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Recorded crime in Scotland: 'Other sexual crimes', 2013-2014 and 2016-2017

Published: 26 Sep 2017

Report on ‘Other sexual crimes’ recorded by the police in the periods 2013 to 2014 and 2016 to 2017.

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44 page PDF

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Contents
Recorded crime in Scotland: 'Other sexual crimes', 2013-2014 and 2016-2017
Findings

44 page PDF

639.5kB

Findings

As noted earlier, this report presents information on a sample of ‘Other sexual crimes’ recorded by the police. It provides information about criminal activity of this type which has come to the attention of the police. It does not provide information on the characteristics of all ‘Other sexual crimes’ committed in society, since not all of these crimes are reported to the police.

Findings are primarily presented for 2016-17 as this provides the most up to date information on the characteristics of ‘Other sexual crimes’. Where relevant we have drawn readers’ attention to where there has been notable change since 2013-14.

There are several methods of calculating an average; in this report the median is used to present the average age of victims and perpetrators (i.e. the age at which half of individuals are older and half are younger).

The median has been used because the distribution of ages is skewed (particularly towards younger ages for victims). When using the mean to calculate the average of a skewed distribution, it is highly influenced by those values at the upper end of the distribution (i.e. the older ages) and may not be truly representative of the average age. By taking the middle value of the data, after sorting in ascending order, the median avoids this issue and is consequently considered a better indicator of typical “average” age.

Please note:

  • Where no records were found a dash (-) has been used to signify this.
  • Where a percentage figure is based on a low base, of less than five records, an asterisk (*) has been used to signify this.
  • Percentages are based on rows (apart from Table 17), and may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Full tables detailing the findings from 2013-14 and 2016-17 can be found in Annex B.

Changes in the ‘Other sexual crimes’ category

‘Other sexual crimes’ have increased in recent years, making up 40% of all sexual crimes recorded by the police in 2016-17. This is an increase from 34% in 2013-14. The growth in ‘Other sexual crimes’ during this time accounted for around two-thirds of the total growth in police recorded sexual crimes.

Crimes of ‘Communicating indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ have been the driver of this increase ( Table 1). These crimes now make up 50% of ‘Other sexual crimes’ compared to 29% in 2013-14. In 2016-17, collectively they accounted for 20% of all recorded sexual crimes.

Table 1: ‘Other sexual crimes’ recorded by police, 2013-14 to 2016-17

No. of crimes recorded
Crime type 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 Change 13-14 to 16-17 % change 13-14 to 16-17
Total 2,901 3,555 4,254 4,360 1,459 50%
Communicating indecently 605 906 1,180 1,166 561 93%
Cause to view sexual activity or images 229 431 690 1,030 801 350%
Indecent photos of children 621 603 645 649 28 5%
Sexual activity with older children 434 417 485 452 18 4%
Sexual exposure 523 648 536 357 -166 -32%
Public indecency 257 271 281 237 -20 -8%
Voyeurism 106 152 207 194 88 83%
Other 126 127 230 275 149 118%
Total (as % of all sexual crimes) 34% 37% 41% 40%

Source: Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2016-17 [4]

Victim and perpetrator characteristics

Some ‘Other sexual crimes’ do not have a known perpetrator and (or) victim, and so this analysis only focuses on those crimes where the details of the victim or perpetrator were identifiable.

The vast majority of ‘Other sexual crimes’ have one victim and one perpetrator. However a small number of the crimes sampled featured multiple victims (and) or perpetrators. All of these details have been included in the analysis below.

Crimes of ‘Indecent photos of children’ and ‘Public indecency’ do not generally have an identifiable victim (though clearly given the nature of ‘Indecent photos of children’, the circumstances of these crimes do involve young people). According to crime recording rules the Procurator Fiscal should be noted in the crime record as the ‘victim’ for these two crime types. For this reason, these crimes have been excluded from the victim analysis, and analysis of the relationship between the victim and perpetrator.

