CHILDREN as young as 13 are falling victim to sextortion crimes in East Lothian, with nearly half of all those targeted teenagers.

The rise of the online crime – which sees victims encouraged to share intimate images or videos with individuals they have met online and then threatened that they will be sent to friends and family unless they pay – has emerged since Covid.

And a meeting of East Lothian’s Police and Fire Board heard today that four out of 10 people reporting the crime were aged 18 and under.

Acting Chief Inspector Ben Leathes, Police Scotland's local area commander for East Lothian, said: “Sextortion is a theme that has emerged in the last two or three years, particularly in the wake of Covid.

“It is particularly prevalent, unfortunately, in the younger age groups. I looked at the figures yesterday and aged 13 to 18 make up 40 per cent of the victims in East Lothian.

“It shows the vital nature of interventions in schools and I can’t overemphasise the need to support young people in safe internet use and making safe decisions.”

'Difficult to solve'

Acting Chief Inspector Leathes was speaking after it was revealed that group one crimes, which include sextortion, had risen in East Lothian by more than120 per cent during the second quarter of this year compared to a five-year average.

A report to the board said that the increase from the average of 53.4 to 116 reports was “heavily driven by threats and extortion crimes, termed 'sextortion'”.

And it said: “These crimes are difficult to solve due to the different social platforms and jurisdictions involved. Our focus is on providing support to victims and raising awareness through social media campaigns.”

Overall crime across East Lothian during the first six months of this year was up 16 per cent and sexual offences rose in the second quarter by 14 per cent.

The report revealed that, while rape and sexual assaults had dropped substantially by about 20 per cent during the reporting period, ‘other’ offences, which referred to either non-recent or non-contact offences perpetrated over the internet, rose by 69 per cent from the five-year average of 44.6 to 75.

Anti-social behaviour was down by 11 per cent, from 3,025 to 2665; however, house break-ins rose by 166 per cent during the quarter, from an average of 35.6 to 95 reports.