). That means that the child who takes the photo commits an offence as does any person who it gets sent to. This is the case regardless of whether they forward it on to other people and also applies to anyone who simply shows the image to other people.

However, the position of the National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) and the Child Exploitation Online Protection Centre (CEOP) with regards to the consensual sharing of an image between two children of a similar age in a relationship is that 'prosecution options are avoided, in particular the use of legislation that would attract sex offender registration'.

It is advised that the wider safeguarding issues are looked at rather than the criminal justice element. Placing a child on the sex offenders register could cause serious damage to their future. 

The images
Once an image is on the internet, it is potentially there forever. Even if the child sending the image had no intention for it to end up on there in many cases they do and this can be potentially very harmful to a child now and in the future. Many of the images end up in chat rooms used by paedophiles and sexual predators, even those that were not taken as a result of child exploitation or grooming.

Sexual exploitation
Paedophiles may try to frighten their victims into sending further indecent images of themselves by saying that unless the child continues, it will be reported to the police and the child will be arrested and face prosecution. Safeguarding the victim should be at the centre of any police involvement in not only these types of incidents but also non exploitation scenarios.

If you or anyone you know are being sexually exploited then contact your local police by dialling 101 or 999 in an emergency. Police forces have specially trained officers to deal with these types of incidents.

Additionally, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is the UK internet Hotline for anyone to report online child sexual abuse imagery and non-photographic child sexual abuse images anonymously.

IWF works internationally to make the internet safer. They help victims of child sexual abuse worldwide by identifying and removing online images and videos of their abuse.

For further information and for a link to this, along with other websites, please see links in related information.


Revenge porn is the publication of explicit material portraying someone who has not consented for the image or video to be shared. The law now makes it illegal to disclose a "private sexual photograph or film" without the consent of the person depicted in the content, and with the intent to cause them distress.

People found guilty of this offence may face a fine or even imprisonment.


Upskirting is illegal and typically involves the taking a photograph or video recording beneath the clothing of another person to view their genitals, buttocks or underwear without their consent.

This is a serious criminal offence and the law covers where an image has been taken for sexual gratification. Also where an image has been taken in order to cause humiliation, distress or harm to another person.

It is also an offence when a photograph is taken by a person with the intention of showing other people.

This is a serious offence which is punishable by a fine or by a prison sentence of up to two years. It can also result in individual being placed on to the sex offenders register.

Victims of the offence will be afforded anonymity and their details cannot be published in the media.

If you believe that you have been a victim of upskirting then contact the police by dialling 101.

There are also organisations offering practical and emotional support to victims of crime. Links to such organisations have been included in the related information.