For those crimes that do generally have an identifiable victim, we were unable to record the required information (gender, age, etc.) for 3% of victims in 2016-17. In around half of these cases, the victim was a police officer, with no further details in the crime record.

We were unable to identify the details of 14% of perpetrators in 2016-17. Whilst this is higher than the figure in 2013-14, it is likely that some of these perpetrators will be identified at a later date, with live police investigations still taking place.

Where we have identified the perpetrator’s details, this is based on cases where the perpetrator has been apprehended by the police or failing that a description has been provided by the victim (or a witness).

Victims

Over three-quarters of victims of ‘Other sexual crimes’ were female (79%, 2016-17) ( Table 5). Whilst this varied slightly depending on the type of ‘Other sexual crimes’ (i.e. 74% of ‘Sexual exposure’ victims were female compared to 86% of ‘Communicating indecently’ victims) a clear majority of victims were female across all crime types.

Looking beyond this research at other sources, we are able to identify the victim of other types of recorded sexual crimes due to the way crimes are recorded for the National Statistics [5] . Where identifiable, 94% of crimes of ‘Rape and attempted rape’ and 87% of crimes of ‘Sexual assault’ had a female victim in 2016-17. This suggests that like crimes of ‘Rape and attempted rape’ and ‘Sexual assault’, victims of ‘Other sexual crimes’ are much more likely to be female than male.

The median age of victims was 15 years old in 2016-17, the same as in 2013-14. This varied by type of ‘Other sexual crimes’. Victims of ‘Communicating Indecently’, ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ and ‘Sexual activity with older children’ all had a median age below 16 (albeit this would be expected for ‘Sexual activity with older children’). In contrast victims of ‘Sexual exposure’ and ‘Voyeurism’ tended to be older, with a median age of 25 years and 22 years old respectively in 2016-17.

The age of victims is very clustered around younger age groups, with 59% of victims of ‘Other sexual crimes’ aged under 16 in 2016-17 ( Table 7).

Whereas people aged 13 to 15 years accounted for 3% of Scotland’s population [6] , they accounted for 38% of victims of ‘Other sexual crimes’ in 2016-17. This included 41% of victims of ‘Communicating indecently’ and 30% of victims of ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’. As would be expected given recording definitions, all crimes of ‘Sexual activity with older children’ have a victim aged between 13 and 15 [7] .

Bringing together the information collected on the gender and age of victims, this research confirms that 45% of ‘Other sexual crimes’ victims in 2016-17 were females under the age of 16. This group makes up 8% of Scotland’s population.

Crime records are not designed to assess how the victim felt about their experience of the crime, however in around 20% of the ‘Other sexual crimes’ sampled a reference to this was made. The words that came up most regularly were ‘Alarmed’, ‘Upset’, ‘Shocked’ and ‘Uncomfortable’.

Perpetrators

The vast majority of perpetrators of ‘Other sexual crimes’ were male (95%, 2016-17) ( Table 6). ‘Sexual activity with older children’ was the only type of crime to have less than 90% male perpetrators (89%, 2016-17).

The median age of perpetrators was 29 years old in 2016-17, very similar to 2013-14 (28 years old). This varied by type of ‘Other sexual crimes’. Perpetrators of ‘Sexual activity with older children’ tended to be younger with a median age of 18 (as noted earlier all the victims of this crime type will be aged between 13 and 15). In contrast perpetrators of ‘Communicating indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ had a median age of 28 and 25 respectively whereas the median age was above 30 for ‘Indecent photos of children’, ‘Sexual exposure’, ‘Public indecency’ and ‘Voyeurism’.

Perpetrators of ‘Other sexual crimes’ are more diverse in age than victims - 14% of perpetrators were aged under 16 in 2016-17 ( Table 8), compared to 59% of victims.

