BOYS are the "invisible victims" of child sexual exploitation, a new Scotland-wide study has found.

Researchers looked at the circumstances of more than 200 young people in the children's hearing system and found child sexual exploitation (CSE) happens in every part of the country.

In half of cases the abuse had started before the child had turned 13.  

But the findings showed that boys are not seen as victims and their abuse is often not spotted by social workers.

The ground breaking piece of research is published today by the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA) and Barnardo’s Scotland.

Alistair Hogg, Head of Practice and Policy at SCRA, said: “Child sexual exploitation is a particularly hidden form of sexual abuse and crime.

"Victims may not be aware that they are being sexually exploited; such is the coercive nature of perpetrators and the control they exert over their victims.

"It is very rare for a child to disclose that they are a victim.

"We hope today’s report will lead to a sustained focus on child sexual exploitation in Scotland and that by working together with all our partners, we can protect the most vulnerable children and young people in our communities.”

Of 213 children's cases looked at by researchers, there was no sexual exploitation found in cases in East Renfrewshire or East Dunbartonshire but six cases found in Glasgow, the second highest in the country after Highland, which had eight.

The report, ‘Sexual exploitation of children involved in the Children’s Hearings System’ is the first national study of child sexual exploitation in Scotland.

CSE cases were identified in 27 of Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

Some 80% of boys - compared with 25% of girls - who were identified by the research team as likely victims of sexual exploitation were not identified in official reports as being victims.

This suggests that boys’ vulnerabilities to sexual exploitation are not being recognised or taken seriously.

The report also reveals that unlike other parts of the UK, in Scotland this type of abuse is not necessarily being committed by organised groups and networks – perpetrators often operate on their own and can be anyone, including children’s family members and those described as older boy or girlfriends.

Barnardo’s Scotland has also today launched a policy paper offering 15 recommendations for action by a variety of organisations across Scotland.