By Paul Thornton
A CHILD falls victim to a sexual predator at least once every six hours in Scotland, shocking new figures have revealed.
And the number is likely to be far higher than that because most Scots police forces fail to keep records discriminating between child and adult victims of the most serious sex crimes such as rape or indecent assaults.
At least 1,592 offences against children were reported in 2009 – more than four a day.
The stats showed that innocent youngsters were subjected to rape, sexual assault and lewd and libidinous behaviour across the country as well as indecent exposure and adults who use their positions of trust to abuse them.
Strathclyde Police – Scotland’s largest force – recorded the most crimes against children with at least 547 allegations of offences against under-16s.
But because their records for rapes, indecent assaults, indecent exposure and other serious sex crimes don’t single out children – they admit the number of child victims is likely to be far higher.
Their sickening toll includes the likes of Arthur McFarlane, 42, who was jailed for three years in November last year.
McFarlane had admitted preying on a 10-year-old girl for six months at a caravan park in Dunbartonshire. He was also placed on the sex offenders register for life.
Lothian and Borders Police had at least 320 offences involving a child reported to them in the last 12 months.
As well as 195 cases of lewd and libidinous behaviour, Lothian and Borders were able to identify cases of sex with a minor and breaching a position of trust.
That would include perverts like Ashley Turnell, a 36-year-old music teacher who groomed a 15-year-old boy for sex while working at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh.
Turnell was given probation and slapped on the sex offenders register over the nine-month affair.
However, Edinburgh’s police force were again unable to say how many rapes, indecent assault or exposures were targeted at youngsters.
Grampian force saw 298 reports relating to children, with Fife reporting 142 offences against youngsters and Northern showing 66 allegations of lewd and libidinous behaviour.
Fife were able to give details of under-age sex, as well as breaches of trust like Turnell’s.
But again, none were able to give details relating to rapes or indecent assaults.
Tayside Police said they recorded 125 offences against children and were able to break their results down.
Three youngsters fell prey to an assault with intent to ravish while 18 were subjected to an indecent assault.
Tayside reported 74 cases of lewd and libidinous behaviour as well as 24 indecent breaches of the peace.
Three children were raped in the Tayside force area last year.
Central Scotland Police gave statistics from 2007 to 2009, during which time 194 offences against children were recorded. That figure was then divided by three to add to the total figure quoted for Scotland.
As well as 139 offences of lewd and libidinous behaviour Central also revealed that 20 youngsters had been victims of indecent assault while 10 fell victim to public indecency.
Among 152 allegations of rape over the three years, 25 victims were children.
Dumfries and Galloway Force failed to respond to freedom of information requests.
Disgusted politicians have now demanded an end to soft sentencing and called on the government to stand up for the lost generation of innocents.
Labour’s justice spokesman Richard Baker MSP said the shocking statistics represented a one-third rise in lewd and libidinous behaviour and insisted the government must not ditch six-month jail sentences.
Mr Baker said: “You can judge a society by the way it cares for its children and these figures are frankly appalling.
“There was a recent huge increase in lewd and indecent behaviour convictions and the public are rightly outraged with this soft-touch SNP government.
“Despite this Kenny MacAskill still wants to get rid of six-month sentences and that will mean that many individuals convicted of sexual offences will now dodge jail.
“The Justice Secretary should drop these under-funded and dangerous plans now and start thinking about the rights of victims.”
Conservative justice spokesman Bill Aitken MSP also called for more to be done and said that Scotland cannot afford to let down a generation.
Mr Aitken said: “Sex offences against vulnerable children are a matter of upmost gravity and both as a country and as law enforcers we need to recognise that, sadly, many of these cases occur within the home by a relative or a family friend.
“These are the cases which are difficult to investigate. There may be ground for thinking they are under-reported and we need to do everything possible to protect our children.
“We cannot let down a generation.”
Chief executive of Children First, Ann Houston, slammed the figures and warned that they were just the tip of the iceberg.
She said: “When one child is abused it is one too many.
“These new figures are extremely concerning and are also likely to underestimate the numbers involved as we know that, unfortunately, more often children are abused by adults they know and sometimes in their own homes.
“In these cases it can be very difficult for children to speak-up as they can feel loyalty towards their abuser.
“It is really important that opportunities are made available for children to speak to people who they can trust.
“Alongside this it is vital that Scotland’s police forces take action to ensure that accurate data is collected for those instances they know about.”
The figures were revealed under Freedom of Information legislation.
The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (ACPOS) attributed the rise to more people coming forward and insisted that protecting the public was a “fundamental priority”.
Assistant Chief Constable Iain Livingstone who heads up public protection for ACPOS said: “The rise in recorded sexual crimes against children is of concern to everyone in Scotland.
“A significant proportion of the recorded crimes occurred a number of years ago and the increase indicates there is now greater public awareness of the damage caused by child abuse.
“Academic studies also suggest that the level of recorded crime does not accurately reflect the true level of child abuse. The rise in reported incidents is a sign of increased confidence in the ability of the police, the voluntary sector and other public bodies to support victims and pursue offenders, whether the crimes took place many years ago or in recent times.
“Protection of children is a fundamental priority for the police service in Scotland and lies at the heart of our public duty to protect the vulnerable. We would encourage all victims of abuse or those who have concerns about the safety of children to report the matter to the police or other agencies. Only by doing so will we ensure that children at risk can be rescued, support provided to victims and robust enforcement taken against offenders”.
A Scottish Government spokesman added: “We condemn all attacks on children, and this administration has taken action to make sure youngsters are better protected than ever.
“We know that a significant proportion of sexual offences against children are committed by people they know.
“That’s why we recently announced a national roll-out of a successful community disclosure pilot, currently operating in Tayside, which will allow parents to ensure their children’s safety by obtaining information from the police if they have concerns about someone who has a connection with their family.”