Relationship between victims and perpetrators

The definitions used to classify the relationship between victims and perpetrators (where both are identifiable) are shown below:

  • Relative - this would include any family members, guardians, step-parents, step-siblings.
  • Partner or ex-partner - where the victim and perpetrator are in a relationship, or had been in one in the past.
  • Acquaintances - may include friends, neighbours, colleagues, class mates, etc.
  • Professional - this is primarily where the victim has come into contact with the perpetrator due to their occupation. This can include where the victim was a police or prison officer, a nurse, carer, teacher etc. It also includes a small number of cases where the perpetrator is the ‘professional’ responsible for the victim.
  • Strangers - this is where the perpetrator was not known to the victim prior to the crime. Those cyber enabled crimes (i.e. where the internet was used as a means to commit the crime) that include a very short amount of time elapsing between a victim meeting a perpetrator online and the crime occurring have been included in the ‘strangers’ category.

As noted earlier, ‘Indecent photos of children’ and ‘Public indecency’ crimes have been excluded from the relationship analysis as they do not generally have an identifiable victim; in most cases the Procurator Fiscal is noted as the ‘victim’.

For those crimes that do generally have an identifiable victim, it wasn’t possible to ascertain the relationship between the perpetrator and victim in 11% of cases in 2016-17.

In 2016-17, the most common relationship between a victim and perpetrator was strangers (42%) ( Table 9). Despite this, in a majority of cases the victim and perpetrator were known to each other, either as acquaintances (37%), partners or ex-partners (10%) or relatives (5%). The remaining 6% of cases had some kind of professional relationship between the victim and perpetrator.

The relationship profile outlined above, whereby strangers are the most common group followed by acquaintances, holds for ‘Communicating indecently’, ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ and ‘Sexual exposure’. In contrast the profile for ‘Sexual activity with older children’ is markedly different. These crimes are most commonly committed by an acquaintance (47%) or a partner / ex-partner (40%). They are rarely committed by strangers (9%).

Reporting

There are several ways that the police may become aware of a crime.

The most common way that the police became aware of ‘Other sexual crimes’ was by the victim reporting it (39%, 2016-17) ( Table 10).

The proportion of ‘Other sexual crimes’ reported by the victim varied depending on the type of crime. ‘Voyeurism’ (75%) and ‘Sexual exposure’ (68%) were most likely to be reported by the victim. This is compared to 42% of ‘Communicating indecently’ and 49% of ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’.

The police discovered 25% of ‘Other sexual crimes’ in 2016-17 through investigation, intelligence or witnessing the crime themselves. ‘Indecent photos of children’ were highly likely to be discovered this way (81%, 2016-17).

A relative or guardian of the victim (or in a small number of cases the perpetrator) reported 20% of ‘Other sexual crimes’ in 2016-17. This was highest for crimes of ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ (31%) and ‘Communicating indecently’ (26%).

A person with some form of professional responsibility towards the people involved in the crime (for example a social worker, teacher, or care home staff) reported 8% of ‘Other sexual crimes’ in 2016-17. This was highest for crimes of ‘Sexual activity with older children’ (19%).

‘Public indecency’ crimes were largely reported by a witness (75%, 2016-17). As previously mentioned, the Procurator Fiscal is noted as the ‘victim’ in this type of crime. This ‘witness’ is likely to be a member of the public who has seen and reported the crime.

Non-recent crime

A crime is defined as non-recent if it has come to the attention of police, and therefore been recorded, more than 12 months after the crime took place. These can also be referred to as ‘historic’ crimes.

In 2016-17, 12% of ‘Other sexual crimes’ were non-recent (i.e. they took place more than 12 months before they were recorded) ( Table 11). This has not changed significantly since 2013-14, when 11% of crimes were non-recent.

Comparing this finding with analysis of other categories of sexual crimes recorded by Police Scotland in 2016-17, suggests that ‘Other sexual crimes’ are far less likely to be non-recent than sexual crimes as a whole (30% of which was recorded more than 12 months after it happened) and ‘Rape and attempted rape’ (42%) [8] .

‘Sexual activity with older children’ crimes were the most likely to be non-recent (27%, 2016-17).

Cyber enabled crimes

Cyber enabled crimes are where the internet has been used as a means to commit the crime (for example where a perpetrator communicates indecently by sending a message to a victim on social media). Crimes that weren’t committed through the internet but involved some form of online communication prior to them occurring aren’t classified as cyber enabled crimes. For example where a perpetrator arranges via social media to meet someone, and when they meet in person communicates indecently with them.

Table 2 shows the total number of ‘Other sexual crimes’ recorded by the police and the proportion that were cyber enabled (based on the crimes sampled) in 2013-14 and 2016-17. The different types of ‘Other sexual crimes’ have been split into three broad categories:

  • Crimes which are almost always cyber enabled (‘Indecent photos of children’)
  • Crimes which can be cyber enabled but are often committed through other means (‘Communicating indecently’, ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’, ‘Sexual activity with older children’, ‘Voyeurism’)
  • Crimes which by their definition can’t be cyber enabled (‘Sexual exposure’, Public indecency’)

Table 2: Cyber enabled ‘Other sexual crimes’ recorded by police, 2013-14 and 2016-17

2013-14 2016-17
Crime type Total recorded % cyber enabled Total recorded % cyber enabled Change 13-14 to 16-17
Total 2,901 38 4,360 51 1,459
Almost always cyber enabled 621 97 649 98 28
Indecent photos of children 621 97 649 98 28
Can be cyber enabled 1,374 34 2,842 53 1,468
Communicating indecently 605 53 1,166 58 561
Cause to view sexual activity or images 229 63 1,030 71 801
Sexual activity with older children 434 - 452 8 18
Voyeurism 106 * 194 20 88
Non-cyber enabled 780 n/a 594 n/a -186
Sexual exposure 523 n/a 357 n/a -166
Public indecency 257 n/a 237 n/a -20

Source: Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2016-17 [9] and ‘Other sexual crimes’ research

In 2016-17, around half (51%) of ‘Other sexual crimes’ were cyber enabled. This is a significant increase since 2013-14, when 38% were cyber enabled. There are two main factors which have contributed to this increase.

The first is that those types of ‘Other sexual crimes’ which can be cyber enabled but are often committed through other means, have increased markedly (up from 1,374 in 2013-14 to 2,842 in 2016-17). In contrast there has been a fall in crimes which can’t be cyber enabled (down from 780 to 594). Crimes which are almost always cyber enabled have remained relatively stable (up from 621 to 649).

The increase in crimes which can be cyber enabled means they now account for a much greater proportion of all ‘Other sexual crimes’ (up from 47% in 2013-14 to 65% in 2016-17), whereas the proportion made up of crimes which can’t be cyber enabled has fallen (down from 27% to 14%).

The second factor is that for those types of ‘Other sexual crimes’ which can be cyber enabled, the proportion of those crimes which actually were cyber enabled has also increased significantly, up from 34% in 2013-14 to 53% in 2016-17. This includes crimes of ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ (of which 71% were cyber enabled in 2016-17), ‘Communicating indecently’ (58%), ‘Voyeurism’ (20%) and ‘Sexual activity with older children’ (8%).

The research found that whilst the clear majority of crimes of ‘Voyeurism’ and ‘Sexual activity with older children’ are not cyber enabled, there can be cases which have been committed using the internet. In the case of ‘Voyeurism’ this could be where a victim has been recorded carrying out a sexual act during a video call without their knowledge. For ‘Sexual activity with older children’ this could be where, following encouragement via social media by the perpetrator, a person aged 13 to 15 has sent back images of themself engaged in sexual activity.

The two factors outlined above explain why the proportion of all ‘Other sexual crimes’ that is cyber enabled has increased significantly between 2013-14 and 2016-17.

This research allows an estimate to be made of the number of ‘Other sexual crimes’ that were cyber enabled in 2013-14 and 2016-17. This suggests that they have doubled, increasing by 1,122 from 1,102 (which is 38% of the 2,901 ‘Other sexual crimes’ recorded in 2013-14) to 2,224 (which is 51% of the 4,360 ‘Other sexual crimes’ recorded in 2016-17) ( Table 3).

The estimated increase in cyber enabled ‘Other sexual crimes’ can be compared to the growth in both ‘Other sexual crimes’ (up 1,459 between 2013-14 and 2016-17) and all sexual crimes (up 2,218). This comparison suggests that the growth in cyber enabled ‘Other sexual crimes’ between 2013-14 and 2016-17 has contributed around three-quarters (77%) to the growth in ‘Other sexual crimes’ and around half (51%) to the growth in all sexual crimes recorded during this period.

Table 3: Estimated growth in cyber enabled ‘Other sexual crimes’ recorded by police, 2013-14 to 2016-17

No. of crimes recorded
Crime type 2013-14 2016-17 Change 13-14 to 16-17
Sexual crimes total 8,604 10,822 + 2,218
'Other sexual crimes' total 2,901 4,360 + 1,459
Estimate of 'Other sexual crimes' that were cyber enabled 1,102 2,224 + 1,122
Estimate of 'Other sexual crimes' that were not cyber enabled 1,799 2,136 + 337

Source: Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2016-17 [10] and ‘Other sexual crimes’ research

‘Communicating indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ - Victims and perpetrators

The crimes of ‘Communicating indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ now account for half of ‘Other sexual crimes’. These crimes can be cyber enabled and generally have identifiable victims and perpetrators.

The characteristics of these crimes can vary significantly depending on whether or not they were cyber enabled.

There wasn’t a significant difference in the gender of victims or perpetrators. For both cyber enabled crimes and non-cyber enabled crimes of this type, more than 80% of victims were female ( Table 13) and around 95% of perpetrators were male in 2016-17 ( Table 14).

However, the age profile of both victims and perpetrators varied depending on whether or not these crimes were cyber enabled.

Victims tended to be much younger where these crimes were cyber enabled, with a median age of 14 in 2016-17 (and almost three-quarters under 16) ( Table 15). This compares to a median age of 23 where these crimes were not cyber enabled (with only a third aged under 16).

Perpetrators also tended to be much younger where these crimes were cyber enabled, with a median age of 18 in 2016-17 (with a quarter under 16 and more than half under 20) ( Table 16). This compares to a median age of 36 where these crimes were not cyber enabled (with only 8% under 16 and 16% under 20).

The analysis above demonstrates that these crimes tend to involve a perpetrator targeting someone who is younger than them. Where these crimes were cyber enabled the median age of a perpetrator is around four years older than the median age of a victim (18 compared to 14). This is much smaller than when these crimes were not cyber enabled, where the median age of a perpetrator was around 13 years older than the median age of a victim (36 compared to 23).

Comparing victims and perpetrators of these crimes also suggests that around a quarter (24%) of cyber enabled crimes of ‘Communicating indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ were committed by a perpetrator under 16 years old against a victim who was also under 16 ( Table 17). A further 28% of these crimes were committed by a perpetrator aged between 16 and 19 against a victim who was under 16 ( Chart 2). This compares to 8% and 5% of non-cyber enabled crimes of ‘Communicating indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ respectively ( Chart 3).

Chart 2: Flow diagram showing age of perpetrators and victims for cyber enabled crimes of 'Communicating indecently' and 'Cause to view sexual activity or images' crimes, 2016-17

Chart 2: Flow diagram showing age of perpetrators and victims for cyber enabled crimes of 'Communicating indecently' and 'Cause to view sexual activity or images' crimes, 2016-17

Chart 3: Flow diagram showing age of perpetrators and victims for non-cyber enabled crimes of 'Communicating indecently' and 'Cause to view sexual activity or images' crimes, 2016-17

Chart 3: Flow diagram showing age of perpetrators and victims for non-cyber enabled crimes of 'Communicating indecently' and 'Cause to view sexual activity or images' crimes, 2016-17

The relationship between victims and perpetrators also varied depending on whether or not these crimes were cyber enabled.

Victims of cyber enabled crimes of ‘Communicating indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ were most often an acquaintance of the perpetrator (47% in 2016-17), just ahead of strangers (44%) ( Table 18). In contrast, where these crimes were not cyber enabled - around half (52%) were strangers and only 26% were acquaintances.

Finally the person reporting these crimes to the police also varied depending on whether or not these crimes were cyber enabled.

Reflecting that victims of cyber enabled crimes of ‘Communicating indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ tended to be younger, these crimes were most commonly reported by a relative or guardian (38% in 2016-17), followed by the victim themselves (34%) ( Table 19). In contrast, where these crimes were not cyber enabled - 65% were reported by the victim and only 11% were reported by a relative or guardian.

Devices and applications

Where detailed, the device used (by the victim or perpetrator) in the vast majority of cyber enabled crimes of ‘Communicating Indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ was a mobile phone. This compares to ‘Indecent photos of children’ crimes - where the most common device was a computer ( PC or laptop).

Websites or applications (apps) were mentioned in over 90% of the cyber enabled crimes of ‘Communicating indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’ in both 2013-14 and 2016-17.

In 2013-14, where a website or app has been mentioned, Facebook (including Messenger) was referred to in 49% of crimes. The number of crimes which mentioned Facebook was far higher in 2016-17, however this represented a lower proportion (41%) of these crimes as use of other websites and apps became more widespread.

Again where reference has been made to a website or app, Snapchat was very rarely noted in 2013-14 cyber enabled crimes of ‘Communicating Indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’, but was the second most prevalent website or app in 2016-17 (referred to in 32% of crimes). Likewise, Instagram was rarely mentioned in 2013-14, however it featured in 10% of these crimes in 2016-17 - making it the third most common website or app in the crimes reviewed for that year.

Location

Many ‘Other sexual crimes’ do not happen when the victim and perpetrator are in the same location - for example the vast majority of cyber enabled crimes [11] . This can make it difficult to pin point exactly where these crimes took place. For this reason the location analysis presented below only includes those crimes where the victim (or witness in crimes of ‘Public indecency’) and perpetrator were in the same location when the crime took place. This means that nearly all cyber enabled crimes do not feature in this analysis.

In 2016-17, of those ‘Other sexual crimes’ with an identifiable victim (or witness), 55% took place where the victim (or witness) and perpetrator were in the same location.

The most common type of location was a private dwelling / garden, accounting for 41% of these crimes in 2016-17 ( Table 20). This was followed by open areas (streets, parks, paths, etc.) which accounted for 34% of these crimes.

Almost a quarter (or 23%) of those crimes of ‘Communicating indecently’ that had a victim and perpetrator in the same location, took place in a Public Sector setting. This includes police stations, prisons, social care facilities, hospitals, etc. This is higher than for other types of ‘Other sexual crimes’.

Crimes of ‘Voyeurism’ with the victim and perpetrator in the same location were more likely to take place in a private business setting (26%, 2016-17) than other types of ‘Other sexual crimes’. This includes shops, restaurants, hotels, pubs, leisure facilities, etc.

Alcohol and drugs

A number of records make reference to the consumption of alcohol and (or) drugs. This could be in reference to the perpetrator(s), the victim(s) or both. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it was a causal factor in these crimes. At the same time alcohol or drugs may have been consumed prior to some of these crimes taking place, but not referenced in the crime record.

This analysis focuses on crimes which are not cyber enabled. This is because alcohol or drugs were mentioned in only a few of these crimes, perhaps due to it being more difficult to ascertain whether the victim(s) or perpetrator(s) were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time these crimes took place.

In 2016-17, around 1 in 5 (18%) of ‘Other sexual crimes’ which were not cyber enabled made a reference to alcohol ( Table 21). This was highest for crimes of ‘Communicating indecently’ (32%, 2016-17).

At the same time, 4% of ‘Other sexual crimes’ which were not cyber enabled made a reference to drugs.


Contact

Email: Jamie Macfarlane, justiceanalysts@gov.scot

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG